With apologies to Microsoft for ripping off their Zune tag line and apologies to everyone else (and Snoop Dogg) for using such a bad tag line in the first place, some significant developments are underway in the world of social networks.
Most people think of MySpace, Facebook and Friendster when they think of social networks. Perhaps LinkedIn as well. But an interesting confluence of events is occurring which I believe will drive the growth of private social networks and particularly in the enterprise space.
Google recently announced something called (inspiringly enough) OpenSocial. Om has an article on it and TechCrunch has coverage also, so feel free to pop off and read those articles if you want all the gory details. We’ll wait.
Back now? OK. The basic idea in its current form is much less than the hype might have you believe. After Facebook opened up its platform to third party developers, there was a recognition among other social networks and companies like Google that the we might be seeing the early stages of a new platform evolving. Platform in the sense that with the addtion of hundreds of third party mini-applications (call them widgets if you prefer) inside of Facebook, members would have less and less reason to go elsewhere. If you make your living selling advertising on your site, either directly or through Google, Yahoo or Microsoft, this is of course reason to worry.
Google has both the foresight and the clout to bring most of the other social network companies together and pitch a defined set of programming interfaces (APIs) for building third party applications inside a social network. (As opposed to Facebook’s own proporietary platform which doesn’t work anyhwere else.)
But in its current initial form, there are really only two things you need to know:
1. OpenSocial provides a set of programming interfaces that allows developers to create widgets that can then run in any social network (or any web site for that matter) that supports them.
2. It however does not allow end users to have an account on one social network function on any other. That is, as a user, if you want to network with MySpace members, you still have to have a MySpace account and it (and all your friends and apps) on MySpace will still be separate from your friends and widgets on, say, Orkut or Ning.
So its a start but mostly a shot across Facebook’s bow by Google for now.
Its bigger impact may turn out to be raising the profile of what social networks are and what they can be. The exposure this creates within the enterprise, and its subsequent impact, will be particularly interesting and that will be the subject of a follow-up post.