I just finished Day 1 at Google I/O, and the experience compelled me to write a sequel to my previous "Open Source Big Dog: Red Hat or Sun?" post.
So my second "Big Dog" question is simple:
Who is the social networking big dog?
The answer really boils down to Facebook vs. Google.
I know, I know...I can hear the screams of what about My5, what about HiSpace, what about....just stop...please stop!
Recent events CLEARLY point to the fact that the fight is between the two masters of social kung fu: Facebook and Google.
OK, enough kung foolery...let me get serious and start my explanation.
I was very impressed by the turnout at Google I/O (Google's 2 day developer conference). If anyone doubted Google's commitment to developers, then Google I/O should firmly prove that they understand the value of developers.
Being an old time Java guy who worked at Bluestone Software and JBoss, I couldn't help but feel that Google's conference had the same type of energy and raw excitement that the original JavaOne conferences had back in the early days. The sessions had a decent amount of ad-hoc demos and unscripted moments; they were clearly not pre-approved, hermetically sealed or highly polished...which is a good thing!
The comparison with JavaOne gets even more interesting if you consider how Google and its OpenSocial compatriots (Bebo, Engage.com, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, mixi, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo, Salesforce.com, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING) are ganging up on Facebook.
This soooooo feels like Sun and its Java Community Process members ganging up on Microsoft in the late 1990's.
Why is Google rallying the troops against Facebook? Well, if we look at the latest growth stats for the top 10 social networking sites in the US, Facebook continues to put up HUGE numbers with 98% growth from March 2007 to March 2008. They clearly have strong momentum. And my guess is that even Steve Ballmer would be impressed with the number of developers that Mark Zuckerberg and team have been able to attract to the Facebook platform.
Since Google really really needs an open (and crawlable and indexable and searchable and monetizable) Internet, it is not surprising that they have taken a page from Sun's playbook. Google, with its OpenSocial foundation, is preaching the values of openness and "write once run anywhere". And since Facebook is not part of OpenSocial and is not open source, Google is calling out the walled-garden Facebook platform as closed and therefore not as good...much like Microsoft was and continues to be painted by Sun and others as closed (i.e. not part of the Java Community Process...and not relevant in open source).
Unlike Microsoft, however, Facebook appears to be taking bold steps towards shedding its "closed" image: Facebook To Open Source Facebook Platform
If Facebook does indeed open source its platform, it will be sending a strong message to the market that it does not plan on relinquishing its leadership and momentum to Google or anybody else.
And as Bob Bickel wrote in his latest blog post: "For the true power of the Social Web to be delivered, there will need to be more steps toward openness."
Why? Because openness helps accelerate the market and gets vendors focused on delivering value to customers rather than duplicating efforts on base infrastructure. It will also help the smaller Facebook continue to compete against the much bigger Google and friends.
So, who is the social networking big dog?
At this point in time, the power of the superpoke goes to:
They've got the lead and they have strong momentum.
BUT...don't count Google out! After all, the game is really just starting.
And for those interested in who I'd like to see win the battle between these big dogs? Neither. I want them both to continue to compete and succeed, which will further accelerate the market for everyone involved. Moreover, at Ringside Networks, our Social Application Server provides compatibility for both Facebook and OpenSocial, so I see Facebook and Google as important partners in this fascinating and fun corner of the software market.