Google's new OS

I was lucky enough to be one of a small group of people invited along to Google's London offices last Friday for a breakfast briefing. This was right after Thursday's announcement of OpenSocial. We didn't know for sure what was going to be covered, but a combination of leaks and educated guesses meant that most people had figured out that we were going to get more than just a free breakfast.

As I'm sure you know by now, OpenSocial is a social-networking application development API created by Google that is being implemented by pretty much all social networking sites (with the notable exception of Facebook). You can now write applications that will work without modification on MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, Bebo, LinkedIn, Ning, hi5,, and many more. The only social networking site that is not likely to appear in this list any time soon is Facebook, and that's an obvious consequence of Microsoft's recent $240m investment. But even Facebook might have to kowtow to OpenSocial in the long run.

The OpenSocial API gives you the ability to write social-networking applications that can be hosted on any site that supports the API. This "learn once, run anywhere" capability makes it easy to develop functionality that can be used by a combined audience of over 150 million users. This is a one-click reach that puts your application right on the user's home page with no clumsy client-side installation or fiddly account registration to go through.

Suddenly this is the new application development platform kid on the block. At the moment it is billed as a social-networking platform, but from what I've seen there's no impediment to writing any kind of application using the OpenSocial API. Google have chosen to leverage HTML, JavaScript and Ajax, all of which are open and ubiquitous, to create a very rich and flexible platform. By contrast Facebook's platform (FBML), launched a few months ago, is idiomatic, closed and proprietary.

You can now build full function applications that can run inside each of your user's chosen social networking site. No longer do you need to ask users to navigate to your web-site, lead them through tortuous registration and login procedures to a site with its own idiosyncratic behaviour and UI. Just get them to add your application to their own MySpace, Ning or Orkut page. Whether your goal is to provide financial information, retailing, patient appointment booking or any other kind of customer facing service, you can now bring it to them rather than requiring them to come to you. You can have your application right in front of them, logged-on and authenticated whenever and wherever they're on-line. Why would you want to make it any harder than that for your users to run your application?

It's early days and the dust has yet to settle, but it could be that what Google have unleashed here is not just a social-networking platform but something that could grow to become the platform for all application development.

Today Google OS means Google OpenSocial, but sometime in the future it might just mean Google Operating System.