The Battle for an Open Social: Why Google Wins

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Google’s much rattled about OpenSocial has prevailed; its leaked URL went live just a few hours ago. After much ado, Google has officially challenged Facebook to its knees and any developer can get himself an OpenSocial app within a matter of coffee-hours.

In what situation does this put the developers? Is this another evolution in the state of social apps on the web, or a cheap copy-cat trick by Google to break into Facebook’s market? Is Facebook going to retreat, or respond, and more importantly, will the users care at all? These are the few questions that came to my mind, and I’m sure everyone else’s, when I first tried to grasp the concept behind OpenSocial filtering through much of the excitement in the blogosphere.

OpenSocial“Open” is a huge keyword in OpenSocial. Google could have done what the others said they’d do, which is to open their social network (Orkut in their case) to developers and hope that some apps would prosper out of it. It’d be a desperate attempt, the results even more deplorable and pathetic. And then a few months later, we’d get some me-too announcements from MySpace and Bebo, and lightbulbs would eventually light with the others. The industry would then be divided in terms of social apps, and a few months later someone would realize the mess we’d have got ourselves into, by when it would be too late to do anything.

Instead, Google went with a smarter approach. They took the leap. They bent the rules. Their thinking was simple: make a centralized mechanism, and execute it in a decentralized way. By this, I mean they’d still get to be king, and give Facebook a good run for their growth in the last six months, but they wouldn’t eat the whole cake — at least not alone. They would try to, of course — by bidding their way into a stake of Facebook to automatically bring them into the Google way of thinking — and if that failed (which we now know it did), they’d go for the home-run, quietly whispering “who needs them” to themselves.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you put up a decent challenge, which I think is one of the best moves the industry’s ever seen. Google knew they couldn’t do it alone: influencing the best people to build for you, as they know very well, is a very tough thing to do in this growing age. So they partnered, or put into play the other keyword in their name — “Social.”, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING, are only some of the companies in Google’s friends list, if you pardon the analogy, and talk about influencing — they were even able to convince even the biggest of the biggest (MySpace) to join them instead of setting out to construct their own, which we now know from comments to the public was their original intention.

OpenSocialMark my words: Google is now set to see the biggest storm of developer innovation they’ve ever seen. Bigger than with the original search APIs, bigger than Google Gadgets (though that’s an integral part), and much bigger than the kind they have going on internally. OpenSocial, when all is said and done, reaches out to more than 200 million users. That’s massive. To any developer scanning prospects to diversify and expand reach, that’s not a consideration, that’s a given.

And did I even touch on diversity and target audiences? The sum of the partners supporting OpenSocial is 1000x more diverse than Facebook could imagine to be. By language, race, country, gender, whatever it’s you’re looking at, your application is going to be used by everybody — not just Silicon Valley geeks who want to get rich when Facebook IPOs. Case-in-point, you’re iLike and you want to reach out to more Brazillians — you’re not going to find them on Facebook, you’re going to find them on Orkut. And what do you have to do to get on their radars on Orkut? Make an OpenSocial app, of course! And the way Google lets you do it with your existing code is more than a developer could ask for, at least, it’s easier than learning some markup language that you’ll only use for the purpose of this. The added icing on the cake, of course, is that by making an OpenSocial app, you don’t just reach out to Brazillians on Orkut, but everyone else on every other social network — it’ll work on SixApart services if you’re looking for bloggers, LinkedIn for the business kind, Viadeo for the French, the millions of diverse users on MySpace, Bebo and Hi5, and the 15 other Google partners.

Does Facebook stand a chance in the battle for openness? No way. Google’s pulled a strike of genius before it would have been worthless to do so, and it’s going to work. Facebook’s going to have to eventually give-in. The best thing on Google’s side is that it’s as win-win as any situation could be. For Google, for the social networks, for developers, and most importantly, for the users. Everyone wins, value is added, and before you know it, the web’s a better place. Now I know the real reason behind their insanely rising share prices: this is a company that knows their stuff — their influence is felt by all.

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