2 November 2007

Google have finally made their move and shown their cards. They’re going after Facebook, and taking no prisoners, with their new OpenSocial initiative.

Not only that but they’ve dragged MySpace, Bebo, Six Apart, LinkedIn, Ning, Plaxo, Friendster, Oracle, iMeem, Orkut and more with them.

Wow! Facebook has really got a lot of people running scared, hasn’t it? Sadly for them I don’t think OpenSocial is really going to help them all that much.

OpenSocial is in essence an open version of Facebook’s developer APIs – all the bits that let you create apps on Facebook. With OpenSocial you can create things like Facebook apps that will work on any OpenSocial supporting platform, which can integrate in completely with the host site and have access to things like buddy lists, news feeds and the like. It’s a very emphatic shot across Facebooks bows, utterly one-upping them and making them look closed (when their whole schtick with apps has been ‘open’).

The problem is, however, that OpenSocial is coming at completely the wrong end of the closed-social-network problem. Bar far and away the biggest problem in social networking is fatigue, that to join yet another site you have to sign-up again, fill in all your likes and dislikes again and – most importantly – find all your friends again. OpenSocial doesn’t solve this, but if it had it could be truly revolutionary; if Google had gone after opening up the social graph (a term I’m not a fan of, but it seems to have stuck) then Facebook would have become much more of an irrelevance – people could go to whatever site they wanted to use, and still preserve all the interactions with their friends (the bit that really matters).

That’s the crux of the problem here: Google (and everyone else) have looked at the surging growth in Facebook traffic, and seen how that coincided with the launch of Facebook apps and thought ‘Facebook apps is the secret behind their success’.

It’s not.

The secret to Facebooks success is quite simple: it’s better then MySpace, and was in the right place at the right time. That’s it. The growth and opening up of Facebook (going from college and business only to open to everyone) coincided with a growth in fatigue with the use of MySpace. Up pops Facebook, with it’s much nicer UI and better social features (like the news feed) and people flock to it. The popularity of Facebook apps is purely down to the popularity of Facebook, not the other way round.

It’s not to say that all this OpenSocial stuff isn’t interesting – because it is – but it’s not going to be revolutionary. Even on Facebook, with the perceived popularity of its app platform – there hasn’t been a killer app yet that everyone is using. Sure you get things like ‘SuperWall’ and the like, but if they weren’t there I don’t think people will really notice.

I wonder what Facebook are going to do in response to this – it wouldn’t surprise me if they do something really radical; they did come up with this app platform stuff in the first place, don’t forget…

More links for further reading:

Official OpenSocial Site
Official Google Blog: OpenSocial makes the web better
Tantek: OpenSocial and portability
TechCrunch: Facebook, Your Move
FactoryCity: OpenSocial and Address Book 2.0: Putting People into the Protocol
Read/Write Web: OpenSocial: Three Big Concerns
Google OpenSocial Image Gallery

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