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App Engine, Facebook Platform, OpenSocial, and the Future of the Web

I was lucky enough to get an invite to Google’s Campfire One event where the company announced App Engine. App Engine basically allows web developers to take advantage of Google’s infrastructure to scale if they’re willing to build their app using Google’s tools. While drinking hot apple cider, Brady wrote a great post digging into a bunch of the different aspects of App Engine.

david_app_engine_tweet.png

During the presentation, I tweeted, “Thinking App Engine with Google Accounts integration is a threat to both Facebook Platform and OpenSocial. Metaphor shift.” I thought a decent amount, well at least a few seconds, before I SMS’d that, since I knew it would be lacking quite a bit of context. I completely agree with Kevin Marks that App Engine looks like a great platform to host Facebook and OpenSocial apps, but that wasn’t actually my point.

Early mashups on the web took data from somewhere and combined it with an API from somewhere else in order to create new value. The resulting mashup was the same for every viewer, but that didn’t last long. Quickly came the era of mashups allowing customization of data inputs. Today tools like Yahoo! Pipes, Dapper, and Microsoft Popfly bring the ability to “mashup” to a wider audience. Want to know the largest “mashup” (in the most loving sense of the word)? Facebook Platform. Call me crazy, but hear me out.

If you discard useless sheep-throwing applications, you’re left with apps that at their core either bring data into Facebook or take data within Facebook and interact with services outside the Facebook garden. Take iLike, for example. With it you can build a rich music library, add music you like to your profile and then share that with your friends. iLike builds Facebook apps (and Hi5 apps, and OpenSocial gadgets, etc.) because iLike knows that its users have friends who don’t already use iLike. Causes is another amazing Facebook Platform application, one that makes charity giving social and integrates a payment API. At the end of the day, iLike and Causes take data from multiple places and combine it using the platforms provided by Facebook (and Hi5 in the case of iLike).

At this point you might be saying, “well, OpenSocial solves that” which it does (sort of), but I see an internet where applications are directly creating “mashups” with each other. If the evolution of a mashup went from making it easier with Popfly to making it viral with the Facebook Platform, the next evolution is removing the large social network as the container all together. One of the key components of App Engine is the ability for a site to take advantage of Google Accounts for login. Today that means that every App Engine site could have a shared sense of a user; the ability to understand who someone is across different App Engine sites and Google services. (Obviously I’d love to see Google move toward supporting OpenID for this sort of thing, but small bits piece by piece work for me.)

Imagine if Google Accounts added support for the (upcoming) OpenSocial REST APIs. All of a sudden, each of these App Engine sites could start injecting activity and querying for activity across each other. Maybe you’ll argue that this just means that Google Accounts could become the next big social network, but isn’t it a bit different when this functionality is just a part of your hosting infrastructure? What if Google Accounts ignored the notion of friends and instead left that to actual social networks? If done right, this really could be the first shipping glimpse of the distributed social web that there is to come.

I’ll be speaking more about this sort of stuff at Web 2.0 Expo on Thursday, May 24th in SF.

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  • http://www.adelph.us william

    This seems so very much like dark days of the Microsoft OS monopoly. Who can forget the memories of; stifled competition, and price fixing. In this case Google does the arm twisting AND knuckle cracking by dropping the pricing of a service to free. Goolge is using the advantage of massive scale built on the backs of consumers and media to choke the life out of them and any competitor.

    Do we now face a world where all apps are run on the google platform and coded to their specifications. Have we forgotten what happened to Borland, Netscape, and Novel.

    Make no bones about it; Google is trying to be the next OS at any cost. If they go on this path unchallenged we will see the snuffing out of a vibrant industry that was once the home of rebels that believed in the possibilities and the freedom of choice.

    It is also clear that Google is the biggest danger to Open Source software that we have ever seen.
    Where is the cloud/OS for those of us that want a choice and don’t think its a good idea for one company to own the very life of the internet.

    We at adelph.us will be launching an alternative

    “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”

    “You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember — all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.”

    from the Matrix written by Andy Wachowski & Larry Wachowski

  • zuzu

    The big picture here is that just like other utilities (electricity for example), large scale suppliers have an advantage. Google is not the only corporation with very deep pockets here: Microsoft is making a bid with Silverlight hosting, Nokia is hoping to do this with Ovi, Qualcomm is already doing this with BREW etc…

    Appropriately regulated, I’m not too worried who my electricity supplier is, so I guess I’m not too worried about Google. Google is lowering the entry threshold for innovative services – very important particularly as we try to figure out what works with mobile devices.

    Caveat: I don’t expect that Google will host any service that threatens their cash cow… hmmm and I guess I don’t much trust the regulators either…

  • http://ussjoin.com Brendan O'Connor

    @william –

    As much as I appreciate hostile rhetoric for its own sake (such as the kind dished out in large amounts at Adelph.us), it would be good if the actions listed as “threatening” were; instead it seems like Google, with OpenSocial and allowing real data portability in and out of their platform in precisely the same way that Facebook etc. doesn’t, is taking real steps toward user empowerment.

    I, for one, don’t feel like a “sharecropper;” I feel like Google’s cost of entry of *zero* kills that analogy right off. If I like it, once I’ve scaled to 5M pageviews, then I can continue to use it, and start to pay them for the privilege; if not, the only things I’d need to change about my application are to plug in a new mail, user authentication, and database framework. All of these exist, and aren’t hard to swap out. And all of it only happens once my site is reasonably successful– otherwise, I can keep using the free version forever.

  • http://pasker.net bob Pasker

    I addressed in my post on Widget Application Servers

    http://theabstracttruth.wordpress.com/2008/04/08/95/

  • http://blog.wachob.com Gabe Wachob

    You asked for disagreement. Here it is.

    It seems like the Social aspects and the hosting aspects here are orthogonal. Not sure what “adding support for OpenSocial REST APIs” means. They are just APIs – anybody (whether running on appEngine or otherwise) can either provide or consume those APIs.

    Now, the identity part of it (Google provides pretty seamless identity assertions about users) *is* interesting – though actually it leaves a bit of a grimy taste in my mouth. I don’t really want to constrain my apps to google user accounts – so does this mean I’m not really benefiting at all here? Does this mean they’ve basically created a new Facebook platform (at least from the perspective of identity – closed identity universe)?

    I guess as an app developer, I could always be an OpenID RP, but Google isn’t an OP. WOOPS.

  • http://www.davidrecordon.com/ David Recordon

    My thinking is that if the social aspects are provided automatically by your hosting environment, aren’t you far more likely to use them? Another key difference I see is that today OpenSocial applications are being deployed within individual social networks, not crossing between them. A Google Account, like an OpenID, is an identity which can span multiple sites and thus bring context, data, etc with it wherever the user goes. See Tim’s “OpenSocial: It’s the data, stupid” post for more on that thought. http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2007/11/opensocial-its-the-data-stupid.html

  • http://500hats.typepad.com dave mcclure

    agreed david… absolutely a momentum shift.

    what’s really interesting is that it’s taken so long for Google to take this approach. would have been more interesting for them to roll this out a year or two ago & be the thought leader, rather than seemingly in response to Facebook Platform / AWS / etc.

    similarly, MSFT & YHOO have been even worse in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory… and have yet to really come up with a game plan yet. the recent acquisition discussions, Windows Live ID, and all Yahoo’s other cool experiments aside, there hasn’t been a comprehensive solution laid out by anyone except Google & Facebook.

    btw, i’ve written a longer piece about this topic & how MSFT-YHOO are trying to climb back into the race here:
    Web 3.0 isn’t the Semantic Web, it’s Hailstorm 2.0
    Why it Matters & How Microsoft-Yahoo can beat Google
    http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2008/03/web-30-isnt-the.html

    (altho honestly, i kind of doubt they can pull it off. Google & Facebook seem to have their shit so much more together than the rest…)

  • http://www.findthebestlawyers.com/ Lawyer

    >>

    What a scary notion that Google can become the BIG BROTHER of the Internet and make rules on how you use their account as they govern over an OPEN App engine. Sorry but this sounds too dangerous for individuals who don’t want a BIG BROTHER dictating their accounts across the Internet.

  • http://krow.net/ Brian Aker

    Hi!

    Google launched Gmail… and then how long did it take for them to followup with features? A lot is missing in this framework, and I am wondering how many people they can effectively put on it, to make it scale.

    Longer rant here:

    ” rel=”nofollow”>
    http://krow.livejournal.com/591829.html

    Cheers,
    -Brian

  • http://dannyayers.com Danny

    Want to know the largest “mashup” (in the most loving sense of the word)? – The Web!!! Silos like Facebook will always be less useful than the rest of the world put together :-)

    Having an open API (like OpenSocial) or whatever is a step in the right direction, but the key interface is that of the Web itself.

    Longer rant here:
    http://blogs.talis.com/nodalities/2008/04/google_app_engine_and_the_joy.php

    See also:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linked_Data

  • Alyxandor James

    About Google and Open Source…

    Have you ever been on code.google.com? It’s not quite sourceforge, but it’s damned close. Free open source hosting for all!

    And, since this post is a little dated… Might I mention Wave? It is Google’s proverbial stake in the heart of all other social networking sites. Note only is the protocol {and soon enough, the rest of it} OPEN SOURCE, but once the embedding API is up, you can just… drop it into any other site instantly. Can you Facebook on MySpace? lol… Didn’t think so.

    Of course, the REAL power of wave is that it is REAL TIME, and properly licensed so that all content belongs to the user’s participating, NOT big brother.

    Speaking of which, whoever it was that the fearmongers got to… Google may LOOK like Big Brother because they are the biggest data miners on the web, but have you ever actually looked at their legal practices? When the US government decided to revoke constitutional rights, they demanded that all search engines give up their cached queries, WITH IP Address identification. M$, Yahoo et al surrendered YOUR data right away {because you’re surely too afraid to use Google}. What did Google do? They spent $6 billion of THEIR dollars to protect MY privacy, and submitted the queries with obfuscated identifiers.

    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/response-to-doj-motion.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/20/technology/20google.html

    Also, I hope you chose AOL over Google:
    http://benmetcalfe.com/blog/2006/08/aol-releases-search-data-on-500k-users-and-then-tries-to-take-it-back/

    Real conspiracies gets lumped with lunacy because people just point the finger at the easiest {biggest} target. Google is the ONLY major search engine to protect it’s user’s privacy; maybe they only did it protect their rep and their proprietary data, but I don’t care. When my Wave robot becomes a cross-platform, real-time multimedia blog, I’ll use it to sculpt out the evils of society and make fears of privacy obsolete. Hahahahah!

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