Coming Soon: A Web-Wide Social Network?

Moves by Google, Facebook and MySpace Point to Crumbling Walls in the Social-Media Space

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NEW YORK ( -- Three announcements, all within a week of each other, were indicative of the same trend: that the future of online social networking doesn't live within a single entity's walls but instead permeates the web.
Google Friends Network
Illustration: Google
Google uses three social standards -- OpenID, OAuth and OpenSocial -- to power its FriendConnect.

MySpace, Facebook and Google each announced similar-sounding moves over the past week that will be worth paying attention to as marketers watch to see how the social web evolves. MySpace on May 7 said it would open up its profile data to third-party sites. Two days later Facebook said it would let users to connect their Facebook accounts to third-party applications and websites, and that it would also allow developers to incorporate Facebook friend data into other sites and applications. And today Google is announcing FriendConnect, a service that lets website owners add social applications to their sites.

Sites are blending
The moves are unrelated, according to the companies involved, but they all suggest what many web watchers and pundits have been expecting: that social-media tools and services would spread throughout the wider web, rather than stay contained within a single service.

Forrester's Charlene Li is one of those believers. She has described how social networks will be "like air." She writes on her blog: "I thought about my grade-school kids, who in 10 years will be in the midst of social network engagement. I believe they (and we) will look back to 2008 and think it archaic and quaint that we had to go to a destination like Facebook or LinkedIn to 'be social.'

"Instead, I believe that in the future, social networks will be like air," she continued. "They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be."

The moves announced hardly make those services "like air." But they do signify that sites such as MySpace and Facebook are open to the idea of moving their user data and social connections to the broader web.

MySpace's moves will make user profile data more portable, and allow users to link their MySpace profiles to their profiles on other services, such as Twitter. Updates to a MySpace profile would then be automatically reflected on linked profiles elsewhere on the web.

Facebook gets friendlier
Facebook Connect, meanwhile, appears to be a developer-friendly move that harkens back to when it allowed third-party developers to create applications that took advantage of Facebook's so-called social graph and allowed users to communicate and play games with others on Facebook through those applications. With the new service, a Facebook user, for example, can easily see on which stories his or her Facebook friends voted up.

Google's FriendConnect is more of a strategy to add social-media-enabling widgets to sites. Site owners can add a "snippet of code," according to Google, and immediately add tools such as reviews, members' galleries and message boards to their sites. They will also be able to add applications built using the OpenSocial platform that Google spearheaded. Users can import friends and interact via those applications with friends from other social networks, such as Facebook, Hi5 and Plaxo. The idea, said Google, is that any site can become an open social container.

"When the web is healthy and when more people have more ways to be more engaged online, our business is healthy," David Glazer, a director of engineering at Google, said on a conference call announcing the service.

Even traditional media companies such as CBS understand the importance of spreading their social tools among third-party sites. CBS's hyper-syndication web-video strategy also includes technology that lets CBS viewers chat with each other while watching content, even if they're watching that content off

Listen up, marketers
So what does this mean for marketers? It means more consumers talking to each other across the web, and it means discussions around brands are no longer siloed to a single platform or network but are spreading to a wider swath of sites. If a marketer didn't have a social-media "listening" plan, these kinds of developments could make tracking conversations consumers are having about a brand more difficult, but also make it more important that marketers do so.

Imagine if you could easily take the conversation about brands that's occurring on Twitter and embed that into other sites via one of these services, said Rodney Rumford, CEO of Gravitational Media, an agency that has helped brands such as Vivendi and Mountain Dew have a presence in social networks, and editor of Additionally, branded websites and widgets will be able to use the technologies to become "more social."

"This is huge, the combination of the MySpace, Facebook and Google all saying basically the same thing, which is say that websites can become more interesting and engaging when you add a social layer to them," Mr. Rumford said.
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