Some quick opensocial thoughts

What with travelling back from Oz and catching up on work I’ve not had time to really look at Google’s opensocial much. Not that there is much to look at currently, except some big announcements. If you don’t know what it is, it is an open API approach from Google with a host of partners to allow users to easily create social tools which can be used in more than one location. So, here a week later than everyone else, are my thoughts on it.

Let’s get the Facebook thing out of the way first – opensocial is the social networking technology equivalent of a politician waiting to see what their opponents propose and then suggesting the opposite as policy. So, whereas Facebook allows people to develop applications for Facebook, those applications are not easily portable anywhere else, and the data stays inside Facebook. It’s classic walled garden stuff. This is the biggest complaint against FB, so naturally it’s where Google should attack. Opensocial, in theory anyway, allows you to create tools which will port across to any platform or site that signs up to their API. This is smart – Google doesn’t have to go and develop a social networking platform to compete with FB, it just makes the other networks suddenly seem more attractive to developers in particular. And if developers start creating cool opensocial apps, but don’t bother with creating a bespoke FB one, then suddenly those other networks look more attractive to users too.

Ironically, FB being closed may be a good thing in the long run, because it forces Google to be open. Google have a decent record here with Google Maps (and the famous don’t be evil motto), but without FB on the scene would they have gone for such an open approach? Maybe not.

From an elearning perspective, it has potential. We have been developing FB applications, but if we developed opensocial ones then users could port them wherever they like. The implication is that the PLE is a step nearer – we (the university) could create opensocial tools, for users to assemble in the platform of their choice. As RSS does for content, so might opensocial do for collaboration, and that’s no bad thing.

I just need Tony Hirst to develop an app now…

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