Is OpenSocial the beginning of the end for Facebook?

Google and partners (including LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Ning and others) are launching a new open API for interfacing with Social Networks. I’m not going to go into it too much because plenty of people have written about it already but I’ll give a few comments.

If you’re looking for one blog to read to get a feel of OpenSocial before all the gory details come out at Google Code then check out what Marc Andreessen has written. He’s the founder of Ning so clearly has an interest in OpenSocial succeeding but cut through the spin and there’s some valid points.

Where does this leave Facebook? At the moment it’s still the largest social network amongst university students so ignoring it doesn’t make sense. What OpenSocial allows is for developers to avoid vendor lock-in by writing applications for multiple platforms. Where previously there was no clear second choice to base features and implementation around, now there is a large aggregate user base to target. It will help developers to write cleaner code which can more easily be repurposed for new platforms, even alternative interfaces such as mobile phones.

This is also a pretty canny move from Google. Their own social network, Orkut, while big in Brazil has not found a significant following in the major markets. By introducing a system based on standards – the API is based on JavaScript and HTML – they’re lowering the barriers to developers by not requiring them to learn another markup or query language as is the case with Facebook.

Ultimately while this move might be supporting the growth of rival social networks, Google’s dominance and the sheer quantity of data it holds about everyone will enable it to grow Orkut and its other social websites (Documents, Talk, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, Calendar and the rest all have further scope to become more social).

Facebook Applications

I’ve been looking at Facebook Applications (and the Platform) since they launched and have been amazed by the massive growth of some of them. The Guardian summarises some issues that developers are facing in coping with the demand of millions of users in a short period of time. Also links to Marc Andreessen’s blog which gives some insightful comments. He seems like a bright chap that Marc Andreessen – he’ll do well for himself 😉