With all the news and excitement surrounding the Google "gPhone" yesterday I thought "Why write about it now?" That's what everybody will be writing about today anyway. And, those who know me know I've never been one to follow the herd. Instead, I thought I would spend a minute writing about something else Google has done. OK, well, it's going to work really nicely with the gPhone, so I guess I am kind of writing about the gPhone (Android), anyway. But not really.
Last week, my good friend Kerry Gunther, CEO of Browser Media sent me an email about a new program Google has announced called OpenSocial. OpenSocial is a consortium of companies set to work together to develop an open standard for social networking. Google has a simple notion about social media - that it will be everywhere. And, they have no interest in proprietary or closed networks preventing Google from missing out on engaging audiences with the value of their utilities. More simply, Facebook for example, is a closed network. What if you wanted to create that sort of social networking experience anywhere. On any site, at any time.
Google is asking the member companies to embrace open standards. So that the underlying technology does not belong to any one company. The initiative is an appeal to software developers and Web sites to cooperate in adopting a single set of software standards for the little software widgets that can add a social-networking functionality. Agreement on a standard would save audiences the aggravation of joining multiple closed networks and save developers from the aggravation of writing code that works only with specific sites.
So, who is in this new consortium? Well there's little old MySpace, if you forgot, they are the No. 1 social networking site in the world, with more than 100 million unique visitors in September alone. The group also includes Bebo, the No. 1 networking site in Britain, as well as SixApart, Hi5, Friendster, LinkedIn and Ning — and Orkut, of course which Google already owns. Google also signed up some other participants, like Salesforce.com, that are not so much social networking sites but which welcome social widgets.
Facebook is holding out. But, if I owned a social network with a valuation of $15 billion and a recent $240 million dollar investment from Microsoft, I too might take my time in making decisions about how and where I want to migrate my audience on a Google led open standard.
So, here's the bottom line. Google’s self-interest is clear: it does not want its audiences to disappear when they head off to proprietary social networking sites. Incidentally, if software based on OpenSocial specifications spreads throughout the Web, and if audiences are permitted to assume more control over how their personal information is used and sold, it is possible to imagine a day when all sites on the Web are equipped to utilize one’s entire social network, regardless of where it originated. Total community ubiquity. It is also possible to imagine receiving feeds about what friends are doing and updating others about their own activities while roaming around the whole web. Why spend time on a social networking site if its functionality can be made portable?
Here's the rub. I spend a lot of time and energy with my clients talking about safety, security and privacy. OpenSocial is another great reason to make corporations and individuals worry. The more personal information is used and shared around the Web, the more opportunity for misuse. It will be interesting to see how Google responds to these security concerns and as a result how this ubiquity might shift the general perception of the social network as a utility. Maybe Facebook's holding out provides some valuable insight into their audience - the insight being people might just like it more when the garden gates stay closed. Time will tell.
You can check out the official OpenSocial web site here.