OpenSocial? Google Cortés

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Subsequent to the announcement of the API, we’ve seen a fairly steady stream of requests for a reaction to Google’s OpenSocial. The comments in my del.icio.us stream – “open standards, as always, favor the laggards” and “Google’s strategy for competing w/ Facebook and MySpace: commoditize the API, recruit the competitors of those two, press play” – apparently being insufficient for the masses, let’s try and draw a (brief) historical analogy. My reaction, from a strategic perspective, is that Google is playing the part of Hernán Cortés to a T. Less the decimation of an entire culture, obviously.

Consider the context. With mixed returns, at best, in the realm of social networking, Google increasingly found itself uncomfortably beholden to upstarts like Facebook for advertising deals. Losing to Microsoft in the bidding for an equity stake in Facebook is unlikely to have improved Google’s mood relative to individual social networking properties.

Having failed in its bid for the social networking superstar, then, it was clearly time to resort to Plan B – AKA the Cortés Project.

If you’re even a superficial student of history, I highly recommend the controversial 1491, as it proves once more that “Of Everything You Know to be Right and True, Only Some Is.” Beyond the fundamental exposure of your elementary school education, it describes in some detail the mechanism – apart from disease – that Cortés’ mere 600 conquistadors were able to overcome an overwhelmingly larger force of Aztecs: recruiting the disenfranchised.

Empires, unsurprisingly, are often composed of subjugated peoples less than blissfully happy with their fate. Realizing that such populations are typically predisposed to the age old “enemy of my enemy is my friend” line of thinking, Cortés reportedly had little difficulty persuading the Nahuas, Tlaxcaltec, and Totonacs that they had a common problem in the ruling Aztecs. And the rest is, quite literally, history.

All of which is what I first thought of when perusing details of OpenSocial. While the idea is likely to have instinctual appeal, the incentive on Google’s part is clear: recruit the disenfranchised and their aggregate importance to hedge against the importance of the incumbents. And did I mention that they reinsert themselves into a role of central importance as part of the process?

Fortunately, in the technical world at least, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach. What will be interesting to see, however, as as Lauren asks, is whether or not this will be equally beneficial to all of the participants or, like Cortés, Google will be advantaged over its one-time allies.


  1. Fuck Facebook, I don’t even *want* to be on there, it’s like being on AOL in 1997.

    Those fucking ASSHOLES won’t even let me update my Facebook status from Twitter. It’s against their terms of service to even try!

    God, sometimes I feel like I oughta quit my job and build my open social networking app/protocol just out of spite.

  2. Hmm, don’t know about the ToS, but the Twitter Facebook app does have a big honking button to enable setting status from Twitter.

    I’m doing some work with a social networking site at present and the effect is obviously pretty significant. Where we would have done a Facebook App we’ll probably do OpenSocial first. Since we don’t need to own their social network to build our business this is a win for us as we’ll opt out of that part of the game and focus on our core functionality.

  3. […] perceived by upstarts like Facebook and MySpace, which compelled them to adapt Cortés’ plan B. The lesson? Even smart, well run software organizations – which I would argue Google, IBM and […]

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