OpenSocial targets social apps API 'balkanization'

Google's OpenSocial initiative to establish common, standard APIs for creating social-networking applications is still in its early days. But its impact for end users, developers, website owners, social-network operators and even business application vendors could be huge in the long run.


In a recent chat with IDG News Service, Scott McMullan, Google Apps partner lead in Google's Enterprise division, described OpenSocial as an attempt to simplify the lives of developers by addressing what the vendor considers is a 'balkanisation' of social-networking APIs (application programming interfaces).

McMullan also articulated how OpenSocial's scope goes far beyond the creation of applications for social-networking sites, saying its core set of common APIs is intended also for the creation of social features and capabilities within Web sites in general and within business software.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

IDG News Service: Regarding the "balkanisation" of APIs in general on the Web, do you plan to extend OpenSocial so that it contains open APIs for other types of Web applications - not just social-networking ones, but for things like maps, where different vendors, like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, have their own set of APIs?

Scott McMullan: In general, one could argue that any time you have two APIs that do similar things you've got this inherent problem. I'm not sure if OpenSocial is going to [address] that larger problem, but certainly this is the context where we thought we could make an impact.

IDGNS: Google has said that the scope of OpenSocial APIs isn't limited to social-networking sites, that OpenSocial can be used for creating social-networking features or components in Web sites in general and also in business applications.

McMullan: Yes. Take, for example, as an application whose goal is to coordinate a team of people to sell stuff. Sales is a quite socially driven activity. ... You have this group of people all coordinating [their efforts] to sell, and all within this one application. It's a business application that has kind of an implicit social network to it. ... So you see how it would make sense to bring these social features more explicitly to Salesforce or any other application that has that similar dynamic.

IDGNS: Is OpenSocial a solution in search of a problem? Are developers really clamoring for something like this? How many social-networking sites are out there today for which you can or would want to write applications? There don't seem to be that many APIs for social-networking sites out there.

McMullan: There are a lot of social-networking sites. There's a long tail of them. There are a lot of big ones and small ones. In addition, my personal perspective is that the social nature of a lot of different applications is also an equally important part of the story. It's about the social features that we all find very compelling in social-networking sites and we'd like to empower those across the Web. So getting ahead of the problem and creating a standard that we all can rally around to make that happen, and help channel that developer energy, is a big part of it. And these are early days for social-network platforms.

IDGNS: In the real world, won't developers ultimately find themselves having to tweak and retool applications so that they are appropriate for different sites, because, say, the concept, the policies and the look-and-feel of Facebook are different from the ones of LinkedIn?

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