Posts Tagged ‘google’

Google helps boost the future of the social web

These are really exciting times. Until recently it’s all been small standards-backed movements to build an open base for the structured web to live off of but now big players are really taking things seriously and embracing all these wonderful standards. We have all the people behind the standards pushing as hard as they can with things like OpenID, XFN, microformats, the web standards movement in general, the diso project. But now just recently amazing things have happened. First just recently Yahoo! adopted OpenID and now Google has created an API for parsing the social graph.

This is amazing. I’m speechless. I’m stoked that all this is happening so quickly and can’t wait to see how things evolve.

I wish I was working on a project right now that could utilize this new Social Graph API by Google. It’s fun testing it out but I really want to see some concrete stuff built off of it!

I sure hope that Microsoft’s recent offer to buy Yahoo! doesn’t hurt this trend. Microsoft really sucks at helping push the industry in the right direction and with the situation being as it is, I predict Yahoo! will take Microsoft’s overly generous offer and get sucked into a black hole after the fact. As Gruber mentioned, if Microsoft were to acquire Yahoo! they would probably sell off all of their properties worth anything and use it as an opportunity to gobble up new users. It sure would be amusing if people revolted and went to Google if an acquisition takes place — that would sure screw over Microsoft — I might even celebrate.

That went off on a slight tangent. Anyways, I’m happy to be experiencing all of this. :)


Google released a couple days ago, along with an impressive set of initial partners, a set of APIs for building social web applications which they have decided to call OpenSocial. That name, OpenSocial, sounds intriging, doesn’t it? It’s a little off putting because what this new platform provides is not a means to open up our social graphs or help openly integrate the multitude of social networking websites out there. What it does is provide an standardized way for people write what are basically widgets, similar to what the Facebook application platform provides, and to easily embed those widgets in any number of social applications with little to no customization on a per-site basis.

It’s just a widget platform

OpenSocial is a very one-way system. It helps widget developers build applications off of each individual network’s data, but not to share the data between networks.

Because of the lack of generalized openness of the platform, the usefulness that these open applications provide is extremely limited and so what comes out of this is a way to embed random widgets. The widgets are non-specialized (at least by initial design) to the social networking websites they are used on and so what people build will be random in nature and will likely provide very little usefulness other than to amuse the users.

It’s too bad that this move wasn’t to open up the social graphs and help integrate the disjointed networks in all of these websites. That’s okay, though. This is still a great effort and a move in the right direction. As Tantek wrote, this is just one component of social network portability and does help social application developers a great deal.

The market is stronger now

As Fred Stutzman pointed out, having these widgets everywhere helps struggling/competing networks stay even with their competition. Now that everyone can provide a way to get these open widgets on their social applications they can say “Hey! Don’t leave! We have those too!”. While this seems helpless and slightly laughable it strengthens the competetive landscape.

As I listed in my recap of the Lessig lecture yesterday, the best way to keep a healthy corporate ecosystem is to encourage competition. The more competition is out there, the more trust will instill in the users of these applications. It will be easier for people to embrace competing networks without feeling like they all need to use “the one with the applications”. The hierarchy of social networking applications will likely flatten because of this. As Seth Godin pointed out, the choice now between social networks is, soon to be, hundreds of open sites (OpenSocial implementers) or one closed one (Facebook).

It seems like such a call for help

While more people having these applications helps the landscape, the inclusion of these widgets seem so forced. It’s sad to see promising services like Plaxo seemingly randomly embrace this without any reason other than that they can. When everyone has these applications they don’t add anything new or unique to any one network.

Time will tell which applications get listed on which networks and whether different implementations of the OpenSocial API will encourage different types of applications to be used. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Is Google (2008) Microsoft (1998)?

Lawrence Lessig appeared on campus this past Friday to lecture about the current trends of Google and the similarities it increases to have with the Microsoft of 1998.

He is an extremely bright individual. Everything he said was solidly reasoned and perfectly constructed grammatically. The speed and inflections with which he spoke lent just the right amount of focus and attention to each and every word. Even during the Q&A, his responses were extremely well-crafted. It was a moving and motivational experience. Also, his slides are some of the sexiest around.

Take-aways from the lecture

I’ve cleaned up the main points here but I’ve also published an unpolished outline of the full lecture.

  • We can’t look to corporations for help — they have their own objectives. Once we have lost trust/faith in government, the next place we look for guidance is corporations. It’s important to remember that corporations’ aim is to make money and maximize shareholder value, not to do “good”.
  • Google’s platform is in its data. While Google provides great value to its users, the environment is architected so that your work with their products improves their platform. It’s a well-designed ecosystem — as you get what you want, your use serves something back to the provider.
  • What broke Microsoft was not the anti-trust, but rather that people had a “lack of trust”. The US v. Microsoft case reminds us that industry is allergic to trusting monopolies. It’s useless to file a lawsuit in cases like this. Instead, companies should change the environment to encourage competition because knowing that there is solid competition helps build trust.1
  • Facebook is building a system where the platform has the right to control innovation. This is quite a bit more closed than what Microsoft provided — Microsoft built a technology that anyone had the right to develop for.
  • Network effects mean we can’t guarantee competition when we need.
  • Innovation and investment can freeze up in monopolistic cases because people are afraid others will take their options away.
  • There are three types of “hybrid”2 rights control
    • Invite people to create but all creativity is owned by the publisher.
    • Like Google or YouTube. The publishers don’t want to understand who they are or what they should be.
    • Examples: Flickr, Second Life. All rights to creativity are owned by the content creators. Uses ownership here to build trust among participants.
  • Resisting competition is a rational, sensible strategy for a monopoly. To not do this would be irrational.
  • Politics divert to corporate social responsibility. We need to recognize that corporations cannot work for the public interest. We’re stuck because we can’t trust the government, so the only entity we can trust is the company. Government exists to remove the necessity of having to trust in companies.
  • Corruption is not about bad people, it’s about good people being corrupt. Most people go into politics to do good but people will bend to money.
  • The political system is at fault. If people don’t recognize this, then the revolutionaries will abolish the system and we’ll be poorer for it. We need to do what’s necessary to fix the system rather than abolish it.
  • How do we educate people on their rights? Data in America has no property rights — we need to find ways to establish this in some way. We need to push the idea that people should own their creations.
  • The political campaign system can be fixed. One idea would be to have campaign finances be secret where people’s donations are not trackable. Lessig commented that we need better functioning politics before we can focus on the companies.
  • The young generation needs to be educated and engaged in politics to counteract the current trend of consumption and lack of interest.


Related to the talk

Others’ responses to the lecture

  1. Eg. Proctor and Gamble does this well.
  2. “Hybrid” meaning providing value both to the content creator and the content publisher — mixing read-only with read-write.
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