Thursday, March 27, 2008

OpenSocial Attracts "Friends"

When Google’s OpenSocial debuted in November of last year it attracted a lot of attention. It was positioned as Google’s answer to Facebook’s open platform. When I wrote about the social graph and related apps in February I noted that Facebook had over 15,000 apps that members could use on Facebook or sites. When I looked today, it had over 20,000. The industry quickly realized that Facebook was onto something when it opened its platform to developers so they could write these apps. Google was not to be left behind.

Just before OpenSocial debuted in November, Michael Arrington wrote a post on TechCrunch that proved to be prophetic:

Facebook has a platform to allow third parties to build applications on Facebook itself. But what Google may be planning is significantly more open - allowing third parties to both push and pull data, into and out of Google and non-Google applications.
In the long run, Google seems to be planning to add a social layer on top of the entire suite of Google services, with Orkut as their initial main source of social graph information and, as I said above, possibly adding third party networks to the back end as well. Social networks would have little choice but to participate to get additional distribution and attention.

Given the incredible success of the Facebook open platform, it was big news on Tuesday when Yahoo! and MySpace opted to join Google’s initiative, forming the OpenSocial Foundation. Several smaller networks had already signed on.

A lot of this is written for developers who have to do the work of creating the apps. It isn’t DIY for most of us. What does it actually mean to marketers? Charlene Li of Forrester has a graphic that portrays it well.
She calls it ‘relationship mapping” and explains that the technology will help us keep track of all our important relationships. Now we have them in separate places. The social networking APIs will help us to organize them in a single repository. According to Google, developers “can create apps with OpenSocial that access a social network's friends and update feeds.” In plain terms, organize them all in one place and keep them up to date. I haven’t seen any mention of Charlene’s vision that they could monitor frequency of use and regulate access, but Facebook’s open platform and OpenSocial are first steps. Who knows what will follow?

And that’s what marketers need to think about. This suggests both convenience and loss of privacy for the user. It also makes it possible that one of your network “friends” could use an app that accesses data in a way that you didn’t/wouldn’t approve. However, the fact that you are connected on the network gives her app access to your data.

I suggest that there are two issues. The first is that this particular horse is already out of the barn. User agreements like Facebooks already make that sort of data sharing possible. The second is that most users, even young sophisticates, don’t seem to really understand that. What will they say when they do?
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