This post was expanded at 10:49 a.m. PDT to add comment from the OpenSocial Foundation conference call.
It’s like the Justice League of social media: Google, Yahoo, and News Corp.’s MySpace.com announced on Tuesday that they have formed the OpenSocial Foundation, a nonprofit group to support the OpenSocial initiative that Google kick-started last year to promote a universal standard for developer applications on social-networking sites.
The OpenSocial Foundation is expected to be formed within 90 days, with more OpenSocial partners from across the Web on board in addition to the three responsible for the announcement.
The specific purpose of the new nonprofit, according to a release, is « to ensure the neutrality and longevity of OpenSocial as an open, community-governed specification for building social applications across the Web. » It’s a particularly crucial move for Google, which has been eager to emphasize that OpenSocial is a community standard, not a Mountain View project.
« OpenSocial has been a community-driven specification from the beginning, » Joe Kraus, Google’s director of product management, said in a joint statement from the three companies. « The formation of this foundation will ensure that it remains so in perpetuity. Developers and websites should feel secure that OpenSocial will be forever free and open. »
Indeed, the OpenSocial Foundation will be an independent entity with its own intellectual property and governance policies. Related assets are expected to be in place by the beginning of July.
Google first announced OpenSocial in October as a response to the plethora of announcements on behalf of social-networking sites that they would follow in Facebook’s footsteps and create developer platforms of their own. With so many disparate developer strategies, the social-media landscape could grow even more fragmented, and Google launched the OpenSocial API (and later the Social Graph API) as a means to provide some connectivity. Major players like MySpace, LinkedIn, Bebo, and Plaxo, along with a host of smaller social networks and many that are unknown in the U.S., all opted to participate in the new initiative.
Some OpenSocial platforms, like foundation partner MySpace’s, are already live. Others are still in testing phases or have yet to make any kind of debut. Despite delays, the OpenSocial developer community appears to be unfazed.
And Facebook won’t be joining the OpenSocial Foundation, either. « As the largest contributor to the memecached system, Facebook has long been a leader and supporter of open source initiatives but will not join the foundation, » a statement from the company read. « The company will continue to evaluate partnership opportunities that will benefit the 300,000 Facebook Platform developers while improving the Facebook user experience. »
At the core of the new foundation will be the practice of upholding OpenSocial’s tenets: that specifications are available under a Creative Commons license, that it’s shaped by the developer community and social networks’ user bases rather than corporate decisions, and that it will be committed to the development of the new Shindig open source reference implementation, part of the Apache Software Foundation incubator.
Open standards like OpenSocial, OAuth, and OpenID have been some of the most heated subjects of discussion in the social-media developer community over the past year, nearly dominating the conversation at conventions like the Future of Web Apps conference in February. With some of the biggest names in technology now noticing and jumping on board these formerly grassroots projects, they’ve gained a newfound legitimacy–not to mention the financial backing of a Yahoo or a Google.
But in a conference call with press and analysts Tuesday, executives from Yahoo, Google, and MySpace asserted that the OpenSocial Foundation will be a standalone body to the point that Google will relinquish its trademark on « OpenSocial » and the ownership of the Web site.
« This is just the next evolution in where OpenSocial needs to be heading, because it is a community-driven specification, » Google’s Joe Kraus said in the call.