OpenSocket: Facebook now supports OpenSocial!

First of all: if you read the headline, calm down.

As loyal readers will remember, I previously posted here that it might be possible to bypass the politics playing out between Facebook and Google by building a Facebook app acting as a container for OpenSocial gadgets. We now have a working version of the OpenSocket application, demonstrating some basic OpenSocial gadgets running inside Facebook!

The irony that Facebook can (sort of) support OpenSocial before MySpace does not escape me. It’s not really fair on MySpace to say that, though; I signed up to OpenSocial before they did! In many ways, we’re strengthening Facebook’s position: demonstrating OpenSocial on their platform means they can rightly claim their platform was ‘open’ – or at least flexible – in the first place.

Our container has rudimentary support for all of the OpenSocial functionality that can be found in Ning and Hi5’s current sandboxes. The plan is to release the code as open source to enable developers to wrap their own gadgets as Facebook apps. While that will never be as satisfactory as writing a native Facebook version of a gadget, it would be a quick way to port it to Facebook while full development is underway. More likely, the project will allow interested developers to study the differences between the two platforms.

To protect the Facebook platform from any OpenSocial diseases, the demonstration application only allows use of approved gadgets hosted on our OpenSocket web site. If you are interested in seeing your gadget within Facebook, you can send it to us and we will check it for ‘unscrupulousness’ before hosting it.

So what would Google make of this stunt? It demonstrates the potential ubiquity of their new standard. As a beta-release, OpenSocial has some promising aspects; I will write a follow-up post describing my experiences with the platform – which have stoked some concerns about the leadership Google needs to show if it is to consolidate into a usable standard.

Aside from being a curiosity right now, I hope we can expand the OpenSocket project to develop more open source libraries for social network developers; there is a lot of code being repeatedly reinvented by many developers that could be shared and augmented for the benefit of all, and not to the erosion of any competitive advantage.

I agree with Lee Lorenzen’s assessment that a project porting the many Facebook applications to OpenSocial would have more value than our OpenSocket work so far. For the time being though, the direction I have chosen is “funnier” – not to mention, easier… Perhaps his suggestion is something we can look into next. If you are interested in joining in, please see our main site!

[Dan Lester is a professional holidaymaker and an amateur social network consultant. He developed OpenSocket with the invaluable help of his new friend Ignacio Blanco.]