Google’s introduction of OpenSocial, which, as Marc Andreessen explains, provides a kind of universal two-way connector between web applications and social networks, marks an important moment in the transformation of the World Wide Web into what I term, in The Big Switch, the World Wide Computer. The internet, as Google frequently points out, is the new computing platform, and OpenSocial – whether it succeeds or not – gives us a view as to how that platform may operate.
Plenty of people have commented on OpenSocial, but not many have focused on the possible implications for corporate computing. But given the fact that the OpenSocial consortium includes Oracle, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, and Google itself, it’s clear that businesses are an important target of the initiative. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine OpenSocial, or something like it, becoming the glue for “Enterprise 2.0,” which has become (alas) the umbrella term for the use of web-based social software by companies.
Many companies can see the potential benefits of having their employees tied together through a social network. It could help encourage productive collaboration without requiring big investments in complicated and expensive knowledge-management systems, which rarely work. But companies, particularly large ones, are antsy about putting sensitive corporate and personal information into an open social network like Facebook – not only because of security concerns but also because of lock-in fears. At the same time they know that if they set up their own network or join one narrowly tailored to businesses, they’ll cut themselves off from all the applications being designed to run within the big public networks. OpenSocial provides (in theory) a solution. Whether a company sets up its own social network or piggybacks on a public one, it still has access to all the OpenSocial apps. Equally important, it can switch between social networks without losing access to the apps it depends on, and it can share information and apps with outside partners even if their employees are in different social networks.
Companies have faced a conundrum with Enterprise 2.0: they want the benefits of sharing, but they also need to maintain controls. OpenSocial points to one possible way out.