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5/12/2008
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Google's Friend Connect To Spread Social Data

The software is part of an emerging set of technologies like OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial, and the data access APIs published by Facebook, Google, and MySpace.

Google on Monday announced a preview release of Google Friend Connect, a way for Web publishers to add social features to sites without programming.

Google Friend Connect, available Monday evening, lets site creators add prebuilt blocks of code that handle user registration, invitations to view content, message posting, and other features, such as third-party applications (widgets) built using the OpenSocial APIs.

In a statement, Google engineering director David Glazer described Friend Connect has part of an emerging set of technologies like "OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial, and the data access APIs published by Facebook, Google, MySpace" that aim to standardize the handling and presentation of social applications and data.

"What Google is essentially doing is making it easy to tap into new, emerging standards around social features," explained Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li in a blog post. "These standards specifically deal with identity (OpenID), data access rights (OAuth), and social applications (OpenSocial). These are all standards that have emerged in the past six months and are laying the foundation for open social networks. Friend Connect is Google's way to make these new standards more accessible to Web site owners who don't have legions of developers at the ready."

Google's announcement Monday echoes related announcements made recently by MySpace and Facebook.

MySpace last week announced its Data Availability initiative, soon to be implemented by partners eBay, Photobucket, Twitter, and Yahoo, to make it easier to share social data across Web sites. It also joined the DataPortability Project, which counts Google, Facebook, and Plaxo as members.

Facebook the next day introduced Facebook Connect, a new iteration of the Facebook Platform that allows third-party sites to "'connect' their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site," as Dave Morin, senior platform manager at Facebook, put it in a blog post.

At present, these efforts remain works-in-progress, and it may be several months before social data percolates out across the Web unhindered. But the message is clear: The era of online walled gardens is over.

The walled-garden business model for Web sites was declared dead when AOL transformed itself from a gated subscription-based service to an open Web site several years ago, only to be resurrected in the form of social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

About a year ago, several emerging open technical standards like OpenID and OAuth reached critical mass with developers, and advocates of open Web architecture started pushing back against the walled-garden revival.

"Last summer, a bunch of us started really calling attention to the reemergence of the walled-garden model and the need to be mindful that the future of the Web really needs to be an open one," said John McCrea, VP of marketing at Plaxo. "A lot of people thought we were tilting at windmills, but beginning in January, in the post-Scoblegate environment, a lot of companies came on board."

"Scoblegate" refers to the outcry among bloggers in January that followed when Robert Scoble was temporarily banned from Facebook for trying to export his list of 5,000 Facebook "friends" to Plaxo.

The result, said McCrea, has been a complete reversal of what happened last year. "In 2007, everyone got really excited about widgetizing applications and bolting them onto Facebook's social graph," he said. "A lot of what we're seeing now is flipping that model by widgetizing the social graph and bolting it onto to any Web page."

"The future platform for social will not belong to any one company but will be the Web itself," said McCrea.

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