Could Google and Microsoft’s online advertising model change the pricing of all Web services

February 20, 2008

Perhaps this micropayment model is also the future of Web services or software as a service (Saas). Soon, companies like and Qualys could be offering their on-demand services with the same pay-as-you-go pricing as Google charges for sponsored links. “There’s a growing demand of the businesses and enterprise to be treated as a customer,” says Yisrael Dancziger, CEO and president of Digital Fuel, a company that makes software specifically for measuring SaaS utilization.

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M&A: Who buys Who?

February 16, 2008

Buyouts have always been the primary exit strategy for high-tech startups and the tech giants that can make them happen seem to have both the wherewithal and the appetite. Microsoft’s CEO plans to buy 20 companies a year for the next half-decade. Google has snapped up almost three dozen companies in the past three years and has billions left to spend. Even Apple’s Steve Jobs is under pressure to do something with the $15 billion war chest he’s accumulated.

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Internet companies: Social graph-iti

November 2, 2007

A NEW fad is sweeping across Silicon Valley, causing excitement, confusion and hyperbole not seen since the dotcom bubble. It began in May, when Mark Zuckerberg, ten days after turning 23, took the stage in a San Francisco warehouse and announced that he was opening up Facebook, the social network he founded at Harvard University, to outside programmers. Anyone can now build little programs, or “widgets”, into the network. To illustrate his idea, Mr Zuckerberg projected onto the wall behind him a “social graph”—a pattern of nodes representing Facebook users and the links among them.

Since then Facebook and the idea of the social graph have become the favourite, if not the only, topic of conversation among the valley’s geeks, venture capitalists and internet moguls. Mr Zuckerberg compares his graphing of human connections to the work of Renaissance mapmakers. Facebook is growing furiously and may catch up with MySpace, the biggest social network. Outside programmers have added about 5,000 widgets.

One of Facebook’s investors estimates the social network’s revenues in 2007 at only $100m, mostly from selling ad space, with tiny profits. Nevertheless, the internet’s giants—Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google—are offering to buy Facebook or a stake in it for a price that would value the firm at many billions. At a Facebook conference on “Graphing social patterns,” panellists said the firm may be worth $100 billion and that it is the new Google.

How much of this is hype? Facebook has made two genuine breakthroughs. The first was its decision to let outsiders write programs and keep all the advertising revenues these might earn. This has led to all kinds of widgets, from the useful (comparing Facebookers’ music and film tastes, say) to the inane (biting each other to become virtual zombies). The entire internet industry reckons this was clever and is planning to copy it. This week MySpace said it would open its site to outside programmers. Google, which owns Orkut, a social network extremely popular in Brazil and parts of Asia, is expected to do the same soon. Facebook’s second masterstroke is its “mini-feed”, an event stream on user pages that keeps users abreast of what their friends are doing—uploading photos, adding a widget and so on. For many users, this is addictive and is the main reason they log on so often. Jerry Michalski, a consultant, calls the mini-feed a “data exhaust” that gives Facebook users “better peripheral vision” into the lives of people they know only casually. This mini-feed is so far the clearest example of using the social graph in a concrete way.

Silicon Valley’s craze for the “social graph”, however, is overdone. The term has been around in computer science for decades, says Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, so it is puzzling that Mr Zuckerberg should get any special credit for using it. “We have address books, and the sum of the address books is the social graph,” he says. Companies such as Plaxo, which help to synchronise address books, and Google itself, which has a primitive address book in its web-mail service, plan to turn these books into fully fledged social graphs that can do useful and productive things, perhaps including new variants of mini-feeds.

This analogy to address books points to an important limitation for social networks, such as Facebook, compared with older sorts of network, such as the postal or telephone systems. These benefit from Metcalfe’s Law, which says that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of its users. In other words, the more people have phones, the more useful they become. This “network effect” leads to rapid adoption and puts up barriers for new entrants.

But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. “The value of a social network is defined not only by who’s on it, but by who’s excluded,” says Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster. Despite their name, therefore, they do not benefit from the network effect. Already, social networks such as “aSmallWorld”, an exclusive site for the rich and famous, are proliferating. Such networks recognise that people want to hobnob with a chosen few, not to be spammed by random friend-requests.


This suggests that the future of social networking will not be one big social graph but instead myriad small communities on the internet to replicate the millions that exist offline. No single company, therefore, can capture the social graph. Ning, a fast-growing company with offices directly across the street from Facebook in Palo Alto, is built around this idea. It lets users build their own social networks for each circle of friends.

So are Facebook and its graph really worth many billions? From an advertiser’s point of view, says Rishad Tobaccowala, the boss of Denuo, the new-media unit of Publicis Groupe, an advertising company, Facebook is so far anything but the new Google. The search giant does have traditional network effects in its advertising system, he says: it aggregates advertisers and sends them to potential customers who have expressed specific intentions by typing search queries. But Facebook has only “large crowds who are communicating without expressing specific interests”, says Mr Tobaccowala. On Google, advertisements are valued; on Facebook they are an annoyance that users ignore.

Facebook might nonetheless be suited for other sorts of marketing. Reuben Steiger, the founder of Millions of Us, a marketing agency for social networks and virtual worlds, says that brands need to design “experiences” that use the social graph to engage groups of friends. If a wrestling association, say, wants to drum up ticket sales for an upcoming bout, it could build a widget that turns users into wrestlers and lets them fight bad guys and win gifts, while making them aware of the brand and the match.

But that possibility hardly justifies the sorts of valuations bandied around for Facebook and other social networks. Such valuations, indeed, may reflect a misunderstanding of the social graph. For bigger companies such as Google, the graph is simply the web of links among its many users. It can be used to make existing services more useful. But Google increasingly views such utilities as “features, not products,” says Sergey Brin, its co-founder. Facebook, like many hot start-ups in Silicon Valley, has some fantastic features, but maybe not much more.

Will Google’s OpenSocial API Program Kill Ning?

November 2, 2007

By Stephen Wellman,

Google this week stormed into the social networking world and stole Facebook’s thunder with its new OpenSocial API program, an effort to create an open standard for creating and integrating applications into social networking platforms. While the rest of the blogosphere is pondering Facebook’s fate, I want to ask another question: Does OpenSocial spell the death of Ning?

For those of you who don’t know, Ning is startup that offers a platform designed to let users create and manage their own social networks. Ning has been around since 2004 and it has a list of big Silicon Valley boosters and investors, including Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame.

Ning is targeted at both consumers and businesses.Ning is trumpeting the OpenSocial platform and its participation in it. Ning’s leadership thinks that OpenSocial will allow Ning to explode (in a good way).

I am not as convinced that OpenSocial will be so good for Ning — or other social networking upstarts either. But for the sake of this post, I will focus on Ning.

Ning’s real value prop to date has been its ability to let users build fully custom, white-label social networks. While competitors like Facebook are aggregations of social networks (not just one social network), Ning’s advantage has been its ability to offer more user customization. Lots of different networks using the same platform behind the scenes vs. bunches of networks on the same interface.

Now, with the addition of Google’s OpenSocial APIs, Ning will offer the same kind of functionality as the rest of its rivals, including Facebook’s arch-nemesis MySpace. So if the entire social networking universe will soon offer integrated application functionality using the same standard (assuming Facebook signs on, which I think it will) what does Ning bring to the party?

Hear me out on this. I see how OpenSocial benefits MySpace. And I can see how Facebook might benefit from this too, despite all the naysayers who claim this move could kill Facebook. But, how does Ning really benefit from this?

As I see it, OpenSocial potentially gives Facebook and MySpace the ability to beat Ning at its own game. Assuming Facebook and MySpace integrate OpenSocial and these APIs give users the ability to create and integrate new kinds of applications and functionalities, why not give users the ability to create their own standalone networks in these respective platforms? Why not launch custom networks on both of these platforms and skip Ning all together?

As I see it, all Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, etc. have to do is add an additional level of interface customization and they can easily take Ning’s market right out from under it. Why use Ning when you could build a professional network for a large company on Facebook or a custom network for a movie or TV show on MySpace?

What do you think? Will OpenSocial spell the end of Ning?


Facebook’s dilemma: To be OpenSocial or not to be

November 2, 2007

By Dan Farber

Facebook is now the lone wolf, the only major social network not to partake of Google’s OpenSocial APIs. This is understandable. A radical change of course is not easy to contemplate. Facebook is the social networking leader, not in raw numbers but in momentum, demographic goodness and potential. The company was greatly lauded for opening up its platform and social graph to empower developers with APIs and a markup language.

Now Facebook is facing the hordes, 200 million foot soldiers–members of competing social networks. Google, MySpace, Six Apart, Ning, Bebo, hi5 and other social networks are giddy with delight in that now, in the name of greater openness than Facebook and comparable functionality, they have a Trojan horse to stalk Facebook, which has been rapidly colonizing members across the globe.

Developers are obviously delighted because they can leverage their code across multiple social network “containers.” Users will far more utility as popular applications spread beyond Facebook, and more developers get into the game.

Facebook’s has some immediate challenges. From a press perspective, the company has not been very transparent regarding its thinking on OpenSocial.

Facebook’s official statement as of yesterday was:

Despite reports, Facebook has still not been briefed on OpenSocial. When we have had a chance to understand the technology, then Facebook will evaluate participation relative to the benefits to its 50 million users and 100,000 platform developers.

In fact, Facebook has been very much aware of OpenSocial within the last week and talking with Google’s OpenSocial team. Facebook team members attend last night’s Campfire 1, where OpenSocial was formally rolled out, but weren’t ready to talk to the press, somewhat like deer caught in the headlights.
In contrast, MySpace, which was going down a similar path to Facebook with its own APIs and markup language, found out about OpenSocial about 36 hours before it was launched, saw the light and created some compelling demos with Flixster. MySpace’s uphill battle to compete with Facebook for the most valued users just got much easier.

All of this is a clear sign the Facebook is carefully weighing its options, and unsure as to how to deal with the shifting landscape. This dilemma comes just after Facebook was celebrated for its $15 billion valuation and Microsoft alliance, a validation for 23-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s crown as the new prince of Silicon Valley.

Facebook could continue to plow ahead with its own APIs and markup language, maintaining its walled garden approach.

Analytics firm Compete points out that Facebook attracts a different set of entrenched, core users than MySpace and other competitors. “It will be difficult for this group to leave, and questionable as to whether they would even want to,” said Compete’s Max Freiert.

Facebook members have strong loyalty to the service–50 pages per day per person on average, according to the company. That is a position of strength. Facebook has built a service that people are flocking to by the millions per month, growing users at more than 3 percent per week.

But a downside is that its competitors and developers will paint Facebook as a pariah hiding behind a walled garden.

This could impact how members of the community think about their social networking home base. The scenario would not be much different from a political campaign–one unintended, ill-timed scream and Facebook’s members could lose faith and move their support to another service, which have been newly empowered by the OpenSocial APIs.

It’s a tough choice for the young company. Funding is not an issue, but pride and doing the right thing for users are. Zuckerberg has said that not providing users with more control over their data on Facebook is a flaw in the service. That would indicate that more openness is good for users, and developers.

Bottom line, if the OpenSocial APIs give Facebook and its application developers what is needed to build great applications, then it seems like a no-brainer to grit their teeth, revamp the platform as needed and embrace the more open APIs.

This choice doesn’t mean that Facebook will end up with lowest common denominator or just me-too applications. The likely scenario is that social networks (the containers for applications) will develop extensions that leverage unique aspects of their platforms and provide some differentiation.

If Facebook has a significant competitive edge because of its pioneering development platform, then adopting OpenSocial makes less sense. And on a practical front, giving Google de facto control of the core APIs for user profiles, friends and activity streams will be a cause for discomfort. On the other hand, so far Google is taking input from partners (who are also competitors) as the API specs have evolved.

Anil Dash of Six Apart, a member of the OpenSocial fan club, sums up the bigger picture of what is going on:

It’s not true to say that Facebook is the new AOL, and it’s oversimplification to say that Facebook’s API is the new Blackbird, or the new Rainman. But Facebook is part of the web. Think of the web, of the Internet itself, as water. Proprietary platforms based on the web are ice cubes. They can, for a time, suspend themselves above the web at large. But over time, they only ever melt into the water. And maybe they make it better when they do.

For reference, Google and others have been chipping away at the proprietary Microsoft iceberg, but it is melting very slowly into the water and continues to mint money for itself and its ecosystem of developers.


Take That, Facebook!

November 2, 2007

By Wendy Tanaka

Google got back at Facebook on Thursday, announcing that MySpace has joined the growing ranks of social networks that have committed to use its new platform for developers of applications for the sites.

The addition of the News Corp. social network heaps pressure on Facebook–which recently chose Microsoft over Google to be an equity holder in the company–to sign on to the new set of standards, dubbed OpenSocial. With MySpace, developers gain instant access to the world’s largest social network with 115 million users. Facebook, which rolled out its own developer platform last spring, has 51 million users, less than half of MySpace’s members.

At a press conference to announce the partnership, Google and MySpace executives declined to comment on whether Facebook will join OpenSocial. Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google, assured reporters gathered at the Internet giant’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters that the company has reached out to every major social network. “We want to see it adopted by everyone,” he said. “We’re not announcing further partnerships now. We anticipate more momentum now.”

MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe is confident the new platform will “become the de facto standard” for application developers.

Google had been expected to officially announce the OpenSocial platform Thursday, but reports about it surfaced Wednesday.

OpenSocial will allow developers to build tiny applications that can be used across many social networks, boosting traffic and advertising on their sites. Google and MySpace said the main benefit of the platform to developers is that it standardizes how applications are created.

“Not rebuilding and rebuilding on different standards … will be great for developers and end users,” said DeWolfe, who took part in the press conference at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. “One of the big trends on the Internet is that users want to consume content when they want it and how they want it.”

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said Google and MySpace have been working together on the platform for more than a year. It had been rumored, however, that MySpace would launch its own developer platform.

Executives declined to comment on how all the companies that have said they will use the standards, which include Friendster, Hi5, LinkedIn and more than a dozen other social networks, will make money from the platform.

At the conference, Joe Kraus of Google’s JotSpot wiki product said applications embedded on MySpace Web pages, for example, will foster “more interaction on MySpace, which means more time spent on the site and more ad revenues.”

Questions about privacy were also raised. Joe Greenstein, chief executive of applications developer Flixster, another partner, said Google doesn’t have access to partners’ user data. “Google is spearheading the initiative, but Google doesn’t touch the data, doesn’t own it.”

Developers were expected to gather at the Googleplex on Thursday night to test their applications on Google’s Orkut social network.

Some of these developers might also be building applications for Facebook. But if Google’s platform is easy to use, these developers might be tempted to pour their hearts and energies into one platform more than another.

Mark Zuckerberg, are you paying attention?


Does a Microsoft-Facebook Tie Portend the Next Net Bubble?

November 1, 2007

By Clint Boulton

Though just a rumor at this point, the idea that Microsoft took a 1.6-percent stake in popular social networking site Facebook has some industry experts anticipating the next Internet bubble.

Ovum Research analyst David Bradshaw said the stake could open the floodgates for social-networking vendors going public with high valuations.

“Indeed, it is such a large amount that it makes me suspect that we’re in the run-up to another bubble in Internet company values,” Bradshaw told eWEEK. “A lot of other people will seek to go public,” he said, noting that the public is ripe for a new Internet bubble.

That’s right. Another Internet bubble. Another half-decade of sky-high valuations, lavish spending and high-tech incubators.

Fueling the high-cost frenzy for such properties as LinkedIn, Twitter, Bebo, Friendster and Digg, will be the desire to implement technologies from these companies into products for the enterprise, Bradshaw said.

Should some sort of Microsoft-Facebook union come to fruition, expect some of Facebook’s social-computing tools to be incorporated in Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration software, said IDC analyst Mark Levitt.

“My take is that Microsoft is active enough in the consumer Web space that an investment in Facebook may not result in any crossing over into the enterprise for the foreseeable future,” Levitt told eWEEK. “But down the road, you are right that the Facebook’s experience and technology could find its way into Microsoft’s SharePoint solutions for enabling business social networking.”

However, Bradshaw said the stovepiped architecture of enterprise applications present some significant obstacles for vendors to address.

He said while social networks such as Facebook, of Palo Alto, Calif., and LinkedIn have made some strides on the recruitment ground, no one has cracked the selling of tools that enterprises themselves could adopt.

Aside from the challenges of negotiating social networking into enterprise systems, Bradshaw said that some problems with Facebook could preclude the company from rising as fast as some think and thwart his theory.

Those issues include privacy concerns associated with protecting minors from sexual predators and the ongoing legal action between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his former roommates over the alleged theft of intellectual property.

Gilbane Group analyst Geoff Bock agreed that Facebook’s privacy issues could scare off prospective companies. On Sept. 24, the New York State Attorney General’s office subpoenaed Facebook for documents that demonstrate the company is not protecting underage users from potential predators.

Moreover, Bock downplayed the Internet bubble theory and has his own theory on the interest in Facebook.

“The reason for the valuation is that it is a platform, and it appears to be a platform for the Net natives, people who group up and live on the Internet all of their lives,” Bock told eWEEK. “What we’ve seen time and again on the Internet is that places, locations, platforms and environments that get a lot of eyeballs and start doing useful things can get pretty decent valuations in the public marketplace.”

Bock also took a dimmer view of social computing in the enterprise, at least in the near term. The analyst said that while Facebook and Google allowing mashups make them enormously popular, that doesn’t mean these companies will help social-networking tools transition into the enterprise.

Bock said that enterprise content-management platforms from IBM, EMC and Microsoft SharePoint don’t support social networking, noting that it’s not clear how social computing works inside the enterprise.

He said businesses would have to build relationships with customers to link the information, supply chain and value chain flows together.

“We don’t have good software yet that manages those links,” Bock said. “Every major company is working on defining and managing the links and I don’t think the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons understand the enterprise enough to do that.”

If any company comes close to socializing the enterprise platform, Bock said, it’s IBM with its Lotus Connections software.

Differences of opinion on the evolution of social-networking tools in the enterprise abound. IDC analyst Rachel Happe said she is moderately bullish on the notion of social networking moving into the enterprise, noting that “social networking provides a filter to information, and information is exploding online.”

In fact, Happe called eWEEK Sept. 26 from the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT, in Cambridge, Mass., where she said research engineers from Cisco Systems and Intel talked about how they are looking to use social networking to “evolve search to information discovery and filtering.

“They see social networking as an underlying platform for a lot of applications,” Happe said, noting that her research showed that device companies are looking at social-networking applications and P2P (peer-to-peer) media distribution as something to bundle with their devices to better control information flow.

Meanwhile, Bradshaw concluded that with the evolution of this Web 2.0 world of social networking and collaboration, “Facebook is no more than a step along the way and that there’s something further to come.”

“Longer term, we believe that social networking sites have to evolve further,” he said. “Maybe we need bubble 2.0 to burst before we can get to that, but let’s hope not.”

Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta said while the industry is still trying to understand what people want from a social-networking platform, the opportunity is compelling in terms of how social networking can alter product- and service-delivery models and also influence customer and community relationships.

But is there a bubble coming?

“We are so early in this phase that it’s difficult to position this as a bubble per se,” Gotta said. “Instead, I view it as one aspect of broader societal, market and economic trends that are transforming business and organizational models.”


Google/OpenSocial vs. Microsoft/Facebook

November 1, 2007

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

So there they were, Google vs. Microsoft, slugging it out again. This time, to the winner, would go a small percentage of the ownership of the popular social networking site, Facebook. The real prize though was that the winner would get to decide if Facebook would continue to accept advertising only from advertisers working with Microsoft.

And, the winner was… Microsoft!

Now, Google doesn’t lose to Microsoft, or anyone else for that matter, very often. So maybe, just maybe, when Google announced today—Halloween—that it was going to offer Internet developers an open system, OpenSocial, to create applications across Web sites—read social networking sites—it was a pure coincidence. Just like, say, it was pure coincidence that soap somehow ends up on your windows tonight.

Seriously, I’m sure Google has been working on cross-site applications that will let social sites syndicate content from one site to another for a while now. Even Google can’t get a dozen partners, including the social network LinkedIn for business professionals, its own Orkut network and Friendster to all sign up in a few days… Or could they?

No, no, I’m sure they’ve been working on this for a while. After all, if you look at what Google is trying to do from both a technical and a business viewpoint, OpenSocial fits in perfectly.

Google wants and needs open systems, and, to a lesser extent, open source. Google makes its moola from selling advertising on everything and anything you can place on the Web. If the systems are open, Google engineers are fast enough and bright enough to find a way to hook an ad to almost anything on the Web. Or, if they can’t hook an ad to it, they know how to PageRank it, so that your best chance of finding a site, an application, a friend, what-have-you is via the Google search engine.

If Google can build the open system itself, which is exactly what they’re doing, it’s even easier for them. By opening it up, they insure that the open-source development process will get the new system up and running as quickly as possible, while at the same time debugging at a rapid rate.

Indeed, if you think about it, this face-off over Facebook, says a lot about both companies. Google wants to open up its advertising. Microsoft—and this is so Microsoft of them—wants to keep the advertising all to themselves.

Take this step further. Right now Microsoft really, really wants you, as a business customer, to buy into SharePoint. And, why shouldn’t they? If you really want to get the most from SharePoint’s Swiss-army knife approach to work collaboration you need to buy— take a deep breath here—BizTalk Server 2006 R2, SharePoint Server, Visual Studio Team System, SQL Server, Server 2003, and Office 2007. Oh, and Exchange. Can’t forget Exchange.

To me SharePoint is the epitome of Microsoft’s extend and embrace strategy. If you buy into it, you have to buy into an expensive complete server to desktop package. It’s not quite the same thing as selling your business’ soul to Redmond, but it’s close.

Google, on the other hand, says you can just use its open services and applications, like Google Apps Premier and Standard editions to do pretty much everything Microsoft can do for you, with one big difference. With Google, it’s either free of charge or the company charges you a pittance. Except, of course, Google doesn’t have a way for you to integrate work across networks the way SharePoint does… Hmmm… or will it soon with OpenSocial?

After all, Microsoft is already trying to link Web 2.0-type sites with SharePoint and you can use SharePoint across the Internet today. Social networking sites that are integrated with SharePoint are just one more step away. Now that I think of it, Google may have been planning OpenSocial for quite a while now.

This may look to be just another dust-up between Google and Microsoft. It may appear to be just a fight over Web advertising revenues. But I think it’s more, much more. I think it’s a fight between whose technology model is going to control the business network, and bigger even than that, whose business model is really going to call the shots in the early 21st century.

The Google/Microsoft war may just be beginning.


OpenSocial: Developers speak out

November 1, 2007

by Dan Farber

With Google’s OpenSocial plans out of the bag, I checked out how some of the chosen few–Slide, NewsGator, Ning and–think about the new APIs and how they plan to apply them.

Slide is the leading Facebook developer, claiming 63 million applications (SuperPoke, Top Friends, Slideshows, Guestbooks, SkinFlix and FunPix) installed. “So far we have ported several of our most popular applications from Facebook and MySpace,” Max Levchin, founder and CEO of Slide told me. However, consumers won’t get to play with those applications until December or January.

“OpenSocial is great. The user benefit is a shorter cycle before they see cool new apps and ways to spend more time on social networks independent of the network they are on,” Levchin explained. “The most powerful implication is for developers. They’ll have less worry about in terms of complexity and back end integration.”

On the technical side, Levchin said the OpenSocial APIs are well designed, with sophisticated distributed computing happening in the browser, serving applications from multiple sources, such as services passing through Google and Slide in a hi5-hosted container. “In essence, it’s pretty impressive,” Levchin said.

While Facebook is the only container for its applications, the Google approach is more open and generic. Will Facebook adopt OpenSocial APIs?

“I cannot predict what Facebook will do,” Levchin said. “They are in an enviable position. Facebook pioneered this and is the cause of a lot of application development. For a long time MySpace, through luck and serendipity, decided that embedding Flash widgets is ok. Facebook looked at that and said it’s great and entertaining but it doesn’t leverage the fact that there is more than one user, and exposed the social graph, an improvement over pure embedding of APIs.”

“Slide is a large developer. We can afford to do both [Facebook and OpenSocial apps] and we owe a lot of our success to Facebook. In general, our mission and stance is that as long as platforms are growing and vibrant and users are coming back and interested, we will put effort into it, independent of the standards they chose.”

Of course, the 15th ranking social network is not going get that treatment and smaller developer don’t have the resources, so using OpenSocial is the way to go for them, he said.

Levchin predicted that the OpenSocial APIs will provide a core set of functions, but that each social network will have extensions that expose unique features of their platforms. “Not every social network has the notion of different levels of friending and newsfeeds,” he said.

Will OpenSocial applications find the viral growth that characterizes many Facebook applications? “One litmus test is the standard Facebook set for how fast things grow–just add water and you have 100,000 users in a few weeks,” Levchin said. “How well this plays out remains to be seen. It will be a frenzy initially and then the platforms will fine tune the controls so as not to piss off users….that’s what could cause the APIs to change.”

For Levchin, the standards are less of an issue than monetization schemes. “Developers are not going to abandon Facebook. The not-so-subtle competition will come among platforms offering monetization for developers,” he said. “Whoever has the user base will attract developers.

Over time, the social networking space will resemble the operating system battles of past decades, with just a few large players vying for developers.

NewsGator created Didjahear!?, a social content application using OpenSocial APIs that grabs a selection of video, audio and graphic material from among 7 million stories that go through its back end feed processor. It is hosted in an Orkut container, which gets recommended content filtered by category and then can push it out to friends, who can add and share comments.

Brian Kellner, vice president of product management at NewsGator, compared the Facebook and OpenSocial development platforms. “It’s pretty hard to do Facebook development, and it’s intertwined with their platfrom. You have to use the markup language and services. For example, Facebook recently changed the invites works, so you have to change your application.”

“Google’s OpenSocial is more flexible and lighter weight, with HTML and Javascript in the container,” Kellner added. “At the moment, the Google APIs have less data–it will be trickier to get viral growth since there is no prompt to push an application to other friends because it doesn’t know who your friends are who don’t have it.”

Kellner said the APIs could become more functional if the demand exists. “OpenSocial will be able to answer other questions, such as what kind of activities have been done on a platform or it may know about calendar events and be able to pass on that intelligence,” he said.

In a blog post, Ning co-founder and Chairman Marc Andreessen said that Ning will aggressively support Open Social APIs in the following ways:

Being an outstanding container. Open Social apps will be able to run easily and reliably inside Ning social networks — all 113,000+ of them. Ning Network Creators will be able to quickly and easily add Open Social apps to their networks, and Ning users will be able to quickly and easily add Open Social apps to their profile pages.

Being an app publisher. Ning already automatically produces Facebook apps for every Ning network — specifically, video, photo, and music players — using the Facebook proprietary platform approach. We will do the exact same thing for Open Social — we will automatically produce Open Social apps for every Ning network.

At the launch event tomorrow, will demo its use of the OpenSocial APIs in the “business” Web. The company is using a combination of its VisualForce and Apex code to create the container that allows OpenSocial widgets to run on the platform.

“If you are on Orkut and you see a great [SocialOpen] widget that shows who are your closest friends, we could use the same widget and drop it on an opportunity page [on] and see the same presentation but instead of friends it would be people most active on this sales deal,” said Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing at “The data is coming from salesforce, or whoever provides the container.”

“A developer can define what a friend means–you could say who are all the friends related to this opportunity. The sales rep could see the opportunity and the strength of relationships among the influencers associated with the given opportunity,” he added.

Dave Winer, who pioneered technologies such as RSS and SOAP, offered his perspective in a recent post.

Standards devised by one tech company whose main purpose is to undermine another tech company, usually don’t work.

In this case it’s Google trying to undermine Facebook.

And I don’t think it’s going to work.

What would be exciting and uplifting, a real game-changer — Internet companies giving users full control of their data.

When Google makes their announcement on Thursday, the question they should be asked by everyone is — How much of my data are you letting me control today? That’s pretty much all that matters to anyone, imho

In some ways Google is undermining Facebook by introducing open APIs that enables write once, play almost anywhere social network application development. It will unleash far more activity among developers and benefit users, but it’s not a zero sum game.

Facebook has tremendous momentum, as Levchin pointed out, and is creating ways to share the wealth with developers. Users haven’t abandoned Apple because it’s a closed box governed by Steve Jobs and Facebook users won’t run for Orkut, Plaxo or Ning unless they have a far more compelling proposition.

OpenSocial won’t give users control of their data, but it’s a step in the right direction. And, given that Brad Fitzpatrick, who co-authored the seminal “Thoughts on the Social Graph” now works at Google, there is a small ray of hope for liberation.

Update: LinkedIn will an OpenSocial mashup, Conference Calendar, which grabs the industry information from a LinkedIn profile, associates releveant conferences and lists people from other social networks who will attend.


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Two More Challenges To Microsoft Office: Glide And ThinkFree

October 31, 2007

By Ron Miller

When Microsoft completely redesigned Office 2007, rendering it completely unfamiliar to even the most experienced users, it opened a door for a number of alternatives — some of them online. And while Google and Zoho are the names that most people are familiar with when it comes to online office applications (check out ), there are other — perhaps better — services out there.

Two of these services are ThinkFree Online and Glide. Both offer basic office functionality, as well as automatic synching to allow for access to your content when you’re offline. Glide includes not only office productivity applications, but also links your mobile and desktop computing environments and provides document-level security and media file sharing.

Both programs can open Office legacy documents with basic formatting, but each had some trouble with more complex documents, especially with Word numbered lists (but then Word has had trouble with numbered lists for years, so it should come as no surprise that these programs have trouble translating it). Neither can deal with an Open Office formatted document. While you can create fully formatted documents, slide show and spreadsheets, neither product’s spreadsheet can deal with sophisticated options such as pivot tables (although Glide promises that its upcoming offline version of the spreadsheet will have pivot table and other advanced functionality).

So before you make the leap and fork over the big bucks for Microsoft Office 2007, take a look at these two very reasonable alternatives.

ThinkFree Online aims to be a pure Microsoft Office alternative, offering a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. The company actually offers several version: the free Online edition, the Desktop edition ($50). a Server edition )$30 per user per year), and a Premium version (currently in beta), which adds online/offline file synching.

ThinkFree is the only Office alternative I’ve seen that actually uses the same .DOC, .PPT, and .XLS extensions as Microsoft (spokesperson Jonathan Crow says that his company actually reverse engineered the Microsoft Office file formats beginning in 1997). That means you can simply open your native Office documents (Office 2003 or earlier; ThinkFree is working on Office 2007 DocX compatibility for a future release.) seamlessly, at least in theory. In reality, it really depends on how complex your formatting is and how many of Microsoft’s more advanced features you have used.

If you keep it fairly basic, the documents open and display as they would in Office, but ThinkFree can’t play sound or animations in imported Powerpoint documents, pivot tables in imported Excel files, or complex formatting from Word documents. That’s because the ThinkFree Office program equivalents tend to stick to simpler functionality than Microsoft. If you are looking for every bell and whistle, this is probably not for you.

ThinkFree Premium, which adds syncing to the product, uses the concept of a Webtop (like a desktop on the Web) where you store all of your personal documents. Once you move a document from the desktop to the Webtop, whenever you change the document, either online or offline, ThinkFree automatically syncs the two versions. When uploading, you are limited to a maximum 10MB file size per file, which could be problematic for users who have larger documents. When uploading, by default, you have to browse for each document one at a time, but hidden away (if you look closely) is a feature that enables you to drag and drop multiple files or folders from your computer onto the Webtop, which is a lot easier than uploading a file at a time when moving multiple files.

If you have been an Office user (at least, prior to Office 2007), you should know your way around the ThinkFree office applications. ThinkFree uses the tried and true menu bar/toolbar metaphor which we have all grown familiar with over 20 years of GUI use.

One departure from Office is the choice of two editing modes: Quick Edit and Power Edit. As the names suggest, you can use Quick Edit to make minor changes to your document, but if you are writing a document from scratch or need access to more advanced formatting and editing functions, you need to use Power Edit. ThinkFree designed the QuickEditor with AJAX to make it load faster and be used for smaller editing jobs, while the Power Editor is programmed in Java for more advanced functionality, but in testing I found it hard to discern between the two.

ThinkFree offers a nifty blog posting feature, which is designed to work with major blog platforms such as Typepad, WordPress, and Blogger. You simply enter your user name and password and select how you want to display your ThinkFree content — as embedded text or as an icon the user clicks to open. When I tested this feature with my Typepad blog, it worked without a hitch.

While ThinkFree needs to upgrade the size of documents you can upload, it provides a familiar environment and deals fairly well with legacy documents.

Glide gives you office applications in a comprehensive online operating environment that works seamlessly between your mobile and desktop versions.

Glide takes an entirely different approach from ThinkFree. Instead of aiming to be a one for one Microsoft Office alternative, you get an online operating environment where in addition to a word processor, presentation program, and spreadsheet (which is due to be released at the end of October). You also get e-mail, an online meeting tool, automatic file syncing, sophisticated file security, media file sharing, a blogging tool, and a simple Web site building tool. If you wish, you can also import your browser bookmarks and contact list.

What’s more, the mobile and the desktop versions synch automatically, so any changes you make — whether on your desktop or mobile device — update instantly on each platform. Glide is coming out with a business version at the end of October that will let you to work locally on your hard drive, as well. There are versions for Linux, Mac, and Windows. And while Glide is free with 2GB of storage, you can increase that to 10 GB ($4.75/month) or 12 GB ($49.95/year).

Glide’s home page offers you a selection of all the applications that it offers; tabs along the top give you access to your mailbox, address book, and other tools. Like Microsoft Office 2007, the Glide office applications have foregone the menu bar in favor a ribbon divided up by task; however, I found Glide’s design was cleaner and easier to use. In addition, to the ribbon with traditional Office functions, when you edit a document, three tabs along the left side of the window enable you to share your document, invite one or more people to a chat or e-mail the document. However, the overall screen design isn’t quite as crisp as it could be; Transmedia needs to find a smoother way to incorporate these tabs.

Glide clearly separates itself from both ThinkFree and Office 2007 with its security features, which far outdo just about any other tools on the market. With Glide you can not only make your document read-only, you can set it so the recipient can only read it one time (or however many times you decide). You can control if the user can download attachments or reply with attachments and so forth, giving you total control on a file by file basis and even on a recipient by recipient basis (in an e-mail with multiple recipients).

Business users will appreciate the seamless integration between the mobile and desktop versions. The mobile side has been designed to do tasks with finger taps, making it a great match for the iPhone, and any changes you make to your documents on the mobile side sync instantly with the desktop. You have to download a separate syncing tool to your desktop computer, which provides a way to move content such as documents or photos from your desktop into the Glide system and synch any changes you make to those items. You can set the sync tool to watch files or folders to update the corresponding online folders automatically.

It would be remiss to have a review of Glide without discussing how well it handles media files whether it’s video or audio, regardless of the format. You simply send a media file to a recipient and apply whatever rights you want (just as with a document); Glide ships the file with its own media player.

Glide needs to work on handling Office documents better, but overall it offers a great package with security that dwarfs offerings from Microsoft and other competitors. You are not only getting fairly sophisticated office applications, but also the ability to share files and interact with other users, regardless if they are part of the Glide system or not. Because you’re dealing with a Web interface, the capacity to move and share files between desktop and mobile environments is seamless — for example, if you make a change on a file using your desktop, it will be immediately reflected on your mobile device.

The interface could still use some tweaking, but overall, Transmedia has built a system that includes all of the tools you need to create and share documents and collaborate with your colleagues securely with access from wherever you are.

Source: Information Week