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11/1/2007
11:47 AM
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Google's Designs On Web Identity

Google's OpenSocial initiative, a set of APIs which let developers create widgets that will work on multiple social networks, looks like a reaction to Facebook's successes. But it might turn into another cog in the wheel of digital identity management.

Google's OpenSocial initiative, a set of APIs which let developers create widgets that will work on multiple social networks, looks like a reaction to Facebook's successes. But it might turn into another cog in the wheel of digital identity management.Facebook allows widget-like apps to be installed on user's pages, but only apps written in the proprietary Facebook Mark-up Language, aka FBML. Google's APIs will let developers create apps that run in JavaScript and HTML and in doing so create de facto standards for characterizing profile information, data on contact lists and data on users' activity on the network. In the long run, that could become another one of several efforts to create Web-wide identity systems.

"A lot of us were surprised over the last year to find social networking go from something frivolous and fun to something fundamentally important," says John McCrea, VP of marketing for OpenSocial partner and new social networking entrant Plaxo. "With that, we started to look at all these walled gardens in a different light and saw the real threat of the balkanization of social networks."

Several large partners already are signing on, including business social networks LinkedIn and Xing, once-reigning social network champ Friendster, as well as two business software companies, Salesforce.com and Oracle. That so many early partners are in business software and services indicates where social networks are headed, and why IT management should pay attention to this area.

Most of the apps on Facebook today are frivolous, including many by initial OpenSocial partners RockYou, Slide, and iLike, all of whom make consumer apps. Social networks taking root in business are more about maintaining work relationships, finding expertise and creating working and project groups on the fly. Integrating this type of capability with business apps could be powerful stuff, and it's much easier on developers and social network companies alike not to have to reinvent the wheel to create an app or app platform.

At this point, as Wired's Scott Gilbertson notes, "Google's APIs don't address our chief complaint about social networks -- our data is stranded and difficult to share with those outside the latest hip network." That's a problem for businesses who need more and more to be connected digitally to their partners and customers. However, by standardizing at least the communication of a few key social networking data points, Google's APIs at least lay the groundwork for the ability to share information among social networks.

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