While I like the direction of Google OpenSocial, not only may Google be too late, as Mark argues, I don’t think they go far enough. A framework and a set of Google Gadgets for building “social applications” misses the point. We don’t want to build more applications that look like Facebook applications. It isn’t about a social UI. It’s about deeper re-use of social data to enliven any application. Some of those applications may have a minimal UI, like Google’s breakthrough search app. OpenSocial doesn’t give us any of that. Ajax widgets are a halfway house, an attempt to sandbox the kinds of applications that can be created. And that will be the downfall of OpenSocial. If all you can build are Facebook-like applications, Facebook wins.
We all want what Mark describes: a definitive place under our own control where we can describe who we are and what we care about so that applications can use that data to provide us with smarter services. We don’t really care whether that repository is at Facebook or Google or any other site, or perhaps even if it’s an aggregation of data from many places, but we do want it to become more useful to us. Not just more useful to the holder of our profile, but to every site we touch on the internet. Whichever company gets there first, to a truly open, user-empowering, internet-turbocharging social network platform, is going to be the net’s next big winner.
The more I think about it, particularly in higher ed, the more I think there’s a place for an open profile platform, where people can store their professional data (and the social data that goes with that) and control what parts of it they want to make visible to which people and which applications, and for open ways of accessing that information can be used to embed “socialness” into applications.