OpenSocial Google’s answer to Facebook’s walled garden

Tech Crunch have a couple of reports on Google’s assault on the social networking market – OpenSocial – but rather than building a walled garden like Facebook, Google are trying to make it easy for developers to create a single application that can work on all social networks. And in turn deliver a social layer across all of its applications.

OpenSocial

OpenSocial will provide a set of common APIs to allow developers to access core functions and information on social networks. Specifically the APIs will give access to:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)

In turn the social network, or ‘Host’, agrees to accept the API calls and return appropriate data. And unlike Facebook which relies on a proprietary mark-up language Google’s API will use JavaScript and HTML. This open or inside out Facebook, leverages the ‘web as a platform’ rather than trying to tie users and developers in and is exactly what I was wittering on about previously. This is also bad news for Facebook.

There is a theory that as a technology matures it moves from closed proprietary systems where competition is based on functionality (e.g. mini computers); through improved reliability, convenience and finally commoditization with the resultant fall in cost (e.g. PCs).

Fans of Clayton Christiansen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma will recognize this transition. For those that aren’t, Christiansen argues that initially a new technology is forced to compete on functionality because, bluntly, they tend to be a bit rubbish – failing to meet users needs. Because the technology falls short of its user’s expectations the company is forced to design right up to the cutting edge where standards have yet to be agreed. So while the system will rely on standard components and technologies the architecture of the system is proprietary.

However, overtime the architecture becomes standard because people want reliability and reduced cost. This is possible because the technology improves at a faster rate than the users expectations. This in turn means that the company can step back from the edge to create more reliable, stable products. And because the design of the architecture doesn’t need to be innovative the company standardizes it and its value drops.

But standardizing the architecture allows new proprietary technologies to be designed and built on or with those, now open, systems. Or put another way value switches from the architecture to the component of a system. Facebook is a proprietary systems built using open, standardized technologies. Google with OpenSocial appear to be on the brink of launching an open, standard architecture, and open, standard architectures will switch the value from the architecture (Facebook) to the component because that is what is now distinctive.

So why would Google build something that has little value? Because Google are in the business of owning the glue.

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