Facebook vs. OpenSocial – who will dominate?

Google is the elephant in nearly every corner of the internet, from search and advertising to web-based email, online mapping, and home-brewed video.  Late last year Google began outlining a plan to create its own massive social network [framework] (no, not Orkut) – asking many of the leading social communities to participate. 

Meanwhile, last March, Mark Zuckerberg opened up Facebook to independent software developers – inviting them to write Facebook applications and reap a share of whatever revenue they generate.  Because creating Facebook apps was so easy, programmers could throw lots of stuff at the wall to see what sticks.  On of those apps is called Super Wall, a little app that lets users add text, photos, video or drawings to anothers Facebook page.  It took a couple developers a few weekends to write.  Within three weeks, two million people were using it.  More than ten million now do.

Thats a real economy (or could be, if someone figures out how to make money from it), and to me explains why Facebook has seperated itself from MySpace.  Facebook doubled it active users from 20 million last year at this time, to more than 50 million today. More cool apps mean more reasons for people to hang out there – and more reasons for developers to launch new apps.

Combine that with the fact that Google has been slowly losing some of its best talent.  Last July, Gideon Yu, finance chief at Google’s YouTube left for Facebook.  Other guys are now sitting around the Googleplex smelling a Facebook IPO that could turn early employees into early retirees, are also jumping ship.  Benjamin Ling, the top engineer for Checkout recently left to oversee FaceBooks entire software platform.

Facebooks threat to Google, of course, is bigger than a talent war.  The stakes are pretty high, with comparisons back to the days Microsoft challenged Netscape to define the wide-open web.  Today, lots of people (including myself) think these new social networks are aiming to do the opposite, to build a walled garden, a place you occupy with family and friends and where you excercise almost absolute control, showing the world only as much of your true self as you care to while protecting yourself from the evil lurks of the wider-web, from spam artists to identity theives.  Whoever builds that walled garden stands to make the next great internet fortune.

Another interesting angle I’m seeing take shape, which hasnt yet gotten much press, is that these environments, while initially used for personal (time-killing) purposes, can also lead to productive new ones.  Sure there are lots of cool apps out there competing for our eye balls, but soon truely valuable ones will emerge, which Google possibly has a leg up on.  Using Google Apps, such as online spreadsheets, text editors, gmail, calendar, etc – provide additional, seemless productivity enhancements making it a natural extension to an arena we’re already spending lots of time within – helping catipult the notion of the “web desktop”, another interesting concept yet to be adopted by mainstream audiences.

Meanwhile, Joe Kraus, the founder of Excite, is helping Google prepare a defense mechanism of its own – called OpenSocial.  Offically launched last November (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/11/opensocial-makes-web-better.html) OpenSocial aims to create a set of common APIs that make it easy to create and host social applications on the web. OpenSocial allows developers to write an application once that will run anywhere that supports the OpenSocial APIs.  A few sites already signed on to support the platform include, LinkedIn, SalesForce.com, and even MySpace.

While its too early to tell who will ultimately become at the leader, it should prove to be an exciting year to watch (and hopefully participate within) both of these emerging platforms.  If early optimism rings true, we could see a whole new internet ecosystem transform before our very eyes.

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