Not so fast, Mike. The anti-Facebook coalition piling onto Google’s OpenSocial platform does not constitute checkmate for Google just quite yet. These are developer announcements. No actual consumers have changed their social networking habits because of OpenSocial. Facebook still has all the momentum with consumers (and, thus, with the developers who want to reach them). It can afford to wait and see how this whole OpenSocial thing plays out.
It just cannot wait too long before deciding its next move. And the very best move may very well be, as you suggest, Mike, to join the coalition itself. (Not that Google has asked it to). Otherwise, it risks becoming the Apple of the social networking world (the old Apple of the 1980s, which always offered a nicer, more controlled experience than Windows, but ceded application momentum). Because if apps are easier to develop for OpenSocial, and those apps can be spread across all the OpenSocial partner sites (including MySpace) in a write once, run anywhere fashion, developers will end up writing for both OpenSocial and Facebook. And if their OpenSocial apps start to gain more traction because they have more functionality, they may just start to put those Facebook projects on the back burner. (With OpenSocial, for instance, full applications can run on members’ profile pages, whereas on Facebook there are substantial restrictions on what developers can do on those profile pages).
Facebook may have started the ball rolling, but OpenSocial could very well win over developers rapidly. As Marc Andreesen, whose DIY social network startup Ning is an anti-Facebook coalition member, puts it:
Open Social — by making this exact same kind of opportunity available to any other social network or container and every app developer and site on the web, in an open and compatible way — will prevent Facebook from having any kind of long-term proprietary developer lock-in. Developers will easily write to both Facebook and Open Social, and have every reason to do so — in fact, 100+ million reasons to do so.
If you’re Facebook, you’d probably prefer to have that proprietary lock-in, and so this announcement may not make you that happy. However, all is not bad for Facebook, because a big part of what’s happening today is market expansion, and Open Social will definitely help fuel market expansion, which is in everyone’s interest, including Facebook’s.
Finally, note that Facebook can easily support Open Social any time they want. They probably won’t do so right away, but in the long run, it will probably be a no-brainer for them, because then they will pick up whatever Open Social app developers who aren’t also Facebook developers.
Make that much more than 100 million reasons. MySpace alone had 107 million unique visitors globally in September (compared to 73.5 million for Facebook), according to comScore data (see table). Six Apart had 39 million, Hi5 had 35 million,and Bebo had 20 million. There is some duplication there, but you get the idea.
Joining OpenSocial could actually be a brilliant move for Facebook, especially if it can become the advertising network of choice for social apps. If Facebook can make it easy for Facebook developers to port their apps elsewhere and power those apps with Facebook ads, why wouldn’t it do so? Checkmate, indeed.