This week during the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, MySpace (www.myspace.com) confirmed that a developer platform is imminent for the online social networking site. The announcement was clearly in response to the phenomenal success that the Facebook Platform (http://developers.facebook.com) has garnered since its inception 1 month ago. With the battle between MySpace and Facebook growing, what will be Google’s reaction? It is important to understand and monitor this battle for platform computing.
Opening up a system to third-party developers is not new, and it is one of reasons why Microsoft beat Apple decades ago. Merely 1 month ago, the Facebook Platform launched. It currently boasts more than 40,000 developer requests and popular applications used by more than 850,000 people. After the phenomenal success and adaptation of the Facebook developer platform, it’s no surprise that MySpace just announced similar intentions. According to Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting, "This announcement shows how the developer platform propelled Facebook into a dangerous competitor to MySpace, and they are now on the defensive."
Chris DeWolfe, the CEO and co-founder of MySpace, fresh from signing a new 2-year contract renewal, and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of News Corp., spoke about how "openness and personalization" were integral to the company’s success and that the industry embracing the idea of "openness" was a good thing for users. To show that they were not too worried about the still independent Facebook, MySpace took the opportunity to reiterate that this was the second anniversary of News Corp.’s acquisition of MySpace, and it now has more than 110 million active global users.
MySpace is reaching out now to the developer community about a platform that will be ready in a matter of months. It said the industry is in the early stages of openness and that the company’s strategy will hinge on improving the MySpace user experience.
MySpace outlined a five-step strategy to make up the lost ground to Facebook:
1. Develop a catalogue of all widgets and tools available on MySpace.
2. Use industry standard APIs.
3. Let users determine usability.
4. Allow users to determine which of these widgets will integrate into MySpace.
5. Integrate the best into the community.
Is Google Behind?
With the social networking craze growing, it is easy to assume that Google is simply behind. Last month, TechCrunch reported that Google had a secret meeting to discuss the popularity of the Facebook Platform.
When asked, a Google spokesperson said, "We’re always looking for new ways to help our users connect with each other, share information, and express themselves, but we don’t have any new details to share at this time." The spokesperson directed me to the impressive developer site: http://code.google.com/apis. If one takes the time to look at the number of different APIs that Google has available to developers, it is hard to say that the company is behind in allowing developers to access its technology.
According to Stephen E. Arnold, managing partner of ArnoldIT.com and author of "Google Version 2.0: The Calculating Predator," "The notion of Google becoming more open than Facebook is a distortion of what Google is doing. First, Google is a social search system. PageRank depends on users who click or vote on sites. Second, Google has a number of inventions relating to social functions in a network environment. Google is extending its functionality to Facebook and Facebook-type applications just as the company extended its functionality to salesforce.com and its developers. Google is an operating environment into which Facebook and other applications may connect. Facebook is no Google just as Google is not a Facebook … yet."
It is an important distinction to recognize that Google’s APIs are a platform for developing any type of Web application to run anywhere. The Facebook and MySpace platforms allow developers to create widgets for their users to use in their networks. So, it is now possible to create Google applications that run in Facebook (and soon in MySpace).
The social networking platforms run parallel to the current Google platform offerings (that are not well understood). However, it is safe to predict that Google is not going to cede the social networking development space to MySpace and Facebook. Who is to say one approach will not win?
The Trend Toward Platforms
For businesspeople who do not have time to create pages outside of LinkedIn, it is time to recognize the important phase shift underway. According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt during the company’s conference call on Oct. 18, "We are now seeing a massive transition to Web-based cloud computing at a consumer and enterprise level. We talked about this for a while and we now see not only the progress but also the future products, both from Google and from the other folks in the industry, to make this really happen. … We are really on the cusp of a world where everyone can create, share, collaborate, and find their content in the cloud anytime and anywhere" (transcript from Seeking Alpha).
The growing trend of leveraging social networking and third-party platforms will enable savvy enterprises to create high-value business applications for their clients and employees at a much reduced cost versus competing enterprise software approaches that leave large footprints and silo information. Small, tech-savvy companies now keep all of their data "in the cloud" and do have the types of information access problems that plague today’s larger organizations.So, while the winner of the social networking platform is far from decided, the looming platform battle between Facebook, Google, Microsoft, MySpace, and Yahoo! will benefit those in the information industry who keep up with the high-value, low-cost Web services offered by large consumer-oriented Internet companies.