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OpenSocial, Killer Apps and Regular People

At Six Apart, we'll be supporting the new OpenSocial initiative to make an open platform for social applications on the web. But for us, it's not about Google or Facebook. It's about the web itself. As you can guess from our announcement weeks ago that we're opening up the social graph, this is the sort of thing we believe in. Honestly, we don't care much about the political battles between big tech companies: We're doing this because this is what it takes for new features, applications, and experiences to happen in the right way for the vast range of communities that we serve. This gives regular people on the web more control over the social networks and applications they use.

By the "right way", we mean the "open" part of OpenSocial. OpenSocial is simply a set of programming standards that let developers create applications that can run on a wide range of social networking platforms. But more importantly, OpenSocial has the promise of letting regular people choose which social networks they want to run those applications on. That leads us to a couple of important ideas:

  • At Six Apart, we think the idea of using whatever applications you want, on whatever networks you want, is really powerful, and really cool.
  • There isn't going to be One Big Winner, either in social networking or in social applications -- people will be using lots of networks and apps.
  • All of us have to have open standards for these technologies in order to reach the audiences that current social networks aren't serving well. This includes international audiences, business users, and other diverse communities.
  • It's important that all users have control over which applications and networks we use, and can move freely between them with our data and connections, in a system that honors privacy.
  • As a platform, OpenSocial combines the best lessons from the popularity of widgets, the social capabilities of networks like Facebook, and the application power of successful platforms like Salesforce.com's
  • The important story about OpenSocial is what it enables for people, not the politics between big companies.

(For a more technical look at how OpenSocial works, and a definition of the important concepts of "containers" and "apps", take a look at Ning co-founder Marc Andreessen's excellent overview of OpenSocial on his TypePad blog. Paired with his screencast and screenshots, it'll give you all the technical background you need.)

A Thousand Killer Apps

OpenSocial is a platform for applications, so it's worth explaining how it might work. One of the most important ideas for platforms is that of the killer application, a program or utility so compelling that people will adopt a platform just to use it. In social networking, we won't see a single killer app is because there will be thousands. Everybody will find something that clicks for them, and for their circle of friends or family or coworkers. A lot of popular apps will be trivial, letting you do fun little things like put an icon on a profile page. But as Wired mentioned, some of the killer apps for these new social platforms might look a lot like they did on past platforms.

Take a spreadsheet, for example: Imagine if a simple spreadsheet could be shared on one of the services you use, but limited so only your friends could see it, for a fantasy sports league; or only your family could see it, for a Christmas wishlist; or only your coworkers could see it, for sensitive business information. You've probably already set up groups or buddy lists for those people on the various social networking sites that you use, but there hasn't been an easy way yet for a developer to let you access those networks right from within an application. Now, there will be. And if your work network is on LinkedIn, but your friends are on MySpace, and your family's on Vox, it can all Just Work.

In the same way, if you don't want to use a particular social network, or your friends are all on another service, but you really like the applications you're using, you could take them with you to another social network. It's also the best insurance for your privacy: If you have control over your data, you can make sure it's being used in the way you expect, and if it isn't, you can leave for a service that you trust.

You Are In Control

The principle of choice is something we've been supporting in our platform for years; In LiveJournal, you can bring in pictures from Photobucket, just like you can bring in Flickr photos in Vox or YouTube videos in Movable Type or use hundreds of widgets in TypePad. But those were just first steps -- there's a whole world of more ambitious ways of connecting various services together. And if these standards are open, we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time someone wants to work with us, or with any of the other companies that are supporting Open Social. Ultimately, open standards win on the web -- one of the quotes that people seemed to like from a recent post I wrote about open standards summarized this idea:

Proprietary platforms based on the web are ice cubes. They can, for a time, suspend themselves above the web at large. But over time, they only ever melt into the water. And maybe they make it better when they do.

Finally, we have to bring it back to our mission at Six Apart. We want to bring the power of connecting through blogs to as many people as possible. With more than 40 million people visiting Six Apart-hosted sites every month, a number that perhaps doubles if you include all the Movable Type and TypePad-powered sites that are hosted on their own domains, we're reaching audiences that a lot of the Web 2.0 world doesn't always pay attention to. We're an extremely international company, with dedicated teams promoting and developing our platforms from San Francisco to Paris to Tokyo and beyond. We've spent a ton of time teaching businesses how to use social media, because we think one of the most important audiences for developers to reach with social software is businesses and enterprises. And those audiences are complemented the core community of people connecting to their friends and family every day through their blogs.

We're looking forward to working with the incredible lineup of companies that are supporting OpenSocial in the personal social networking space: MySpace, Google/Orkut, Hi5, Bebo, Friendster, Ning, Plaxo, and more. We're also excited about the companies that we'll work with to bring these technologies to businesses, including LinkedIn, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. But most of all, we're eagerly anticipating the ways it will make it easier for you to share and connect in new ways with the people you care about.

Additional Reading:

  • We're opening the social graph: Two months ago, we made a public commitment to making sure that the potential of applications built on social networking applications would be available in an open manner that users control.
  • A River of Relationships: Last week, we demonstrated a technology that we've launched that lets you share social network relationship information between different services, and made it freely available to developers.
12 Comments
November 1, 2007 4:48 PM

Hi Anil, where does the data live?

I've been reading a lot of commentary on this, but most seems to treat it as rooting for a football team, Google vs Facebook. The lack of discussion of the basics worries me.

Can I keep my personal data away from Google's proprietary databaes if I choose? Or will those of us who don't wish to become part of their network become isolated with this move?

Do you know where I could find this info?

tx, jd

November 1, 2007 8:21 PM

These are all great point but in the announcements we heard earlier, there was precious little detail on the realities of delivery.

A big concern is how this all gets addressed in business. It would be hard to persuade enterprise buyers based on what I saw today.

November 1, 2007 8:43 PM

So where can I start playing around ?

November 2, 2007 12:37 AM

OpenSocial clearly shows that the Semantic Web (the "Web of Data") is not enough, a certain number of API must be standardized in order to really make computers work together. I don't know about you but the normalization of both data and function looks like something we could call the "Object Oriented Web":

http://blog.kindalab.com/2007/11/02/the-object-oriented-web/

November 2, 2007 2:22 AM

I searched for the "bianca" profile on tudiabetes.com

I found this: http://tudiabetes.com/profile/chispo95

It seems different than in Mr. Andreessen's screencast (linked to in the article above), but that is not the primary issue.

Will opensocial allow applications to share bianca's personal health/medical information across the web? Would it be possible to build applications that market new medications and/or treatments to bianca (and/or other tudiabetes members?).

How would this be different than the "Ads by Google" application already running at that website? Would more data be mined? Or would data be more protected than with Google's "traditional" advertising programs?

This raises many controversial issues and questions that (AFAIK) have not yet been addressed by any of Google's partners -- or have you considered any of these problems (such as personal privacy)?

This will be interesting to watch, as the story unfolds....

November 2, 2007 3:25 AM

My thoughts about privacy related implications:

Enabling users to maintain their privacy online is becoming bigger and bigger issue everyday. To the point that it will eventually end up being a killer new feature in early enabler webapps. I feel that google has a hidden trump card here in Google Gears. So when people start becoming too touchy feely about their personal data, google may easily provide them option to store their key personal info offline using gears. Endgame for those who felt that this is the faltering point for their global conquering strategy!
Cheers to google & innovation!

November 2, 2007 4:05 AM

Thank you for thinking bigger, I've been reading what other members of the alliance have been writing and many of them fall short.

The whole web is the platform.

Dawson said:
November 2, 2007 4:09 AM

Hello Guys/Girls, if there are any developers on here who are excited about getting their hands on the OpenSocial APIs (I know I am!), I have made a website/forum for discussion, would be cool to get a few active members to get the website going http://www.osocial.co.uk/forum/

SN End User plight said:
November 2, 2007 9:57 AM

I think this is great for App Developers. But what about the Social Networks out there. Even with this you cannot do inter SN communication like an email. I think that is when the real stuff will happen. This thing is basically taking what FB has done and making it more open API. There is nothing that stops FB from supporting this. However I would like to see how many SN's will be willing to do cross postings. Even with this for the end user it is not really great. Because no matter how many apps one provides I need my friends along with me to be able to effectively use them. So as an end user I am going to either FB or couple of other SN's and believe me a real app provider who wants to make money will do what ever FB tells or the other SN's tell them to do. This is great for google because all the 100-1000 member sn's are going to get apps easily available to any SN. Then these SN's are going to put adsense ads (becuase who listens to a 100-1000 member SN, only google), each individual SN does not make money, but multiply such SN's with a 1M and you are looking at a big pie for google.

At the end of the day I will be excited if one SN can talk to friends on another SN. Until then this is a way for the big guys to consolidate and make money on the back of little guys who think they have a better SN or an APP.

Oh, I forgot this is how corporate America works just like the Oil companies.

Paul Lindner said:
November 2, 2007 3:50 PM

As usual a great writeup by Anil. Hopefully we can get some timelines from Six Apart for all of this.

Regarding some of the comments above mine, interconnecting social networks is a another whole problem. Open Social APIs, specifically the RESTful server API will enable Social Networks to communicate with each other using extensions to the standard Atom Data Format.

So, while most of the articles concentrate on the javascript front ends, don't forget to look at what's going on behind the scenes.

As part of this Six Apart plays a major role. Authentication based on OAuth, which was based on OpenID will be used for this server-to-server communication.

November 6, 2007 9:57 PM

Like your take on "A Thousand Killer Apps"..I touch on a similar subject in my post: The “Killer App” Myth and the Rise of “Next Big Thing”

Brian said:
November 11, 2007 9:09 AM

The Assist Network has set up a Community for OpenSocial developers to add information and links.

Feel free to add your OpenSocial content and links content to the Wiki.

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