Looking a Google gift horse in the mouth

To say that there has been a lot written about Google’s announcement of OpenSocial, the social-networking standard it developed along with MySpace and others, would be more than a bit of an understatement. There have been some excellent posts — including one by Joe Kraus at the official Google blog and one from Marc Andreessen that has a recap of the festivities at Google’s campfire-style launch of OpenSocial.

But while there is a lot to be excited about — and don’t get me wrong, the prospect of a unifying standard that makes interoperability between social networks easy is definitely a good thing — one of the posts that stuck with me was from Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read/Write Web, entitled “Open Social: Three Big Concerns.” I think Marshall is asking some good questions about OpenSocial and what it implies, questions that I hope will get answered at some point. His questions are:

1. Is Google exercising leadership or control?

“It’s not possible that one of the largest companies in the US and the largest in this consortium would act entirely out of concern for the world at large. You know they bullied everyone else involved into accepting their terms of openness.”

It’s Google’s consortium, so they probably set the standard, right? Even if they didn’t do any bullying, that gives them a lot of control over what the standard allows or doesn’t allow.

2. Are the APIs Write-Only?

“The OpenSocial APIs might be capable only of allowing widgets to be published from one network to another. Will one network be able to pull in bio, friend and interest data from another? That’s not being discussed at all.”

If all OpenSocial allows you to do is make widgets that run on different networks, without allowing data to be pulled out of and injected into those widgets from all networks, then what good is it?

3. Will Official Sanction Kill It?

“Why couldn’t this all be based on microformats and other existing open standards? Perhaps the culture of control… is the only thing that the big players participating could comprehend. In that case it’s probable that OpenSocial will likely be more closed and more anti-social than many of us would like.”

A fair question. Why couldn’t this be accomplished using XML and other formats that people have been working on for a long time to allow data portability and so on? Why did Google have to come up with something to solve that problem? Those are just some of the questions hovering over OpenSocial, and I think Marshall deserves some credit for asking them.

There’s more skepticism from Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, Don Dodge at The Next Big Thing and The Stalwart at Seeking Alpha.

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