last100) has an interesting post on his ZDNet blog that questions whether Google's OpenSocial initiative is at all about data portability, or if in fact it really just about widget standardization. O'Hear quotes heavily from a recent article by Marc Canter, who is a strong advocate for open standards and data portability, that ran on CNet.Steve O'Hear (who edits our digital lifestyle blog
"It seems that almost everybody got a little carried away about what OpenSocial really stands for, falling for Googles attempt to outmaneuver Facebook and paint the latter as the big bad wolf of data lock-in," writes O'Hear. "Except OpenSocial isnt really designed to give users the ability to move their data from one social network to another."
Instead, he says, OpenSocial's goal is to standardize widget development. According to Canter, many of the social networks that have signed on to OpenSocial never intended to open their network and allows users to transport data, regardless of whether that was part of Google's plans. Rather, networks wanted access to Google's OpenSocial gadgets (their word for widgets) in an attempt to strike back against Facebook's successful platform.
This is something Marshall Kirkpatrick picked up on shortly after Google announced OpenSocial. "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?" he wondered in November.
And if Google is really just trying to standardize widget development, are they the ones we want at the helm? Snipperoo's Ivan Pope argues that "we'd be better off working from the ground up rather than getting suckered by a Google et al inspired bit of marketing flammery." I'm inclined to agree. Other than the seeming lack of data portability as part of the OpenSocial initiative, one of the other chief concerns that our own Marshall Kirkpatrick talked about was whether Google was exercising leadership or control.
"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," he wrote.
So if OpenSocial is really not about data portability and interoperability between networks (except as far as widget creation is concerned), we'll have to look elsewhere for that. But that's not to say that OpenSocial is a total wash -- widget standardization isn't such a bad idea. As we wrote in November, there are plenty of winners when OpenSocial is adopted. "The winners of OpenSocial are Google (who now has hooks into a large number of social networking sites that reach hundreds of millions of people -- whom Google surely hopes will one day be viewing Google ads), users (who now have access to social apps on networks that previously didn't have developer APIs), app developers," we said.
The question is, do we want Google to be leading the way in widget standardization? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.