So I'm gearing up for a big post (at least it feels like it) on social networking in relation to the ever-looming Horizon report. But November 1st brought something new to the fore of these online tools. Google (again with the Google) launched a new service called OpenSocial. This is essentially a tool to help people write 3rd-party applications for social networking sites. These applications are one of the things that allow people to customize their spaces in MySpace or Facebook. You can see some examples of these tools for Facebook here.
Facebook has devised a particularly ingenious method for coaxing people to try these tools as your News Feed will report on which applications friends have recently added. It worked with me today when I was thinking about this and saw that a friend from high school had added Super Wall. I figured, "Hey, I'll try it out." In any case, what News Feed produces is a viral flocking toward applications.
While these tools are essentially small plug ins, but their viral popularity makes them big business (there are 7000+ for Facebook as of today). They can drive ad dollars and, in some instances, developers charge for the use of the software. What has been difficult thus far is that programmers who develop an application for one social networking site will--logically--want to allow those who aren't cool enough to know that orkut, friendster, and LinkedIn are so 2004 to use their application. Most of these different sites, however, have used different and proprietary APIs (application programming interface). This radically increased the workload for these programmers. And this in turn lowers the number of viable alternative social networking sites since less and less people are making new and interesting applications for these less popular sites.
What Google has done is proposed a new API that will be compatible across social networking sites. This means less work for the programmers. Oh, and more traffic for Google. An amazing number of the social-networking-erati have signed on for the project, including MySpace. The exception is Facebook. There are of course reactions (some negative and some positive) to the Goog's latest move.
My thoughts? I think Facebook is right on this count, from a business perspective. With Microsoft's recent investment in Facebook, the company could be realistically valued at $15 billion. That's about 10x the value of YouTube. It makes sense because while everyone loves a viral video, what people like even more is when that viral video is brought directly to you via your friends (and not through an email forward) but through the News Feed feature.