Social Skills

With Facebook usage on the decline, is OpenSocial the next big thing?

With Facebook usage on the decline (as shown by a recent Ovum survey), could OpenSocial be the next big thing?
At the Google Developer Day 2008, I attended Dan Peterson’s talk on OpenSocial, “OpenSocial: A standard for the social Web”.

Dan kicked off the presentation by describing the notion of the Social Web. The Web is about sharing information and people are the providers of that information. As the Social Web evolves, we’ll be accessing information from the Web based on people we know.

What is OpenSocial?

OpenSocial’s vision is to make the Web are more social place, by allowing you to write social applications that can run on many different websites. The idea is to provide the developers with a common API, so they don’t have to learn a new one every time they want to build a social application.

The websites hosting these applications are referred to as OpenSocial containers. Currently, Myspace, Hi5, Bebo and Yahoo! are amongst those websites supporting this technology. The potential for growth of the social Web is high, as more and more websites are adopting OpenSocial.

Developers, websites and users can all benefit from this new trend. As a developer, you can focus on making your application the best it can be, as you are not spending time learning a new API each time you want to build an app for a different site. Additionally, your application has the potential of reaching a wide audience of users. For users, this means they get to choose from a wide variety of applications, enabling them to interact more with their peers. Websites get the benefit of more features and functionality, by hosting applications that are developed by external developers.

Structure of OpenSocial Applications

OpenSocial is an open standard for building social apps, based entirely on established standards.
The most current version 0.7 supports HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The support for the REST API is expected to be introduced in version 0.8, which is defined and being implemented. The REST API will allow access to OpenSocial without the use of JavaScript. This way your can perform server to server processing, that is making calls to an OpenSocial server and passing data in JSON or AtomPub formats.

Most changes in 0.8 will be backwards compatible. To use 0.8 you may need to modify your 0.7 apps slightly.

It has been proposed to introduce an OpenSocial templating language, with a standard set of tags to make development faster.

The OpenSocial JavaScript API consists of:

|> People and Friends – the ability to access information about friends
|>Activities – be informed about you friends’ activities and share your activities with friends
|>Persistence – you can share data with your friends, without having to store it on a third party server. The amount of information that can be stored is determined by the container.

An OpenSocial application is currently made up of HTML, JavaScript and CSS, wrapped inside an XML file. Remember in version 0.8 we’ll be able to utilise REST services.

Dan says anyone is welcome to join OpenSocial, but Facebook still doesn’t want to play. It is possibly they even view OpenSocial as a threat.

Pretty much the same presentation was given at this year's Google I/O by Patrick Chanezon, Kevin Marks and Christian Schalk.