If you’re not familiar with OpenSocial, it’s a protocol lead by Google to allow widgets and applications to be portable to any social network or website that part of the alliance. If you’re not familiar read “Explaining OpenSocial to your Executives” to get started, I explain it in pure business terms.
I’m conducting research right now for an upcoming report on OpenSocial, I’ve already interviewed David Glazer and Kevin Marks from Google, and have interviewed Joseph Smarr from Plaxo, Nick O’Neill from All Facebook, and will be talking to David Recordon from Six Apart next week.
I just asked my twitter network, (and received about 20 responses) about which white label social networks are open social compliant, and received quite a few responses. I frequently use social media tools for research ‘discovery’ to quickly find out a multitude of answers, but of course, it’s no substitute for analysis. I’d guess that I use social media tools for 10-20% of all my research, asking, reading, linking, or leaving comments.
The reason why I limit this list for 2008, as I’m pretty sure it will be most of the industry that adopts this standard
‘White Label’ (you can rebrand them) social networks that have adopted or agreed to offer the OpenSocial Protocol
KickApps (read more)
Ning (OpenSocial Directory)
Flux (read more)
So why is this significant?
Soon, corporate websites with social networks will start to host popular applications for other websites, this makes the web distributed. Soon, corporate websites will stop being irrelevant. Development time will be reduced, applications can quickly be rehashed and other opportunities that I’ve found will be in the report.
I expect this list to get quite a bit longer by the end of this year, if you know of others, please leave a comment.
(I’ve shifted back to blogging, as some folks were overwhelmed with my tweet updates, this makes more sense rather than a blow-by-blow tweet report)
What is OpenSocial
First, if you don’t know what OpenSocial is read this: Explaining OpenSocial to your Executives. Forrester will be publishing a report on OpenSocial in the near future (I interviewed David and Kevin Marks last night), I’m on point for that, stay tuned.
“The cloud is about getting the computer out fo the way so that we can be more productive” -David Glazer, Google
Web Strategy Summary
You, a web decision maker are probally considering creating widgets to reach distributed communities. The opportunity to build an application once and let it run everywhere is still underway. I recommend you continue to watch this space, put a key developer or agnecy on point to start creating your applications in compliance, but plan on customizing your apps per the unique demographic for each social network.
Raw notes from David’s presentation
David of Glazer of Google’s OpenSocial team shares at Graphing Social. He suggests that novice should read Nicholas Carr’s book “the Big Switch” on social computing, there are parallels between open grid electricity and open web.
It’s fast, easy, open, and everywhere. Move the accidental objects out of the way so we can interact better. People care about other people, not a new idea but the social context, people are the killer app.
This isn’t new
Email, Newspapers, Bookstores, FTP, social used to be called ‘c-o-l-l-a-b-o-r-a-t’
Some problems left to solve
-Fragmented authentication: OpenID is not yet sufficient but a step in the right direction
-Fragmented identity: how many times do we need to add friends?
-Fragmented app development: how many times do we have to build an app?
Step 1: OpenSocial
“If you can build a web app, you can make it social, and reach more than 200 million users”
1) Invent it: Come up with a great idea (app) that you want to do with your friends.
3) I missed the third one
Types of Social Networking
-Classic: Myspace, hi5, bebo, facebook
-Business networking: LinkedIn
-Enterprise Software: Salesforce, oracle:
-Communities (like white Label): Like corporate communities, nings, etc.
A great idea but you’ve got to work at it.
Need to get the following right: Clear mission, Open License, Engaged Community, Real-world use.
Google’s OpenSocial Site
Live notes as I sit in the front row at Graphing Social Platform.
Web Strategy Summary
MySpace continues to beckon to developers to build widgets and applications on their social networks. They are friendly to industry-wide specs such as OpenSocial and are putting efforts to protect privacy, and uphold security. Despite this welcoming to developers, constraints are set in place to protect the user experience as well as provide incentive for developers to create thriving applications. A balance will need to be found to appease MySpace, Users, Developers, and eventually new marketers. If you’re seeking more on widgets, please visit all posts tagged widgets.
Current apps (as of today) are limited to 5 users, and is not full rolled out.
Developers will be able to create their own self revenue opportunities through canvas pages. The more money the developers can make on their own, or using MySpace’s Hypertargging ad network will be the monetization process.
Raw Notes from Jim’s Presentation below
-My Space users have been using applications for years, such as YouTube, Photobucket, slide, and RockYou for over 3 years.
-This provides creative opportunities
-and offers customization
-Overall, beneficial to users, develops and the MySpace ecosystem as a whole
MySpace Developer Platform API
-2) REST APIs (server to server) and Oauth authentication (open standard for data portability)
-3) Action Script APIs: Flash support (although silverlight can access it’s REST APIs, they haven’t decided if they want to create a sliverlight app)
-Why open social?
-Commitment to Open Standards
-Good for the internet as a whole (users to platforms)
-Portability: developers can spend time building apps, rather than rebuidling every social network
-Leverages other existing web technologies, no need to learn proprietary development languages.
-Also by keeping platforms open give opportunity for a larger eco-system from Users, Developers and Platforms
-Working closely with Google to drive the spec, and are currently supporting Version .6 and will move to .7 soon
-Myspace Specific extensions includes: Bulletins, And additional attributes for bands.
-User Homepage Surface: Powerful user specific surface, enables to show specific data to a user that might be relevant on a users profile
-For example: an eBay application that would track your individual bids, would be readily available on homepage.
-For example: or see ‘my’ twitter profiles of my updates, but on my profile page could be visible for everyone
-Summary: This creates a ‘homepage portal’ for users.
Security, Privacy, and Safety
-Have created internal filters and protections (they wont give details) to protect users
-Applications go through safety review process
-Apps will be governed by the same privacy controls that are in place for members
-Apps will never have access to information that cannot be found on any members profile page
-Have 100 employees reviewing code, images, and content being uploaded every day.
Balancing Virility and User Experience.
-Developers are incented to create applications to grow, but creating apps with little levels of utility may not be beneficial to long term eco-system
-Artificial spammy growth is not necessary.
-Initial apps will be able to innitiate the workflow for sending a message on a 1 to 1 basis.
The four panelists did a great job yesterday handling my barrage of questions in the Widget Strategies and Social Platforms session, Hooman Radfar (Clearspring Technologies, Inc.), Walker Fenton (NewsGator), Pam Webber (Widgetbox), Ben Pashman (Gigya) discussed widgets strategies. I asked each of them to suggest an image or icon that best represents their company (an idea to make the panel more memorable from Pam) and they each suggested the following:
Clearspring was like a cable, as they were a connector
Newsgator was like a kitchen where you come and create
Widgetbox was like a DIY Pottery store where you come in and make your own product
Gigya was like a like a spine, as they were the backbone or infrastructure
While there are many challenges to widgets (and every industry) the panelists did a great job refuting them, demonstrating their expertise in the area, and suggesting how to work around any bumps that we may see. If you want to refute the challenges, I certainly encourage you to leave comments on that post or leave a link demonstrating how you can overcome those. It’s all part of a healthy dialog.
The challenge questions? on the difficulties of measurement, lack of brand control, the hurdles of distribution, and how to monetize the space. I also asked them to share how they help clients develop strategies, and to provide clarity around the most common misconceptions. Each of them shined in their own right.
To hear what the rest of the panel said, Alex Nesbit did a great job live blogging the session. Beth Kanter (who did a great job presenting with passion yesterday) shares her notes from the session. And Peter Kaminski, CTO of SocialText writes on his wiki the high level notes. It makes sense if everyone updated the wiki, rather than having several blog posts it could centralize and make the effort more collaborative and efficient.
[It’s a perfect day here in San Diego at Graphing Social Patterns, we’re right on the waterfront, but us geeks, well we tweeted, blogged, and talked in a dark room]
Most of the presentations this morning have been very developer focused, I’m covering Graphing Social from the Web Strategists’ perspective: Web decision makers in corporate.
Rodney Rumford gave a Facebook Marketing 101 presentations and explains how businesses can use widgets to reach customers. Facebook gives you multiple ways to reach customers, and with them spending 20 minutes per day, the attention is there.
In the presentation from BJ Fogg who co-ran the Facebook class at Stanford, they developed applications, that they estimated totaled $500,000 in revenue from the students efforts in advertising. They give out a list of learnings on what made them successful, often it included being flexible, quickly iterating, not listening to individual opinions or getting approvals, just launching them, and experimentation. It was very clear to me that that behavior is the opposite of large brands, who want safety, low risk, and pre-written plans.
[Successful applications were experimental, embraced risk, and quickly iterated –everything big brands will struggle with]
Rodney gave the example of the where I’ve been map, and suggested that brand managers should consider sponsoring existing successful apps, rather than create their own. Rodney suggested that advertising rates were disappointing yet, suggested that interactive marketing and social ads gave more opportunity. First, define success, lay out metrics, use a multi-pronged approach (there are many different tools to use).
Rodney suggests that one of the key challenges is with the decision making process:
“Most of the people (at big corporations) who are making the decisions for Facebook are 45 or older, and are not immersed in Facebook”
For success, one should consider: 1) Outsourcing development to those that get it, such as an a successful widget development company, or 2) lean on someone in your own team who really understands this space. While strategy remains, social networking marketing requires a different mindset, approach, and use of tools.
Various pics from the event
Before you invest time and money in a widget strategy, you better know the challenges. This applies to VCs, Web Strategists, Developers, and even Social network companies
An Objective View
In this blog, I strive to provide a balanced viewpoint of both the benefits and challenges of a web strategy, it’s easy for us to become over-hyped and then fall right into the pit of over exuberance. (See other posts tagged Challenge)
I’m moderating quite a few panels with widget developers (last week at Stanford, next week at Graphing Social, and in a few weeks at Ad:Tech) so I’ll be using many of these challenges to hold the vendors to their claims.
First, a few parameters:
Update: This list of challenges mainly applies to widgets within Social Networks, although many of the challenges afflict mobile, desktop and blog widgets.
Widgets are ‘mini-applications’ that can be embedded on other containers (such as social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, and whoever decides to join the movement) The thing is, desktop widgets have been around for some time, so this really isn’t anything new, but for the purpose of this post, I’m just going to keep those on social networks in scope.
In regards to terminology, I’m just going to use widgets as a blanket term to also include “applications” and “canvas pages” terms that developers user on Facebook’s F8 platform. I’ll clarify that on another post in the future.
The Many Challenges of Widgets:
Each of the following hurdles can be overcome, but first, let’s identify them.
Difficult to Monetize
First and foremost, this has been the biggest challenge. For some widget developers, the money has come from investors or VCs on Sand Hill road. Secondly, I’m hearing that the CPI plague (see below) is becoming more common, and then lastly, advertising is not an effective way to monetize in social networks (read this for more).
Widget developers are mostly experimental, they are throwing gangly Spaghetti, Pasta, Rigatoni, and Jeremici (I just made that up) against the wall to see what will stick. In most cases, most of the half cooked pasta falls down from low users adoption, leaving a sticky residue of messy profile pages.
Overcrowding profile page
Have you seen my profile page on Facebook? It’s a mess, and with so much noise, who can compete? With there being thousands of widgets, only a few can survive on my profile page (I know there is tabbed segmentation) but really, how many do we need?
Low Barriers to Entry
A challenge for every web market, is that there are few ways to differentiate, and it’s easy for a young Russian developer or a Stanford student, or a team of Chinese engineers to quickly get in the game.
Metrics and Analytics Inconsistencies
Hardly anyone is measuring the success of their widgets in the same way, do we measure on install, activity, views, traffic, or clicks? As a result, other than Appsaholic, there’s very few industry ways to measure success.
Sadly, I learned from a panel I managed that some of the most successful apps were the one that leaned on the social graph, no not the one that we all dream about, but in the context of email spam. Many containers are clamping down on this, as it’s best to preserve the user experience, but this could continue to be an issue.
Bastardization: Cost per Installation (CPI)
To me, this looks like one of the worst in our industry, to me, this is like ‘printing money’. Did you know some of the top developer companies sell to other developers the chance to let new widgets piggy back off successful ones by promoting them. The developer can then charge for cost per install.
Disposable and low value
Rodney Rumford first mentioned this term to me, he was describing that many widgets are simply not used more than once. These glamor widgets provide one time entertainment, or are used once and never reused –except for removing from ones profile page.
Recycled clones offer little uniqueness
Perhaps the worst plague is the “attack of the clones” in many cases, the code from widgets are created by one developer,
stolen (I mean crowdsourced or collaborated) slightly modified or rebranded and then republished.
I’m trying to think of a widget that provides business utility, or one that improves my life other than casual communications or entertainment. Reminiscent of the web in the mid 90s, we’ve yet to see the business value.
Hard to build successfully
Specialized skill set are common among the developers, most traditional interactive firms, and most companies don’t have the skills or experience to create a widget. It’s a different game with a different mindset, the same strategies often don’t apply.
Multiple APIs strain developers
Most platforms or containers are offering their own API, although most are touting they are OpenSocial compliant (as I write this, OpenSocial is
not public, it is but in beta but should be soon) yet we’ve got to wonder is it too late for there to be a common industry API if it’s already fragmented? I spoke to the Evangelist of MindKey last night and he suggested that each platform has unique APIs (like news feed APIs) that the other doesn’t share –it’s already fragmented.
Ever changing platform APIs requires attentive team
When I hosted the widget roundtable, it became very clear that the APIs on platforms are quickly changing, and sometimes without notice. For the agile developer company, they’ll be able to quickly morph with their full time resources, but for the Interactive Firm or corporate web team, they’ll likely be too slow.
Pricing may vary, lack of standards
I have the privilege of being one of the few people in the world that gets to talk to the widget developers and find out what they are charging. In many cases they don’t know what to charge (as they have strong technical skills, but are just ramping up on the business side, and they are undercharging) This will clean up this year, and we’ll start to see some benchmarks.
Poor User Experience
Dennis McDonald (via comments) suggests that the usability for widgets is often poor. With there being little standardization on the inteaction design, I’ll agree, he states: “It’s hard enough to keep track of multiple incoming data streams representing different people, sources, relationships, keywords, etc. When you try to cram too much though a widget you have a real usability problem because of the variety.”
Pravda (via comments) suggests that some widgets have poor performance, and thereby causes a disrupted experience. Since widgets are hosted on third party servers, some laggards can hinder the rest of the social network experience, he states: “This is because they require additional HTTP request, and in some cases, this request delays the rest of the page. This is the reason that I am not using Meebo widget in my blog”
Lack of Brand Control
Len Kendall (via comments) suggests that some brands may be concerned where their sponsored widget may appear. In many traditional advertising deals, Coke will never want it’s advertisement near Pepsi, but with widgets, that’s unavoidable.
Add your own in comments
What other challenges of widgets did I miss? Please leave a comment and credit and link to you.
Caveat: While I’m highlighting the challenges, it doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome, and it most cases, the value is higher than the challenge. I’m just suggesting, we shouldn’t only look at the beautiful side, but set yourself up for success by knowing what you’re in store for.
I could write a solution or a fix for all of these challenges, but that’s a post for another time, or one I’d be happy to answer for clients.