In a response to my article here, DeWitt Clinton of Google defined what he deemed the definition of “open” to be. According to DeWitt, “the first is licensing of the protocols themselves, with respect to who can legally implement them and/or who can legally fork them.” I argue if this were the case, then why didn’t Google clone and standardize what Facebook is doing, where many, many more developers are already integrating and writing code for? Facebook itself is part of the Open Web Foundation, and applies the same principles as Google to allowing others to clone the APIs they provide to developers.
DeWitt’s second definition of “open” revolves around, according to DeWitt, “the license by which the data itself is made available. (The Terms and Conditions, so to speak.) The formal definitions are less well established here (thus far!), but it ultimately has to do with who owns the data and what proprietary rights over it are asserted.” Even Facebook makes clear in its terms that you own your data, and they’re even working to build protocols to enable website owners to host and access this data on their own sites. Why did Google have to write their own Social Graph API or access lesser-used protocols (such as FOAF or OpenID) when they could, in reality, be standardizing what millions (or more?) of other developers are already utilizing with Facebook Connect and the Facebook APIs to access friend data? Google could easily duplicate the APIs Facebook has authored (even using the open source libraries Facebook provides for it), and have a full-fledged, “open” social network built from these APIs many developers are already building upon. I would argue there are/were many more developers writing for Facebook than were developing under the open protocols and standards Google chose to adapt. I’d like to see some stats if that is not the case. Granted, even Facebook is giving way to Google to adopt some of these other “open” standards so developers have choice in this matter, even if they were one of the few adopting the other standards.
I still think Google is adopting these standards because it benefits Google, not the user or developer. If Google wanted to benefit the majority of the audience of developers they would have cloned the already “open” Facebook APIs rather than adopt the much lesser-adopted other protocols they have chosen to go by. This is a matter of competition, being the “hero”, and a brilliant marketing strategy. Is Google evil for doing this? Of course not. Do I hate Google for this? Only for the reason that I have to now adapt all the apps I write in Facebook to new “open” APIs Google is choosing to adopt.
IMO, if Google wanted to truly benefit the developer they would have chosen to clone the existing “open” APIs developers were already writing for. This is a marketing play, plain and simple. It may have started with geeks not wanting to get into the Facebook worlds, but management agreed because in the end, it benefits Google, not their competitors. If you don’t think so, you should ask Dave Winer why Google is not implementing RSS or rssCloud instead of Atom and PSHB (I’m completely baffled by that one, too).
Image courtesy http://northerndoctor.com/2009/04/17/re-inventing-the-wheel/