Opening Up Networking

Yesterday, Google announced the details of their OpenSocial project (More Information: TechCrunch).

For a long time now, social networks have been the center of discussion in educational institutions. Facebook was too closed, and perhaps, MySpace was too open. This did open a (albeit not so popular) avenue for social networks focused on education – ELGG is an example. Ning, though limited till now, has more opportunities, now that they have signed up for OpenSocial.

From the TechCrunch Site:

OpenSocial is a set of three common APIs, defined by Google with input from partners, that allow developers to access core functions and information at social networks:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)

Hosts agree to accept the API calls and return appropriate data. Google won’t try to provide universal API coverage for special use cases, instead focusing on the most common uses. Specialized functions/data can be accessed from the hosts directly via their own APIs.

Unlike Facebook, OpenSocial does not have its own markup language (Facebook requires use of FBML for security reasons, but it also makes code unusable outside of Facebook). Instead, developers use normal javascript and html (and can embed Flash elements). The benefit of the Google approach is that developers can use much of their existing front end code and simply tailor it slightly for OpenSocial, so creating applications is even easier than on Facebook.

Will the ‘open-ness’ of the project reveal itself as the holy grail of including social networks in online education? Time will tell. However, it does seem that there is potential now — beyond using just the networking features of a social network (read: administrative learning features) for education.

I am especially keen to see what Ning, LinkedIn and Salesforce are able to make of it. I use all of these networks. LI and SF aren’t especially suited for educational purposes, and therefore Ning is the candidate who can possible exploit this the most.

Their update blog is the one that needs to be RSSed!

PS: Dave Winer doesn’t think it will work!

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