OpenSocial Still "Not Open for Business"

opensocial-logo.pngIt’s only been about a month since Google launched OpenSocial, its development platform for social networking applications. But already developers are frustrated with how half-baked the whole thing is. Russ Whitman, the founder of MediaPops, a startup that launched at TechCrunch 40, reports to us in an e-mail:

While we were initially very excited, we have learned the hard way just how limited the release truly is. My dev group has been discussing the issues in the Google forum trying to figure out how to build our service through OpenSocial. From our experience its not even a beta platform. The concept of “write once, distribute broadly” is not accurate and core functionality components are missing.

Its clear we are pre-Beta at this point, with Google telling developers they are hoping to launch 1.0 early next year. Any company hoping to leverage Open Social as a means to grow its user base similarly to the Facebook growth model will need to wait at least until February to get started, if its ready then. In the end my hope is that Open Social becomes more than just hype to compete with Facebook.

In our opinion the fundamental problem lies in the core value of Open Social – it’s a unique partnership between Google, Containers/Hosts, and Developers. Getting all on the same page is going to be a ton of work. The opportunity is clear, but the path to get there will be difficult for sure. We remain excited about the vision, but are disappointed with the current state of the union. It’s clear that they announced too soon, and clearly Open Social is NOT Open for Business. (sigh)

Whitman is not alone in this assessment. Even as Google was preparing to launch OpenSocial, back when it was codenamed Maka-Maka, developers were telling me that Google needed “more time” and that the launch was “a challenge for them.” More recently, here is a developer thread on Google Groups about the problems with the “write once, run anywhere” part of OpenSocial. And just last Friday, Google quietly acknowledged how much work it still has to do to get OpenSocial up and running in a meaningful way when a Google employee posted this lengthy to-do list on Google Groups titled “What’s up with OpenSocial?

The post is an attempt to address developer concerns. But it is clear from the laundry list that Google has a long way to go before OpenSocial can be taken seriously. The post addresses issues with security, navigation, privacy, basic user-interface features, standardizing profiles across all apps, timing of the more-baked 1.0 launch, versioning, API specifications, and the lack of an application directory. Google has yet to determine such basic things as “what features a container supports” (container is Googlespeak for a site that hosts OpenSocial applications), standards for passing data between profile and canvas pages, or even how to reserve a name and URL for an OpenSocial app.

Given all the uproar around Facebook’s Beacon project and how it sends data about members willy-nilly across the Web, Google should make sure it doesn’t fall into the same trap as well. Might as well add it to the list.