Tuesday Nov 18, 2008

Why OpenSocial for Social Networking applications and platforms

Today, you dont have to be an abnormal geeky engineer to develop IT applications. Infact, its almost where software engineers are an endangered species and neophytes will take over all engineering jobs. Particularly in the Social Networking world, with the advent of  ever growing supply of interesting Web APIs and Open Application platforms, almost anyone and everyone can develop a Web-scale application with very little to no technical background, and potentially make millions if the idea is cool and clever.

The most popular Application Platform today seems to be the Facebook Platform, given it has the maximum users (over 120 million users worldwide) and applications (over 40k). Facebook has its own proprietary programming API and language called FBML and an application written to FBML would run only on Facebook or a site built on Facebook platform.

OpenSocial on the  other hand is an open source API originally developed by Google. It is a community effort,  supported by Sun(Check out Project SocialSite), MySpace, Orkut, Ning, Hi5, Google App Engine among others. Languages supported are HTML, JavaScript, XML, ReST.

As a developer, building an application on OpenSocial would mean that it can be deployed on multiple Social Networking sites that support OpenSocial and your total number of users across these sites might add up to more than what you might get from a single proprietary site. Plus, you might be able to tap into different geographies and age groups depending on which social networking site is more popular in a given region. Eg. Orkut is more popular in Asia whereas MySpace is more popular in USA and Bebo is more popular in the UK. Also, you automatically build safety in the numbers by spreading the risk, such that if one site is down, other sites are up and still churning money for you.

Yesterday I had a chance to attend a presentation by Dave, author of BuddyPoke, one of the most popular application on Orkut. It was very interesting to learn that BuddyPoke is an application developed by 2 developers, is live on 8 Social Networking sites (MySpace, NetLog, Orkut, Friendster, Hyves, Hi5), has 26 million+ users  with a peak install rate of 260K installs in one day. It was launched just 6 months ago. Compare this to some of the most popular Facebook applications like RockYou that has I am told about 20 million Facebook users. It takes Dave less than a few hours to get his BuddyPoke application up and running on a new OpenSocial platform.

You get my point. Web is Good, and being Social is Good. However, Social Web is even better. We all have the opportunity to shape the future of Social Networking via our contributions to OpenSocial.


And if you are a OpenSocial or Facebook developer, dont forget to leverage the Sun's offer of free hosting on Joyent for 1 yr.

Wednesday Nov 05, 2008

Open Social Networks built on Open Identity and Open APIs

This has been an year of Application Platforms and we have seen a number of Social Networks and XaaS flourish. Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut, Google Apps Engine, Y!OS, EC2 to name a few. Everything is syndicated and social is everywhere. Its the people who are the center of the services, not the software. There is a seemingly infinite demand for applications, almost difficult to deliver. Social computing is becoming a pillar of mass culture. Software is increasingly mediating between people and Apps is a way of life.

However, its also evident that in the current world, these social networks and platforms live alone and isolated from each other and there is no easy way to maneuver seamlessly between different networks.  This limitation is giving birth to Identity platforms wherein every user has an Open Identity and the social network vendors are being encourged to implement their platforms on top of these open Identity standards. In the coming year, we are likely to see more "Open Social Networks" so as to lower the barrier to entry in a social network, ease user acquisition and make socializing a more vibrant experience.

An Open Identity is an entity built on open standards that would define some of the following user attributes:

  • My profile
  • What people say about me
  • Who my friends are
  • What is my content
  • Which sites I can go to
  • etc.

Basically this entity would define a user. If all platforms leverage the same standard identity platform, then it would be seamless for a user to enter new networks. This would enable the service providers to get valuable insights into new user base by allowing them to easily plugin to their networks using open identity.

Yahoo! , MySpace and other vendors in this space are preaching what they are calling "Open Stack" that would make user data portable and enable a user to carry their address books with them while signing on to a new network or platform. As an example, figure below illustrates the Y! Open Platform.

With the web becoming more open and social, standards are needed to power the social functionality without having to reinvent the wheel every time. It only makes sense to tap into the existing semantic information and participate in the echo system. Its important to understand this distributed landscape and plan intelligently so that one can best leverage the building blocks.

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alkagupta

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