Last week, Microsoft bought 1.6% of Facebook for US$240 million, a deal that values the whole of Facebook at 15 billion dollars. This week, Google announced OpenSocial, which, as Read/Write Web explains it, is a “set of common APIs for building social applications across the web”. What that means is that a pile of existing social network sites – including MySpace, LinkedIn, Flixster, Friendster, Orkut, Bebo, hi5 and more – are collaborating on a set of tools that developers will be able to use to create new sites that use the social network data from these existing social networks. So instead of you having to re-enter friends at every single site you sign up for, you could have the same group of friends automatically appearing everywhere. Amazon.com could pull in your MySpace friends data to tell you that “hey, your friend bought this, would you like it too?” (Yes, I know Amazon has its own social network, but do you use it? Hardly anybody does.) Or, as Scoble notes, a site like Scrabulous – or any other service – could write its Scrabble-playing application just once for OpenSocial and it would work across all the OpenSocial sites, but not in Facebook.

Such an open social network would have great advantages over closed, proprietory sites such as Facebook, especially with such important participants as MySpace, LinkedIn and more joining. In fact, Robin Harris wonders whether Google basically tricked Microsoft into buying into Facebook at a ridiculous price by pretending to be interested – then a week later, announcing OpenSocial, a competing system that obviously took far more than a week to set up. Perhaps Microsoft not only offered Facebook a lot of money, but also the a promise that they could stay closed.

Despite my general love of open systems, OpenSocial certainly also gives cause for concern. What of privacy? What of the fact that social networks aren’t always a one-size-fits-all proposition? Just two days ago, danah boyd wrote that she is having to limit her “real” Facebook profile to real, f2f friends only, and that she is creating a second Facebook profile for her professional connections. She’s obviously not happy about “un-friending” her professional connections, but writes that she has to do this in order to protect her personal relationships. In a paper danah boyd wrote with Jeffrey Heer (pdf link), they give another example of this jarring of networks that should never have been connected: the teacher whose young students find her friends’ profiles and are horrified at them. Will OpenSocial allow for the distinctions between different kinds of friends? Say Amazon or other shops start using this – would they allow me to say “let my professional connections, my students and my blog friends see these books I bought for research but only show our wedding registry to personal friends”?

Have you read Cory Doctorow’s short story Scroogled yet? It tells the story of a not-so-distant future where Google has been hired to streamline immigration services in the US. Anything you write online will be taken into consideration by the government. OpenSocial would fit right in to that picture.

But the alternative – closed, proprietory systems like Facebook, where the user agreement gives Facebook the right to republish anything you upload or send through the service – really isn’t a lot more comforting. And if there’s going to be “one ring to bind them all”, one “social operating system for the internet”, it’s better for us users that it be an open one – albeit owned by Google – than a locked-in system like Facebook. As Steven Johnson points out, a problem with Facebook is that it not only owns our content, it owns us – we can’t simply ditch it because so much of our social lives are there. With OpenSocial, Steven Johnson writes, “the open nature of the platform also makes it much harder for Facebook to exploit lock-in, since it will now be much easier for consumers to move over to the next, coolest social networking site.”

And look at this graph from HitWise, showing how much more of our internet traffic the OpenSocial participants have in comparison to Facebook:

graph showing OpenSocial's market share vs Facebook's

4 thoughts on “OpenSocial: each new site already knows who your friends are

  1. […] Why I’m wary of Facebook and OpenSocial From jill/txt: What of privacy? What of the fact that social networks aren‚Äôt always a one-size-fits-all proposition? Just two days ago, danah boyd wrote that she is having to limit her ‚Äúreal‚Äù Facebook profile to real, f2f friends only, and that she is creating a second Facebook profile for her professional connections.¬† …another example of this jarring of networks that should never have been connected: the teacher whose young students find her friends‚Äô profiles and are horrified at them. Will OpenSocial allow for the distinctions between different kinds of friends? […]

  2. Innvendinger mot OpenSocial

    […] Jill Walker Rettberg skriver p?• jill/txt om problemet med “one-size-fits-all proposition”. Det at du kanskje ikke vil ha alle du kjenner p?• nettet i samme nettverk? At du rett og slett ??nsker ?• skille ting fra hverandre. Du har dine profesjonelle kollegaer, du har de kj??rer ski og fester med, du har familie og slekt, du har de med samme interesser osv. Hva slags systemer vil OpenSocial etterhvert tilby for ?• holde ting litt fra hverandre? Will OpenSocial allow for the distinctions between different kinds of friends? Say Amazon or other shops start using this – would they allow me to say ‚Äúlet my professional connections, my students and my blog friends see these books I bought for research but only show our wedding registry to personal friends‚Äù? […]

  3. […] Jilltxt har skrevet en innsiktsfull artikkel om konsenvenser av Open Social. […]

  4. […] As the voice from academia I started by talking about strong and weak links, as Granovetter theorised them in the 70s, and went on to talk about how some social network sites, like LinkedIn, primarily try to help us use and develop our weak ties, whereas others, like dating sites, are more about finding new friends and contacts. Unlike LinkedIn, Facebook has become a social site where all sorts of networks are mixed – I have contacts there ranging from acquaintances from high school, students I had three semesters ago, neighbours, colleagues I met once at a conference, through to colleagues I see or talk with regularly and close friends and family. The collision of networks is one of the problems with sites like these, as “boyd’s law”, formulated by Cory Doctorow expresses: ìAdding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance.î According to Doctorow, that’s one of the reasons social networking sites only tend to last for a couple of years – once there are enough people in your “network” that you don’t want to have contact with you’ll move to another site. I then told boyd and Heer’s story about the teacher whose students found her Burning Man style profile on Friendster (PDF, and noted that services like Spock and Open Social are making these kinds of collision more and more likely, even when we try to keep our networks separate. danah boyd’s post yesterday was great as a round-up: Tim O’Reilly’s argument that this kind of openness is a kind of vaccination against the foolish belief that we can be private online (”We have a moral responsibility to eliminate “security by obscurity” so that people aren’t shocked when they are suddenly exposed.”) vs. danah’s argument that that’s all very well if you’re privileged, as tech geeks in Silicon Valley are, but if you’re not in a position of power – say, if you’re a teenager, or a dissident in a dictatorship, or queer in an oppressed society, or a whistle blower – that vaccination may damage you badly, or even get you killed. Filed under:General — Jill @ 10:05 [ ] […]

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