Thursday, May 29, 2008

Facebook vs. Google - Who's the Big Dog?

Shaun Connolly just joined us at Ringside, and he is already developing some interesting perspectives on the Social Web. Read his big dog pick...

To add my two cents, I think it is clear that Facebook is the big dog for Social Networking and Google is the big dog for the Social Web.

Facebook of course gets points for the rapid growth of their prime target social graph and extensive developer community - which are all targetted at making THEIR social network stronger.

Google gets points for trying to make Social a real part of the entire Web. The strong community they have built around Open Social is impressive. The ideas of Friend Connect open up social capabilitites to any website. These are efforts that make Social a part of the entire web.

Facebook has fought back. First by locking down Friend Connect from being a part of the Facebook community. Their current statements about moving to open source could put them into contention with Google in terms of "big dog" leadership of the Social Web. That will be a big leap for them to make, but I hope they do it. Social Networking is cool, but the Social Web could really change things in a dramatic way.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Facebook to Open Source Platform?

Michael Arrington at Techcrunch posted that Facebook will be open sourcing their platform.

This is fantastic news for the Social Web. Facebook started this whole process a year ago when they launched the Facebook Platform – a set of API’s that application developers could use to develop social applications that work with Facebook. Google and others responded with Open Social, and took the extra step of providing an open source implementation. So far that implementation is mostly useful to the big social networks so they can open up to application developers like Facebook had done a year ago.

Having been in the open source business for over 16 years (anyone remember OSF Motif?) and more recently JBoss, we understand the many, many benefits of open source. Facebook had taken the position that others just had to rewrite the implementation based on their API. That is what Bebo and Ringside have done. But what a waste of time! One of the things that drew me to open source is being tired of the same code being written dozens of times – with open source everyone can share the load of writing one set of software and reusing it.

This is a natural progression for Facebook. They need to be both a consumer company and a platform company. Gaining the help of an open community on that platform is a great way to go. It opens up lots of others to create even more software for the platform (we would be happy to not have to redevelop the API all over again), and gets more developers working on making the platform better. At JBoss, we were able to compete against much larger competitors like IBM, Oracle and BEA with a far smaller company yet garnered greater market share than any of them. Facebook has to do the same thing. They are a relatively small company competing with Google, NewsCorp and AOL. They need the strength of community to compete.

From our perspective at Ringside, we see this as another step toward the Social Web. For the true power of the Social Web to be delivered, there will need to be more steps toward openness. Hopefully Facebook makes this move forward soon!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Facebook Takes a Swing at Google

Facebook came out swinging yesterday to defend their users and their turf. http://developers.facebook.com/news.php?blog=1&story=111. They have basically shut down Google’s use of their API to collect user profile and social graph information on the new Friend Connect service. Here’s my take on the background and what is going on…

Google has made a nice business out of an open Internet. Facebook carved out a nice little corner of the Internet with a social network that does not give Google the type of visibility they would like into that little corner. In addition, that little corner looks like it might be kind of valuable. Google makes a few moves like buying Orkut and amassing all the other social networking vendors and creating Open Social. Those things are OK, but not really opening up that corner that Google now has become to covet.

Well, the world of social network walled gardens kind of exploded last week. MySpace, Facebook and Google all seemed to rush announcements to market without full thought, without proper collaboration and certainly a bit hastily.

Here’s the issue. Google’s Friend Connect has the potential of recreating the whole Facebook profile base and social graph. Two big problems. First, the terms of service that Facebook has defined and that Facebook users trust may in fact be broken. The Facebook API (the one Ringside uses) is meant for applications or individual websites to make use of the data as long as a user allows it. It puts things under user control. It is manageable by Facebook because they can turn off applications of websites that do not conform to the terms of service. The risk of opening up to Friend Connect is that rogue applications and websites might be able to access the Facebook profile and social graph information. This is obviously a legitimate concern and Facebook is in fact protecting their users.

The second problem is obviously Google’s ability to replicate what Facebook (and their users) have built. If that happens, where is the value for Facebook? Facebook has built this valuable asset. On the other hand, the users own their own profiles and individual social connections. Hmmm. Tough problem. And the real reason I say that all these announcements feel rushed to market…

From a Ringside perspective, we see the right path is a federated social graph that is under the direction of users. Let users make their own walls – and the big social networks will be there to protect their users, but enable them to open up when and how they want.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Becoming Part of the Social Web

As my colleagues Jason Kinner and Rich Friedman (and many others) have pointed out, last week’s announcements by MySpace and Facebook to open up their user’s identity, friends and privacy to any website is a major step toward a Social Web. Now any website can start to offer socially aware applications, like putting a Facebook user’s profile picture on that user’s webpage, or listing friends to buy a gift for.

We are very excited because it gets website business owners thinking about the possibility of a more social website. And if enough websites start doing that, then a Social Web really starts to form. This is exactly the scenario we mapped out at the Passariello’s pizza parlor a year ago when we first started talking about this.

Website business owners will start to ask the same questions we were asking:

  • If some of my users are on Facebook and some are on MySpace, how do I hook them together?
  • What about my website users who don’t use a Social Network? Can they benefit?
  • Can I offer my own mini social network for my users that hooks into the bigger social networks?
  • How do I develop social applications that take advantage of all these social networks?
  • Do I really want to give the big social networks my data that my users trust me with?
  • Can I learn more about my users by understanding their social interactions better?
  • Can I retain the context of the social interactions that have to do with my business?

For websites to really become part of the Social Web, they need their own Social Application Server. One that is open, one that works with their own infrastructure seamlessly, one that connects with Facebook and MySpace and Open Social, one that lets them build their own social graph for their website users, one that helps them understand the context of the social interactions their users are making.

Today, Ringside Networks is the first company that is building this. We have a chance of being an important piece of creating the Social Web. We look forward to helping you become part of the Social Web as well.