Google, other supporters mark OpenSocial's first year

Backers of OpenSocial marked the first birthday of the application development platform for social networking apps.

OpenSocial supporters celebrated on Thursday what they consider major progress in this project to establish a common set of standard APIs and tools for developing social networking applications.

MySpace, an early supporter, held an event in its San Francisco office to mark the project's first birthday. Representatives from other vendor backers attended, as well as about 300 developers, and, of course, staffers from Google, which launched OpenSocial in November 2007. There will be a party Thursday evening, birthday cake and all.

Using OpenSocial, developers have made more than 7,500 applications, which in turn have been installed more than 315 million times in over 20 social networking Web sites. Among the technology highlights is the significant enhancement of the API, now in version 0.8, and the delivery of a server-side REST [Representational State Transfer] component, important for mobile and enterprise applications that need to tap backend servers.

There is also an open-source reference implementation of the OpenSocial API called Shindig, overseen by the Apache Software Foundation and designed to let Web site owners implement OpenSocial easily in a matter of hours.

What hasn't been accomplished is the rather important task of convincing Facebook to support OpenSocial, a major gap considering the company operates the most popular platform for social networking applications.

As long as Facebook stays away, OpenSocial's vision of making developers' lives easier by simplifying the porting of applications to different sites will remain at best partially fulfilled.

Facebook's reticence may flow from competitive concerns. Many consider OpenSocial an attempt by Google to undercut the momentum of Facebook's platform, which was first out of the gate in May 2007 and quickly became a hit with developers.

To stress that OpenSocial wasn't intended solely for its own benefit, Google later spun off the project into a non-profit foundation in which backers like MySpace, Yahoo, Hi5 and others are also involved.

However, Facebook remains at-best non-commital, if not outright uninterested. Asked for comment about OpenSocial, a Facebook spokeswoman said via e-mail: "Facebook is a supporter of open source and sees value in any contributions the [Open Social] Foundation may make to the industry. Although Facebook does not belong to the Foundation, the company remains focused on advancing Facebook Platform to benefit the developer community and help users communicate and share information more efficiently."

The doors are open for Facebook, said Allen Hurff, MySpace senior vice president of engineering and the new chairman of the OpenSocial Foundation.

David Glazer, a Google engineering director closely involved with OpenSocial, has praise for the Facebook platform but adds: "Developers really want to have fewer ways to build applications and the Web always tends to vote with its feet on a small number of ways to solve any particular problem."

Moreover, the OpenSocial Foundation, with its broad industry support and its community-driven process for advancing the tools and APIs, offers more participation to developers to have a say, according to Glazer.

"Developers care a lot about knowing that any standard they bet their livelihood on is one they have influence over and that can't be steered for the benefit of any one vendor," Glazer said.

With or without Facebook's participation, OpenSocial is delivering on its goal, said Luke Rajlich, co-founder and COO of My Mini Life, which operates a social networking Web site and offers an application of the same name.

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