The Google-lead initiative called OpenSocial is all the buzz this week with anyone interested in online innovation, but beyond all the enthusiasm there are a number of questions that ought to be asked more visibly than they have been so far.
OpenSocial is a hugely ambitious project that would tie together Google, MySpace and numerous other social networking platforms in a common environment that application publishers could publish widgets to with one set of code.
There are some issues that need to be discussed about OpenSocial, however. It's not all a bed of roses, believe it or not.
Here's my list of concerns, what's on yours?
Is Google Exercising Leadership or Control?
When rumors about OpenSocial started to take shape it appeared that it would be all based on Google - that communication between social networks would have to go through Google. According to participating companies now free to discuss the platform, that's not the case. An application could jump from MySpace to Ning without ever having to communicate with Google.
Still remaining is the question of Google's control over the standards creation process. It's not possible that one of the largest companies in the US and the largest in this consortium would act entirely out of concern for the world at large. You know they bullied everyone else involved into accepting their terms of openness, at least a little and probably a lot.
Google has control over a frightening amount of information about our world, from maps and email to genetics and the world's libraries. Tell me it's a brave new, open social world and Google is leading the charge and I can't help but be skeptical. They make great apps but I won't accept the brain implant no matter how open Google assures me it will be.
Are These Write-Only APIs?
While most APIs tend to be read-only, the OpenSocial APIs might be capable only of allowing widgets to be published from one network to another. Will one network be able to pull in bio, friend and interest data from another? That's not being discussed at all.
The phrase Open Social implies portability of personal and social data. That would be exciting but there are entirely different protocols underway to deal with those ideas. As some people have told me tonight, it may have been more accurate to call this "OpenWidget" - though the press wouldn't have been as good. We've been waiting for data and identity portability - is this all we get?
If This Is Good, Will Official Sanction Kill It?
Web 2.0 application adoption tends to develop entirely outside of the official IT plan. Big media's "viral content" is almost always awful. When The Man tries to "get hip" it's usually a real disaster.
Why couldn't this all be based on microformats and other existing open standards? Why the mysterious, brand-driven, limited APIs? Perhaps the culture of control and mega-corporate blessing is the only thing that the big players participating could comprehend. In that case it's probable that OpenSocial will likely be more closed and more anti-social than many of us would like.
There's a whole lot of excitement around OpenSocial, and with good reason. I'm excited to see what it makes possible - but I'm also very cautious to see how reality compares to big words and an impressive participant list.