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.

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McMullan: You certainly might, in the same way a Web developer has to take into account different browsers. There can be devils in the details, but hopefully [with OpenSocial] the vast majority of the effort is certainly not in porting. It's in perhaps the last 1 percent of tweaking.

IDGNS: At this point, should developers start writing applications based on OpenSocial or rather wait, kick the tires and send Google feedback?

McMullan: We've got an Orkut sandbox and there are other sandboxes for other sites coming online. When you're at the sandbox stage only, we're talking about, "Come, kick the tires, participate, learn, test, but know that the sandbox may have an API [revision] before it reaches production status". A big part of it is the policies and the production hardening that this requires for our partners, for anyone who implements this. It's something that takes time. We want to get that open feedback loop going with the world as soon as possible.

IDGNS: Is Orkut [Google's own social-networking site] now fully enabled for OpenSocial?

McMullan: It's still in sandbox stage.

IDGNS: Many social applications are designed for end users to load information into a database, be it text, photos, videos, audio, whatever. If someone adopts one of those applications for, say, the eight social networks he's in, he has to enter the data separately on each Web site. As part of the OpenSocial effort, will Google help end users with this data portability problem?

McMullan: That's an interesting idea, but we don't have anything to talk about regarding that at this time.

IDGNS: Does OpenSocial have any features for advertising functions?

McMullan: We don't have it now, but we're very conscious the developers want to monetise their applications. So, part of this discussion is to figure out how that can be made to happen and if the APIs have an impact there or if there are other mechanisms for advertising [that fall] outside of the API.

IDGNS: OpenSocial, in theory, will let developers write an application once and have it be compatible with any Web site that supports the OpenSocial platform. However, for Web site publishers, is there value in having the same applications as 30 or 40 other sites, some of which it may compete against?

McMullan: We're not that far into this notion that developers should be thinking about social features, not only for social networks but for all kinds of applications, in a standardised way. When you think about the number of developers that will be brought under the fold to unleash their creativity, one side is, yes, that one application may run on 20 different sites, so as one of the Web sites you feel less special. But the upside is you've got orders of magnitude more developers who can bring their creativity into your environment. Although the APIs are the same, the context isn't the same, the notion of friends isn't always the same, so you still have the ability to differentiate yourself and tap into that giant pool of developers. That's the ultimate upside.

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