Explaining OpenSocial to your Executives

There’s so many people talking at the developer, strategist, and marketing level, I’m going to take it up for another audience, feel free to repurpose this content any way you want.

You: A web decision maker
As a Web Strategist, you are someone who is partially or wholly responsible for the long-term direction of your website, or the website of your client(s). You have to explain the announcement to your boss (or you are the boss), I’m going to help.


[Using portable applications, companies can now efficiently extend their website experience to existing communities on popular social networks]

Terms

  • Social Network: An existing network or community where people of similar interest share. MySpace, LinkedIn, and Hi5 are examples.
  • Mini-application, app, widget: These applications, created by third party developers or your company can sit on top of these existing thriving communities of connected people.
  • Platform, Container, Social Network: Where the mini-applications ‘sit’ on top of and interact
  • API: The common code shared among platforms and developers of mini-applications
  • Situation: Nov 1st the “OpenSocial” is announced
    Decisions are made on communities where trusted members share as a result, savvy companies go where their market is.

    We’ve hit a milestone on how the web is becoming amorphous, data is about to be shared easily and quickly in a fluid way. Google and several other social networks in the alliance launched OpenSocial on Nov 1st. Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook are not part of the announcement (yet).

    Four months ago, Facebook allowed third party companies to build mini-applications in their site, this is similar in concept, but now includes many other players.

    ‘Platform’ or ‘Container’ where your mini-application can extend to: MySpace, Bebo, SixApart, Orkut, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Ning, Hi5, Plaxo, Friendster, Viadeo and Oracle.

    What is Open Social?

    Google says: “OpenSocial provides a common set of APIs for social applications across multiple websites. With standard JavaScript and HTML, developers can create apps that access a social network’s friends and update feeds.”

    Translation: Social Networks, and other websites (we can call them platforms or containers) can let mini-websites (applications or widgets) to be shared and interact with existing online communities (social networks, social graphs, communities).

    Example: A company that sells a variety of blenders from their website can now create a mini-application that can be shared on any of the social networks that have agreed to participate in OpenSocial. The blender-related application will interact with each of these communities, and could benefit from features of users sharing, rating, and reccomending blenders to their friends. The blender application could reach new audiences that will interact with it, extending your reach.

    Important Concept: Distributed
    Web Marketing no longer is limited to your corporate site. Let go of the concept of ‘driving traffic to your website’ as a sole measurement of success. The web, it’s message, and your battles are now fought on the open and distributed web. Trusted decisions between prospects and customers are made on these social communities and networks, savvy executives need to go there.

    Opportunities

    Efficient development: Since there’s standardization in the code use (APIs) If you develop an application for OpenSocial, it should be easily re-used on all the social networks that are particiating. This greatly reduced development time, you no longer need a ‘myspace strategy’ or ‘bebo strategy’.

    Harness existing communities:
    Since these applications will be plugged into existing communities, the need to ‘build an audience’ isn’t as crucial, as you can leverage the communities where they already exist. Why build if you can easily join.

    Open standards help long term:
    It appear that the standards and development languages are commonly known and not proprietary so it reduced the chance of vendor lock in. Having a common code (API) across all networks makes movement easier, reducing development and re-configuring in the long term. One should always be cautious, as no system is perfect.

    Your existing applications become social: Now, your standalone applications can now be shared with communities. If you’ve already spend resources on creating interactive marketing, large libraries, or other projects, consider how they can be re purposed on these websites, be efficient with your resources.

    Future brings social to your website:
    The trend clearly nods towards the direction I forsee, that social networking features (friends and connections) will be brought to the static corporate website. Soon, there will be customers, prospects and employees networked on your own corporate website. We’re not there yet, but start planning on how that will look.

    Challenges

    Unproven: We’re still at the start of this movement, there’s no reason to jump in as the bugs have not been identified nor corrected.

    Open data opens risks: It’s not fully clear how data will be shared among the multiple platforms. By giving them access to your applications, there is risk in exposing login information, and other sensitive information. The same applies to user data, the risks are not fully known

    Inconsistencies may emerge:
    Just because there is a common set of code (APIs) doesn’t mean all of the applications will behave across each of the platforms. There may be inconsistency as no user shares the same set of friends (social graph) on each network.

    Cultural differences:
    Social Networks are adopted and vary by culture. From LinkedIn’s business network, to Orkut’s Brazilian users no two networks are the same. Expecting an application to work seamlessly for all applications is foolish, expect to research each community before customization.

    Future authority not known: Although lead by Google, this alliances appears to be a conglomerate of many different companies involved, it’s not clear who the governing body will be, from a single group, a representative, or even Google.


    [Although we're at the unproven starting point, the opportunity is promising, companies wanting to extend their online presence should consider the distributed web (OpenSocial) into their 2008 web strategy planning]

    Next Steps

    1) Wait and watch: Unless you’re already have successful widgets deployed on Facebook, wait a bit, no need to jump in, let the alpha teams build and break.

    2) Host internal discussion: In the meantime, have a brown bag meeting with your development team and web strategy leaders to discuss how existing applications could be repurposed, and how your future roadmaps will consider deploying.

    3) Develop Strategy: Understand that this is a new sandbox and if you decide to venture, it should be experimental, and flexibility is needed. Be sure to bake measurement into the start, so you can gauge and benchmark your progress.

    4) Educate: Return to this Web Strategy blog, I’ve started a new tag called OpenSocial where you can filter all posts on this topic, I’ll be posting helpful information going forward.

    Related Resources

  • Starting point:The official OpenSocial Webpage
  • Video: OpenSocial hosted an event on the opening night, this hour long video has demos of code and applications
  • What matters: Forrester colleague Charlene Li breaks down what is likely to happen, and why you should care
  • Developers: Ted, CEO of Dogster compares and contrasts the announcement.
  • Thinking Bigger: Six Apart sees the forest, this is development for the whole web, not just Google.
  • Opinions: There are many, many voices on Techmeme if you want more color
  • I’ve worked hard to clearly and succinctly explain the announcement, if you’re a client of Forrester, and wish to talk more, please schedule and inquiry, I’m at your service to help define your strategy.