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OpenSocial: One Year Later

It’s been a little over a year since Google announced OpenSocial, a common API for social applications across multiple websites. It’s an aggressive undertaking: an underlying technology designed to help all developers add intelligent social features to their offerings more quickly and easily, regardless of the types of sites they’re developing.

To commemorate the first year, OpenSocial fans recently gathered at MySpace for a celebration and an update on the progress over the past 12 months. The verdict? The concept of OpenSocial has traction – and hundreds of millions of users currently benefiting from it.

The goal of OpenSocial – according to David Glazer of Google – is to get to the point where users “can do anything you want with anyone you want anywhere you want.” In other words – from the open Web standpoint – social activities shouldn’t be relegated to particular sites or applications. Rather, they should be part and parcel of every site on the Web.

A Good Start

At the time of launch, ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick was cautiously optimistic about the potential for the new offering, but ultimately skeptical about the proprietary nature of the introduction, stating:

“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.”

But that corporate blessing – while ripe for cynicism – has had some positive impact, as well.

For the development community, Google’s initiative to embrace the concept of the open Web marked a turning point for distributed social media technologies, like OAuth. What once was the bailiwick of a small cadre of loosely assembled developers suddenly became technology that was more accessible to a wide variety of developers. And that availability brought the concept of “opening the social Web” to a more mainstream – albeit still leading-edge – audience.

For the first year, OpenSocial has seen tremendous uptake in the online community. The list of organizations developing apps reads like a who’s who of social sites: AOL, Bebo, hi5, Google, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Orkut, Yahoo!… even Friendster.

With the heft of those sites, OpenSocial is currently projecting a total reach of more than 600 million users, worldwide. That includes more than 300 million apps. But it’s not always obvious as to what’s built on OpenSocial and what’s not. It’s somewhat hidden as underlying technology – and that may be working in its favor by allowing developers to deliver social functionality as if it were their own.

Not bad for the first year.

Gorillas in the Mist

But for all the positive uptake of OpenSocial, there are two very obvious names – application development gorillas in their own right – currently missing from that list of early adopters. Facebook is still a question. As is Microsoft. Obviously, those two companies have both the open Web and a relationship of their own with which to deal. In any case, both Facebook and Microsoft are purported to be involved in the OpenSocial discussion, but it’s still not clear where they will land as time goes on.

Whatever happens in this dance, it’s hard to fathom that the open Web will truly reach its potential without the active participation of Facebook and Microsoft. And that – ironically – makes the pursuit of “openness” very strategic and very proprietary for all of the companies involved.

But what’s the Web without a little drama?

What’s Next?

Last month, LinkedIn launched a series of partner-built applications that leveraged OpenSocial. This release is a perfect example of the types of collaboration that the APIs are designed to facilitate, and we’re only likely to see more in the coming months.

In terms of organization, the OpenSocial Foundation, the group designed to help manage the development community around these APIs, has recently solidified its leadership for the coming year. No doubt, we will begin to see more from the Foundation as these Directors begin working together.

But the real question for the next year is: will it be more of the same or will other players continue to adopt OpenSocial? Will we get a step closer to the “anything, anyone, anywhere” goal or will it be another year of destination sites leveraging OpenSocial to extend existing functionality?

It’s hard to say. OpenSocial has momentum and some demonstrable results – not to mention a little drama to keep things interesting. That bodes well for the open Web – and for users. We’ll just have to wait and see how we will benefit from OpenSocial in the coming year – and remain hopeful that the “open” continues to get more open.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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