OpenSocial Should Enable Social Network Interoperability

I am sure most of you know about Google’s latest initiative called OpenSocial. Google launched this effort to simplify and consolidate the ecosystem for application developers and Social Networks.

According to OpenSocial, Social Networks and other similar services can play hosts and implement to the standard Google API’s. Developers can write applications to these API’s and are automatically enabled to deploy them on any one of these hosts. This introduces the “Write Once, Run Anywhere” paradigm in the ecosystem. You can read more on their official website.

According to Google’s Vic Gundotra, this is valuable for both developers and host networks. With respect to Users, he mentions that they will receive “more, more and more”. More Applications, More Choices across More Websites.

Frankly, I disagree with Vic there. “More” is not always good. I will even go to the extent of saying that the idea of “More” is the single biggest problem with the social networking experience today. I have written about Social Network overload several times before.

I am happy about OpenSocial as an effort to help networks and developers. However I would like to see Google focus more on the user’s needs. Someone needs to represent the user in middle of all this and in my mind there is no one better than Google.

As we know, there are new social services cropping up constantly. A user’s friends and acquaintances are distributed over multiple networks and thus the he/she has to register with more than one to keep track. For example, here are the services I use:

  • LinkedIn (for my professional contacts)
  • MySpace
  • Facebook
  • Orkut (for my friends in India)
  • Plaxo (for contacts/calendar consolidation)

In addition I keep receiving invites from Hi5, Friendster and Yahoo 360. I am pretty sure this is typical of many users. Now I haven’t joined these networks because they offer something new and different than others. I join them because my friends have registered there. This is true for many users and this is quite a problem.

What we need here is consolidation and / or interoperability. We need simplification without hampering access to the social graph. It is natural for the social graph to be spread all over. This is same with other modes of communication. For example my wireless carrier is Sprint, but my friends and co-workers are spread over other providers. This problem appears in E-Mail and IM worlds too.

OpenSocial should learn from recent interoperability relationships in the IM world. OpenSocial can establish methods (APIs) for containers (Social Services) to access Social Graph information across the board. This access is not to steal the users (or the whole graph), but to just access friend information on user’s request. For example if I am registered at Facebook, I can invite and add friends who maybe in MySpace an/or Orkut.

Imagine, if you had a Gmail account and you could only message other Gmail users. Well it would be hard, wouldn’t it? Same thing is happening within our Social Networks today. Enabling interoperability will fix this problem and on the other hand prevent Social Networks to leverage the actual “Social Graph” to gain subscribers. They will have to enable new applications and features to convey users to join them. This is very similar to how IM and Wireless carriers behave today.

This is a clear and present problem, which must be fixed. The Social Graph belongs to the user, so no one can argue that Social Networks can leverage that for building subscriber base. Given the paradigm OpenSocial is establishing, enabling interoperability is not such a big leap of imagination. In my opinion such an interoperable environment will allow following:

  • Ability to add friends on external networks
  • Ability to access latest activity from friends on other networks
    • This will require interoperability of “My Feeds” across networks
  • Ability to access friends buddy list “Social Graph”
    • This is purely read-only and enabled for users to discover friends
    • Networks cannot use this data to lure users from one network to the other
  • Ability to message and leave comments (Wall to Wall, Scraps whatever)

The aforementioned feature-set will deliver the experience we all need. Social networks will compete with new applications and services to garner user interests. For example I moved from Yahoo mail to Gmail due to the improved experience. Same thought process can be applied to the networks.

I am hoping OpenSocial can evolve to enable this for us users. Simplification is what we need.

Until then we have to login into multiple systems to keep in touch with our friends and co-workers. Let me know what you all think aboutmy thoughts. Your comments are most welcome.

23 thoughts on “OpenSocial Should Enable Social Network Interoperability”

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