Anticipation is building as Google prepares to formally introduce its social networking platform. Called “OpenSocial,” it provides tools for developers to create applications and widgets that can be ported to any participating network. Partners that have signed on range fromFriendster toPlaxo to Salesforce.com — and, most notably, in the last 24 hours, MySpace andBebo.
For the moment, interest in the OpenSocial rollout is highest among developers — and, of course, competitors. The former will likely have some effect on the latter.
“Ultimately, what is happening is that power will move toward developers, and social networks will be competing to get the best developers to their platform,” said Michael Witz, CEO ofNcursion, a company that develops games for the Facebook platform.
“For us, this is about as good news as you can get,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“It is a brave new world for us,” echoed Andy Halliday, CEO and founder ofTribbit.com, a group social media platform.
“[OpenSocial is] making it possible for individual coding engineers to become entrepreneurs at low cost,” he told TechNewsWorld.
The Facebook Shadow
The social network most at risk — or, put another way, most threatening to Google — appears to be the 50 million strong Facebook.
“This is first time we have seen Google feel threatened about anything,” remarked Witz. “[OpenSocial] is a direct response to the success that Facebook has had.”
Facebook will now be feeling the heat, he speculated. “The audience is the biggest incentive for a developer — and Google’s name recognition and partner lineup guarantee that almost all of the developers for Facebook will take a close look at the opportunity here.”
Ncursion, for instance, is currently looking at how its games can be ported to OpenSocial’s application programming interfaces, or APIs. “We are starting to put the resources together to prepare for development,” Witz said.
Open vs. Proprietary
A principal consideration for developers is that Facebook’s platform is a proprietary one.
Facebook should get credit for introducing social apps, according to John McCrea, vice president of marketing for Plaxo.
“Their model, though — a walled garden approach — is one we think is fundamentally flawed,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Basically, what they are saying to developers is, ‘Forget about the Web — all the action is here in Facebook.’ They are saying, ‘Think of us as a new [operating system] for the social Web, and write all your apps to our proprietary extension.'”
OpenSocial is the industry’s response to that. “The platform of the social Web — the OS for the social Web — should be open,” McCrea emphasized. “Dozens of companies are jumping on this now, but over time it will be hundreds of thousands if the social Web is as open as the wider Web.”
One of OpenSocial’s first supporters to implement the OpenSocial code, Plaxo is embedding the code this week into its social network, Pulse.
Still, surpassing Facebook’s audience — a constituency that is growing as more adults gravitate to the Web site — will take some doing.
Google will get a big boost with MySpace signing on with OpenSocial, said Tribbit.com’s Halliday.
Without the giant network behind it, “OpenSocial would at best be a way for developers to tap into secondary social networks.”
One reason developers may stick with Facebook — or at least make it their top priority — is the fact that it is still a private company, said Joe Pensa, founder ofFreeTicketExchange.com.
“There is far less pressure to meet shareholders’ expectations,” he told TechNewsWorld. “There is more freedom of creativity, which developers always value.”
That said, Google has immense resources to sway developers as well as networks, Patrick McKenna, CEO ofDMi Partners, pointed out.
“One thing Google has over all social networks is its unparalleled ability to monetize traffic,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Social networks are not for profit, and they need to make money. Google does that better than anyone.”
Will Social Networkers Flock?
In the midst of all this speculation, it is easy to overlook one giant unknown: How will social networkers react?
One important element in Google’s plans that is missing — so far — is mobile functionality, pointed out Victor Donselaar, president ofMovial, a provider of mobile applications and tools.
“[Mobile tech] will be the default access point for accessing social networks,” he maintained.
Another question mark is the security issue. “Building applications for the mobile phone must be secure, and this is not addressed at all,” said Donselaar.
“Mobile applications and devices do not have the same security capabilities as PCs,” Lorcan Burke, CEO ofAdaptiveMobile, told TechNewsWorld. “Accessing social networking sites or downloading applications in the mobile environment leaves the user open to viruses, malware and other threats that can render their device unusable. Because of the ubiquity and reach of Google, consumers may assume they are safe, given the Google brand, but they should not take this safety for granted.”
Even if a mobile component is developed, it is unlikely users will jump from one network to another just to take advantage of a fancy new tool, Halliday said.
“The only way that huge numbers of users would switch from networks where all their friends are is if Google identifies a killer app that might draw an audience — much like ‘Halo’ has done for Xbox,” he speculated.