Saturday, November 3, 2007

Why Google Turned Into a Social Butterfly

is an island. A most convivial island, with one's classmates, friends, workmates and household members stopping point at hand. An island that since May have been enlivened with entertaining fauna and vegetation in the word form of minisoftware applications. But it's calm an island.

Suppose, however, that you could go forth the island chemical compound of a societal networking land site and take your web of friends, and friends of friends, anywhere on the Web? This is what do 's proclamation last hebdomad of a new confederation of companies so enticing — the possibility that societal networking will go ubiquitous.

Google's vision — "Social Volition Be Everywhere" — is more than compelling than anything Facebook could possibly devise. Who wouldn't prefer the limitless freedom to take one's ain trusted circle anywhere on the Web, as opposing to the cramped confines of island life?

And when have an island economy, even a well-provisioned one, ever matched the offers of the full Web? (Just inquire .)

A long, long clip ago — last Monday, that is — Facebook seemed a much bigger land mass than it ever actually was. That was when it was celebrating its ability to command a generous $15 billion evaluation while pocketing a $240 million investing from . Guess abounded that when Facebook unveiled its new advertisement platform this Tuesday, the company would soon have got the ability to publish money, offering up to advertizers audiences with any desired characteristics, based on the personal information that Facebook occupants let on on their profiles.

At that point, Facebook and other societal networking land sites appeared to be the lone companies in a place to transfuse fearfulness in Google. The land sites be given to be the topographic point where many members caput first when they travel online, and many end up staying right there. The set down sites also halter Google's ability to ran into its expansive charter of organizing the world's information and making it available to all; the Google hunt sycophant is not allowed to land on most societal networking islands and garner information about what island occupants are saying and doing.

Google have a societal networking land site of its own, Orkut, named after Orkut Buyukkokten, a Google engineer; it was introduced in January 2004. Measured in worldwide page views, it is in 6th place, with about 25 million alone visitants in September, according to . But it stays unknown to most Americans: more than than one-half of its members dwell in Brazil. Google have no thought how to utilize the popularity of a Portuguese-language land site in one hemisphere to make a success closer to place in Mountain View, Calif. (Neither make I.)

In a bravura electric switch of strategy, Google left its ain island to encompass unfastened criteria that belong to no 1 company. Its initiative, which it names OpenSocial, is an entreaty to software system system system developers and Web land land sites to collaborate in adopting a single set of software criteria for the small software appliances that tin add a social-networking layer to all Web sites. Agreement on a criterion would salvage users from the exasperation of joining multiple webs and salvage developers from the exasperation of authorship codification that plant only with specific sites. Unlike Facebook's scheduling requirements, Google's usage nonproprietary scheduling languages.

The determination by , the No. One societal networking land site in the world, with more than than 100 million alone visitants in September, to fall in OpenSocial gives Google an impressive assembly of societal networking partners. The grouping includes Bebo, the No. One networking land site in Britain, as well as SixApart, Hi5, Friendster, LinkedIn and Ning — and Orkut, of course. Google also signed up some other participants, like, that are not societal networking land sites but which welcome societal widgets. If Facebook takes to stay a holdout, it will not be as the caput of a countercoalition but as a cranky recluse.

Google's self-interest is apparent enough: it makes not desire Web users to vanish from its microwave radar when they head off to proprietary societal networking islands. Incidentally, if software system based on OpenSocial specs spreadings throughout the Web, and if users are permitted to presume more than control over how their personal information is used and sold, it is possible to conceive of a twenty-four hours when all land sites on the Web are equipped to use one's societal network, regardless of where it originated. These are not little if's, of course, but it is also possible to conceive of members receiving feeds about what friends are doing and updating others about their ain activities while roving far from the island. Why pass clip on a societal networking land site if its functionality can be made portable?

Usually, alliances are aggregations of also-rans, trying to dispute the industry leader. Why would MySpace, owned by the , elect to throw its considerable influence behind OpenSocial? In the future, its primary rival might not be Facebook, now No. 2, nor any other island-state, but rather the full Web, endowed with social-network consciousness based on unfastened standards. So far, every clip the Web have matched up against a proprietorship alternative, the Web have prevailed.

I spoke early last hebdomad with Joe Kraus, Google's manager of merchandise management, who supervises OpenSocial. The long-term vision, he said, was to enable societal webs to be portable: "You desire your friends to travel with you — you don't desire them to be locked up."

What would be possible if societal networking were freed from societal web sites? Mr. Kraus offered an illustration: "Imagine how much better Craigslist would be if your friends were with you, and friends of friends," permitting one to hone in on lists posted by those in one's most trusted group. He said the ability to add a layer of societal human relationships to a land land site like Craigslist "takes an impersonal site and do it personal."

Indeed, it is an challenging illustration of what's possible, but the fact that he used a hypothetical 1 — Craigslist have not joined OpenSocial — proposes how early it is in Google's attempt to distribute "social" everywhere.

The more than than that one's personal information is used around the Web, of course, the more chance for misuse. When I asked Mr. Kraus why Google had not prepared its ain Web land sites to demo off the capablenesses of OpenSocial, he said that the company was moving with intentional attention to do certain that privateness protections were securely in place. "Trust constructs up over a very long time," he said, "and can be lost very quickly."

Randall Stross is an writer based in Silicon Valley and a professor of concern at San Jose State University. E-mail:

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