Maybe Yahoo Should Stay Away from OpenSocial

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-03-12 Print this article Print


The New York Times is reporting that Yahoo is considering joining OpenSocial, an effort spearheaded by Google and MySpace that leverages open-source APIs to enable social networks to share data with one another.

OpenSocial was created as an alternative to walled-garden networks such as Facebook, where data is not shared for privacy safeguards as much as for the preservation of its 66 million-plus users.

If Yahoo joins OpenSocial, it could be the worst thing to happen to the fledgling group, which is on the verge of signing up new members and watching MySpace, Orkut and Hi5 launch platforms based on the spec.

Here's the rub: If Yahoo joins OpenSocial and Microsoft ends up buying Yahoo in six months, or even a year, what will that do to Yahoo's involvement then?

Will Microsoft representatives be willing to come to the table to work peacefully on improving OpenSocial and facilitating its adoption in the market?

I'm not sure. Part of me thinks, sure, no problem. Microsoft pledged support last year for OpenID, a single sign-on spec that lets users easily sign into every Web site that supports it without having to type in multiple passwords. OpenID, which Yahoo, Google and others support, is a turnkey for social networks and a stepping stone for data portability.

But will Microsoft join OpenSocial? David Glazer, the architect behind OpenSocial at Google, told me at the Graphing Social Patterns show last week that Google is extremely careful in not painting itself as the overseer of OpenSocial, but the company clearly spawned the effort and brought it to market.

If I was considering this question three years ago, I'd say no way Microsoft would join an open-source group such as OpenSocial. But in the last few years, I've watched the company gradually come out to play with vendors such as Red Hat and Novell in the open-source sandbox. The moves showed Microsoft sees the benefit of open source on some fronts.

So, ultimately, I'd like to believe that if Yahoo joins OpenSocial and Microsoft buys Yahoo, Microsoft will let the figureheads Yahoo installs for OpenSocial continue with their work and even add its own programmers to the mix.

However--and I realize that OpenSocial is couched as a sort of Switzerland for social networks--I can't help but think that Google and Microsoft could clash.

This could destroy the effort, which Glazer said is just ramping up to see some adoption this quarter. I have my reservations about Google and Microsoft being able to play nice in that OpenSocial sandbox, but if OpenSocial is truly going to be universally adopted, maybe this is a test it must pass.

I don't want to totally sink the submarine, so let me offer a pro for Microsoft's involvement in OpenSocial, which hinges on a couple ifs. If Yahoo joins OpenSocial and Microsoft buys Yahoo, and if Microsoft lends its support to OpenSocial, the domino effect could extend to Facebook joining OpenSocial.

At South By Southwest this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was noncommittal about  OpenID in an interview with ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick. OpenSocial doesn't seem to have come up, but jeez, if you won't support OpenID, I sure don't see how you'd support OpenSocial.

But if Microsoft joins, perhaps Facebook may be swayed, as Mashable's Stan Schroeder points out. Sure, it would take some revising of the Facebook platform, but nothing Facebook's talented engineers can't handle if its powers are so inclined. |

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