Techcrunch announced earlier this week that Google is launching Open Social (URL will apparently go live later today) – a new set of APIs that will facilitate the transfer of data in and out of of social networks.  Specifically:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)

I think this is potentially a very big deal for the same reasons that I think the Flock people sidebar is a big deal – namely that it reduces or eliminates the benefits of having all your friends in the same social network.  Instead you can compartmentalise your identity and use a social network aggregator service which gives you a single view of all your friends across multiple networks.  Flock does this today for Facebook and Twitter, and out of the gate Open Social will support Orkut, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Ning, Hi5, Plaxo, Friendster, Viadeo and Oracle.

The other benefit is for application developers who will no longer have to write different versions of their application for different social networks.

For Open Social to be truly successful it will need the two largest networks to play ball.  Most of the benefits will be lost if Myspace and Facebook refuse to support the standard – and this is something they might well do – as David Spark points out:

If you’ve got a popular product built on proprietary technology, defend your position. There’s no point in opening it up to allow others in.  ……  Disney doesn’t cough up Mickey Mouse’s image for anyone who wants it. Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T spent a lot of money on their networks and acquiring customers. You didn’t see any of them getting so excited about having to open it up for all to use on the 700 MHz spectrum. Telcos defend their position by forcing customers into multi-year contracts. Microsoft defends its position by making its software work just a little bit better on its own products rather than competing products. And Disney just sues everyone into oblivion who tries to appropriate Mickey’s image.

Facebook will be in a difficult position though.  On the one hand they have positioned themselves as the champion of open-ness, but on the other hand they probably have the most to lose from going open.  Plus they have Microsoft in their corner who has a history of exploiting dominant positions by remaining closed and won’t want to see Facebook co-operating with Google.

It will be really interesting to see how this plays out.  There are big bucks at stake and it could decide the difference between a social network future dominated by one or two huge brands (probably Myspace and Facebook) or one where there is space for a larger number of decent sized companies.

As you can imagine the blogosphere is awash with lots of interesting commentary on this subject.  Here is a sample from Broadstuff, Tom Raftery Marc Andreessen and David Spark.