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Google Announces API Connecter For Social Networks

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Google has decided that when it comes to Facebook, if you can’t beat ‘em, API ‘em. Google’s OpenSocial, which will launch at code.google.com/apis/opensocial tomorrow, will be a set of APIs that developers can use to create applications that work on any participating social network. Google’s goal is to create an open layer that runs atop all social networks, diminishing the power of all the networks in the process.

It’s a smart plan, especially with the “fad” nature of most social networks, giving up on trying to have the most popular social network and instead trying to be the application layer that everyone uses. Google failed to buy Facebook, it’ll never get MySpace, Orkut will never be popular in the U.S., and a year from now, some unpredictable new network could be the new Facebook. Even if Facebook doesn’t use OpenSocial, new startups will use it, ensuring the next Facebook is a Google partner, not a competitor.

OpenSocial is a set of three common APIs, handling profile information, friend/social graph data, and activity data (news feeds). All participating networks have to do is agree to accept the API calls and give back the requested data, and all that does is the hugely important step of opening up the data in the networks to be used by external applications, or by other social networks.

At launch, participating social networks are Google’s own Orkut, plus Ning, Plaxo, Friendster, viadeo, Hi5, LinkedIn and Oracle. Application providers already signed up are Flixster, iLike, RockYou and Slide, already the most popular Facebook developers, making it likely that the most popular third party Facebook features could soon be arriving at its competitors. The presence of Google’s Orkut, hugely popular outside he U.S., will be enough to make OpenSocial important despite lacking Facebook and MySpace.

One thing OpenSocial doesn’t do is let one social network access the data from another network, something Marc Canter has been pushing for lately. While the applications can use profile, friend and activity data, it can’t actually grab it and create a profile on a another network, like taking your LinkedIn data and using it to build a Friendster profile. You’ll still need to sign up with and create a profile on every network seperately.

Also participating are ING, Hyves, Tianji and Salesforce.com. There will be a developer sandbox at sandbox.orkut.com. No word on if Yahoo plans to participate, and you can expect Microsoft to stay out of it (Windows Live Spaces is a major social network, and Microsoft’s Facebook ownership stake will make it want to stay out of this war).

The draft press release, reprinted from VentureBeat, after the jump:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA — November 1, 2007 – Google, Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced the release of OpenSocial — a set of common APIs for building social applications across the web — for developers of social applications and websites that want to add social features. OpenSocial will unleash more powerful and pervasive social capabilities for the web, empowering developers to build far-reaching applications that users can enjoy regardless of the websites, web applications, or social networks they use. The release of OpenSocial marks the first time that multiple social networks have been made accessible under a common API to make development and distribution easier and more efficient for developers.

The proliferation of unique APIs across dozens of social websites is forcing developers to choose which ones to write applications for – and then spend their time writing separately for each. OpenSocial gives developers of social applications a single set of APIs to learn for their application to run on any OpenSocial-enabled website. By providing these simple, standards-based technologies, OpenSocial will speed innovation and bring more social features to more places across the web. Users win too: they get more interesting, engaging, or useful features faster.

“The web is fundamentally better when it’s social, and we’re only just starting to see what’s possible when you bring social information into different contexts on the web,” said XXXX. “There’s a lot of innovation that will be spurred simply by creating a standard way for developers to run social applications in more places. With the input and iteration of the community, we hope OpenSocial will become a standard set of technologies for making the web social.”

Learn Once, Reach Across the Web

One of the most important benefits of OpenSocial is the vast distribution network that developers will have for their applications. The sites that have already committed to supporting OpenSocial — Website Partner A, Website Partner B, Website Partner C, etc. –- represent an audience of well over 100 million users globally. Critical for time- and resource-strapped developers is being able to “learn once, write anywhere” — learn the OpenSocial APIs once and then build applications that work with any OpenSocial-enabled websites.

Several developers, including Gadget Partner Z, Gadget Partner Y, Gadget Partner X, etc., have already built applications that use the OpenSocial APIs. Starting today, a developer sandbox is available at http://sandbox.orkut.com so developers can go in and start testing the OpenSocial APIs. The goal is to have developers build applications in the sandbox so they can deploy on Orkut and ultimately other OpenSocial sites.

More Social In More Places

The existence of this single programming model also helps websites who are eager to satisfy their users’ interest in social features. More developers building social applications more easily translates directly into more features more quickly for websites.

“Orkut has tens of millions of passionate users who are constantly clamoring for new ways to have fun with their friends and express themselves through Orkut,” said Amar Gandhi, group product manager for Orkut, Google’s social networking service. “By using OpenSocial to open up Orkut as a platform for any developer, we can tap into the vast creativity of the community and make new features available to our users frequently.”

The common method that OpenSocial provides for hosting social applications means that websites can engage a much larger pool of third party developers than they could otherwise. They can direct resources that might have gone to maintaining a proprietary API and supporting its developer community to other projects.

Because OpenSocial removes the hassle from developing for individual websites, developers can unleash their creativity anywhere that catches their interest. This will translate into a wave of social features in contexts outside of the personal entertainment and games that are traditionally thought of as the social web.

Three APIs available now

The OpenSocial APIs give developers access to the data needed to build social applications: access to a user’s profile, their friends, and the ability to let their friends know that activities have taken place. OpenSocial resources for developers and websites are available now at code.google.com/apis/opensocial.

Developers will have access to:

- Three JavaScript and Gdata APIs to access social functions

- A live developer sandbox on Orkut at sandbox.orkut.com

Websites will have access to:

- A tool to help OpenSocial-enable their websites

- A support forum for communicating with Google and other websites

All of these resources and the live developer sandbox are available now.

Developers already at work

Dozens of developers have helped test early iterations of the OpenSocial APIs and Google is grateful for the extensive feedback they have provided.

[List of all gadget developers]

Links to these gadgets are available at http://code.google.com/apis/opensocial.

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