Google has launched an open set of application programming interfaces (APIs) for the social networking sector, a move that has been interpreted by some as a shot across the bows of its rival Facebook.
OpenSocial, a set of APIs that lets third-party developers build applications with minimal modification, has galvanised support from popular social networking websites such as Bebo, LinkedIn and Friendster. Even business sites salesforce.com and Oracle have pledged to join. Google's own Orkut social networking site and customisable home page, iGoogle, are naturally expected to adopt OpenSocial.
Third party applications will provide a massive boost to the social networking sector, argued Ovum analyst David Bradshaw. "Users enjoy more functionality, while website owners get more visitors, meaning advertising revenue."
Application owners can gain revenues in several ways, predicted Bradshaw, primarily through ads placed in their application. Facebook pioneered this use of third-party applications on its site, and analysts judged this as an astute move and an instant success. But the insistence on proprietary APIs could prove costly in the long term, warned Bradshaw.
Where Facebook asks web application builders to jump through proprietary hoops, they might immediately prefer the open APIs associated with OpenSocial. "Applications on Facebook will be a lot harder to deploy on other sites and vice-versa, while OpenSocial widgets should be relatively easy to deploy to between sites."
"OpenSocial's appeal is straightforward: build for one OpenSocial-compliant website and you can deploy in lots of other places too," he said.
The significance, said Bradshaw, is that we are now seeing the first clear challenge to Facebook's appeal. "I think OpenSocial has a very good chance [of diverting web traffic]. Facebook may be one of the hottest properties on the web, but it is by no means the only popular social networking website, nor is its continued 'hot' status guaranteed."