Yesterday I read about the Opening up Facebook Platform Architecture. My initial thoughts are that Facebook has done what Google claimed to have done but didn't with Open Social. Facebook seems to have provided detailed specs on how to build an interoperable widget platform unlike Google who unleashed a bunch of half baked REST API specs with no details about the "widget" aspect of the platform unless you are building an Orkut application.
As I've thought about this over the past few weeks, building a widget platform that is competitive with Facebook's is hard work. Remember all those stories about OpenSocial apps being hacked in 45 minutes or less? The problem was that sites like Plaxo Pulse and Ning simply didn't think through all the ramifications of building a widget platform and bumped up against the kind of "security 101" issues that widget platforms like Netvibes, iGoogle and Live.com gadgets solved years ago. I started to wonder exactly how many of these social networking sites will be able to keep up with the capabilities and features of platforms like Facebook's and Orkut's when such development is outside their core competency.
In fact let's take a quote from the TechCrunch story First OpenSocial Application Hacked Within 45 Minutes
theharmonyguy says he’s successfully hacked Facebook applications too, including the Superpoke app, but that it is more difficult:
Facebook apps are not quite this easy. The main issue I’ve found with Facebook apps is being able to access people’s app-related history; for instance, until recently, I could access the SuperPoke action feed for any user. (I could also SuperPoke any user; not sure if they’ve fixed that one. Finally, I can access all the SuperPoke actions - they haven’t fixed that one, but it’s more just for fun.) There are other apps where, last I checked, that was still an issue ( e.g. viewing anyone’s Graffiti posts).
But the way Facebook setup their platform, it’s tons harder to actually imitate a user and change profile info like this. I’m sure this kind of issue could be easily solved by some verification code on RockYou’s part, but it’s not inherent in the platform - unlike Facebook. I could do a lot more like this on FB if Facebook hadn’t set things up the way they did.
At that point I ask myself, how useful is it to have the specs for the platform if you aren't l337 enough to implement it yourself? [Update: It looks like Google is well aware of this problem and has launched an Apache project called Shindig which is meant to be an Open Source widget platform that implements the Open Social APIs. This obviously indicates that Google realizes the specs are worthless and instead shipping a reusable widget platform is the way to go. It’s interesting to note that with this move Google is attempting to be a software vendor, advertising partner and competitor to the Web’s social networking sites. That must lead to some confusing internal meetings. ]
For now, Facebook has definitely outplayed Google here. The most interesting part of the Facebook announcement to me is
Now we also want to share the benefits of our work by enabling other social sites to use our platform architecture as a model. In fact, we’ll even license the Facebook Platform methods and tags to other platforms. Of course, Facebook Platform will continue to evolve, but by enabling other social sites to use what we’ve learned, everyone wins -- users get a better experience around the web, developers get access to new audiences, and social sites get more applications.
it looks like Facebook plans to assert their Intellectual Property rights on anyone who clones their platform. This is one of the reasons I've found Open Social to be worrisome abuse of the term "open". Like Facebook, Google shipped specs for a proprietary platform whose copyrights, patents, etc belong to them. Any company that implements Open Social or even GData which it is built upon is using Google's intellectual property.
What's to stop Google from asserting these intellectual property rights the way Facebook is doing today? What exactly is "open" about it that makes it any less proprietary than what Facebook just announced?