How Open Social Is Failing The Social Game Industry (Part 3 of 3)

This is a guest blog post Brian Balfour, Co-Founder and VP BD and Marketing, of Viximo who helps social applications and games get distribution on social networks beyond Facebook. Part 1 and 2 of this series can be found here and here.

Immediately after Facebook announced its open developer platform in 2007, Google quickly launched Open Social, its initiative to create a common standard for social sites across the web. Its purpose was to enable developers to create and distribute applications easily – write once, deploy everywhere. Social networks around the world quickly joined the “OS Alliance” and a PR frenzy followed, suggesting that the “entire social networking world” was backing Google as they were ganging up to take on Facebook.

Unfortunately, Open Social did not live up to the hype. The project lacked follow-through and support from Google (more on this below), and consequently failed to connect non-Facebook social networks and developers with a common development platform. The great second coming of the social networking world remained a pipe dream.

Today, despite the growing need for more distribution options beyond Facebook, developers continue to express hesitation and uncertainty with Open Social. In our recent survey, we asked 85 of the industry’s top game developers which social networks they were interested in expanding to in the near future. A significant percentage of developers responded “Never/Not Interested” to these Open Social platforms:

MySpace – 32%, Hi5 – 40%, Orkut – 47%, Bebo – 51%, Mixi – 59%, – 62%, – 64%, Hyves – 65%.

Out of those who said they were interested, in all cases less than 10% said it was a priority within the next 9 months.

Additionally, when given the statement “Open Social is succeeding at making it easier and more efficient to develop applications to run across multiple social networks”, a majority of 56% said they Disagreed with or were Undecided about this statement.

It’s clear that developers think that Open Social is not succeeding in its intended purpose, but what exactly is causing the issues?

1) Too Much Room for Interpretation and Inconsistency

The biggest problem is that Open Social fails to be a standard. It is not a unified platform or complete API; it is merely a series of decoupled guidelines that leave too much room for interpretation. Remember: Open Social changed fairly significantly with each new version in the early revisions, and reference implementations resulted in deployment models that were completely different version over version, and notoriously poor performing. Every Open Social integration is different, and continues to be different as developers incorporate new updates that still vary radically from previous versions. In short, the effort taken to align with Open Social in the interest of consistency is not justified, since the varying implementations defeat the purpose of a common standard and the ongoing maintenance quashes the goal of easing app integration.

2) Ambiguous Support For Critical Features

Open Social fails to provide robust support for a notification channel interface and bindings on various sites differ greatly. Equally noticeable is its lack of support for a virtual currency interface. Open Social was conceived before social gaming and virtual transactions became an integral part of the social app ecosystem, but now that virtual goods are generating the majority of revenue on social networks, Open Social still fails to provide support for two critical prerequisites for virtual goods success: viral channels and virtual currency.

Viral channels are drastically different from publisher to publisher, and as a result so are the API’s for developers. They are critical for the growth and engagement of users into these applications and games and without them, any social app or game will be largely ineffective. And with regards to virtual currency, many publishers are taking the path that Facebook has with Facebook Credits, or that Hi5 has with Hi5 Coins – developing a native, site wide payments system and currency that users can spend on any game or application on that site. Without a standard way to support this, many publishers have started home brewing their own systems, ranging in functionality and complexity. This once again requires different and unique integrations for developers looking to distribute on the site, and creates more time and resource consuming work for app and game developers. As a platform geared towards making app deployment and distribution simpler, Open Social fails in its effort by ignoring these critical features.