OpenSocial Coalition Faltering

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This past week has been a perfect storm of bad news for OpenSocial, the Facebook-killer that was announced to much fanfare two months ago.  As more people understand it's limited scope, criticism mounts that OpenSocial doesn't focus on the right problems.  And more importantly, Facebook has now responded, and popular social networks from Silicon Valley to Beijing choose to go it on their own and launch platforms that compete with OpenSocial for developer attention.  I'll summarize the news and provide some analysis and opinion.

Kicking it all off, Marc is disappointed that OpenSocial is doing little to solve the issues of social network portability or data interop.  Marc organized the Data Sharing Summit and got many of the top social networking players in a room to discuss social network portability.  Google attended Marc's summit and collected business cards, and began secretly meeting with several of the companies who were there (while excluding Facebook and Microsoft).  The result of their hastily-assembled effort veered dramatically from the vision of social network portability discussed at the Data Sharing Summit (but, hey, at least it's called "Open").

The concerns about the limited scope (essentially a widget platform) were well-aired from the start, as were the early warnings of how things might play out.  Soon after the OpenSocial announcement, Dave Winer was the first to comment, saying "Standards devised by one tech company whose main purpose is to undermine another tech company, usually don't work".  Charles Fitzgerald accompanied an excellent analysis of the business drivers of OpenSocial with a succinct summary; "gather up the rest of the also-rans and band together against the dominant player.  This approach is usually accompanied by frequent use of the word 'open'."  A few days after the OpenSocial announce, Dare Obasanjo even predicted, "If Zuckerberg announces next week that the Facebook platform is freely implementable by any 3rd party Web site, where does that leave OpenSocial?"

Fast-forward to this past week, when Facebook announced that third-parties can implement their platform, and Bebo (an OpenSocial launch partner) is on-board with Facebook.  As Dare explains in his analysis, this means that Facebook is the first to ship an open platform, since OpenSocial is still under development.  Social networking is Facebook's core business, while it's a side project for Google.  Although Google has just attempted to add social networking to Google Reader (via Scoble), and is trying to take on Wikipedia with Knol, it remains to be seen whether they can be a great social networking platform.  Even Umair Haq, the perennial Google fan-boy, admits that Google might not have the right DNA.

On the other hand, the fact that Google might become a great social networking platform, seems to be worrying some of the OpenSocial partners.  Bebo hedged by partnering with Facebook, and both LinkedIn and Friendster have launched competing platforms in the past week.  And Sohu, the largest Chinese portal, launched a platform this week based on Netvibes platform.  Far from unifying the social networking platforms, the OpenSocial announcements of two months ago seem to have prompted an explosion of diversity in widget platforms.

To be honest, I didn't expect this degree of divergence, this early.  I expected people to "embrace and extend" OpenSocial through JS and schema extensions, not outright compete with it.  If we see this kind of jockeying around a widget platform, what are the odds that we'll see significant industry cooperation on social network portability or data interop?  It's still too early to declare OpenSocial a complete failure, but the recent news definitely tempers some of the grand expectations that were flying around when the initiative was announced.





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