OpenSocial and the Facebook Platform: Interview with Peter Chane, Group Product Manager at Google

The landscape for social network application developers has changed drastically with the anouncement of OpenSocial this week.

Google’s Orkut and a cadre of partners including behemoth MySpace, LinkedIn, Hi5, Bebo, Friendster, Six Apart, Ning, and Plaxo, have announced common support for what has already become in the eyes in developers the second major “platform.”

I spoke with Peter Chane, the Group Product Manager at Google who is helping to lead the OpenSocial effort, about OpenSocial and how it compares to the Facebook Platform.

IF: At a high level, how do the real estate and functionality that OpenSocial affords developers compare to the Facebook Platform?

PC: With OpenSocial, there are many “container” sites that can host developers’ social applications. Together, these sites have over 200 million users.

There will be a lot of commonality between container sites in terms of the profile page and canvas page real estate developers have to work with. However, some sites will offer additional features that they’d like developers to plug into; many are extending the API.

One example is the Flixster app on MySpace. When the Flixster app is added, it reads in a user’s favorite movies into the app. MySpace added the “movies” field to the API…there’s not a fixed list of profile fields that will be available to developers on every container.

IF: Facebook offers features that help applications spread “virally” to their friends. Will OpenSocial support features like Facebook’s invitations, notifications, and feed items?

PC: There isn’t a feature like invitations in the OpenSocial API at this point. It’s something we’re considering — a lot of sites and developers have expressed interest in this, and we’ll be having conversations with them.

OpenSocial container sites will have activity streams that show activity from the user and their friends. Just like on Facebook, applications can publish stories to it. This is one channel that will really help applications spread.

IF: Facebook has fairly strict limitations on what profile data applications can retain. What about OpenSocial?

PC: We haven’t included any rules about this in the API yet. OpenSocial is still very much a work in progress, and we’ll have more to say soon.

This will be addressed between now and when the first site goes live that allows apps to be used by consumers. But our general philosophy on this is to allow these sites to make decisions for themselves.

IF: Unlike Facebook, OpenSocial doesn’t require apps to be marked up in a proprietary language. Will developers be able to reuse substantial amount of code from their Facebook apps in their OpenSocial apps?

PC: I’ve heard both models from developers. Some say, “I have already built some infrastructure, and it’s great that OpenSocial can take advantage of it.” Other developers say that they want to write client side JavaScript. The API allows for both types of apps to exist–those in IFrames, and those in AJAX.

IF: OpenSocial is being touted as write-once, run-anywhere. Do you think that the same applications will work on different container sites, given the different types of users and behaviors on each one?

PC: I think some might and some might not. Some applications, like iLike, will run untouched in a number of containers. In other cases, developers will need to change their applications according to the features of the new container and the usage patterns that happen in that container.

Some applications are more focused on communication, others more on personal expression. Some are domestically focused, some are international. Even if a given application needs to be changed, there should be an enormous amount of code reuse possible.

IF: When the Facebook Platform launched, several “launch partners” were briefed ahead of time, and arguably gained a leg up on other developers. Will the same thing happen with OpenSocial sites?

PC: None of the container partners have launched consumer apps yet. All developers have access to the same information.

As for Orkut, signups to gain access to the Orkut Sandbox are now open. We will be very quick in approving developer access–we want to add people to the sandbox at a fast rate. I don’t know of other containers that are accepting developer applications as early and quickly as Orkut is right now.

Developers: check out the OpenSocial API at