Click here to close now.




















Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Gregor Petri, Georgiana Comsa, Samuel Scott

Related Topics: Release Management , Industrial IoT, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, IoT User Interface

Release Management : Article

Google's OpenSocial: A Technical Overview and Critique

In general, I personally prefer the Facebook platform to OpenSocial

Dare Obasanjo's Carnage4Life Blog

One of the Google folks working on OpenSocial sent me a message via Facebook asking what I thought about the technical details of the recent announcements. Since my day job is working on social networking platforms for Web properties at Microsoft and I'm deeply interested in RESTful protocols, this is something I definitely have some thoughts about. Below is what started off as a private message but ended up being long enough to be its own article.

First Impressions
In reading the OpenSocial API documentation it seems clear that is intended to be the functional equivalent of the Facebook platform. Instead of the Facebook users and friends APIs, we get the OpenSocial People and Friends Data API. Instead of the Facebook feed API, we get the OpenSocial Activities API. Instead of the Facebook Data Store API, we get the OpenSocial Persistence Data API. Instead of FQL as a friendly alternative to the various REST APIs we get a JavaScript object model.

In general, I personally prefer the Facebook platform to OpenSocial. This is due to three reasons:

  1. There is no alternative to the deep integration into the Web site's user experience that is facilitated with FBML.
  2. I prefer idiomatic XML to tunneling data through Atom feeds in ways that [in my opinion] add unnecessary cruft.
  3. The Facebook APIs encourage developers to build social and item relationship graphs within their application while the OpenSocial seems only concerned with developers stuffing data in key/value pairs.

The JavaScript API
At first I assumed the OpenSocial JavaScript API would provide similar functionality to FBML given the large number of sound bites quoting Google employees stating that instead of "proprietary markup" you could use "standard JavaScript" to build OpenSocial applications. However it seems the JavaScript API is simply a wrapper on top of the various REST APIs. I'm sure there's some comment one could make questioning if REST APIs are so simple why do developers feel the need to hide them behind object models?

Given the varying features and user interface choices in social networking sites, it is unsurprising that there is no rich mechanism specified for adding entry points to the application into the container sites user interface. However it is surprising that no user interface hooks are specified at all. This is surprising given that there are some common metaphors in social networking sites (e.g., a profile page, a friends list, etc) which can be interacted with in a standard way. It is also shocking that Google attacked Facebook's use of "proprietary markup" only to not even ship an equivalent feature.

The People and Friends Data API
The People and Friends Data API is used to retrieve information about a user or the user's friends as an Atom feed. Each user is represented as an atom:entry which is a PersonKind (which should not be confused with an Atom person construct). It is expected that the URL structure for accessing people and friends feeds will be of the form http://<domain>/feeds/people/<userid> and http://<domain>/feeds/people/<userid>/friends, respectively.

Compare the following response to a request for a user's information using OpenSocial with the equivalent Facebook API call response.

GET http://orkut.com/feeds/people/14358878523263729569

<entry xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom' xmlns:georss=
'http://www.georss.org/georss'
xmlns:gd='http://schemas.google.com/g/2005'>
  <id>http://sandbox.orkut.com:80/feeds/people/14358878523
263729569</id>
  <updated>2007-10-28T14:01:29.948-07:00</updated>
  <title>Elizabeth Bennet</title>
  <link rel='thumbnail' type='image/*'
href='http://img1.orkut.com/images/small/1193601584/
115566312.jpg'/>
  <link rel='alternate' type='text/html'
href='http://orkut.com/Profile.aspx?uid=17583631990196664929'/>
  <link rel='self'
type='application/atom+xml'
href='http://sandbox.orkut.com:80/feeds/people/
14358878523263729569'/>
     <georss:where>
     <gml:Point xmlns:gml='http://www.opengis.net/gml'>
       <gml:pos>51.668674 -0.066235</gml:pos>
     </gml:Point>
   </georss:where>
   <gd:extendedProperty name='lang' value='en-US'/>
   <gd:postalAddress/>
</entry>

Below is what the above information would look like if returned by Facebook's users.getInfo method:

<users_getInfo_response xmlns="http://api.facebook.com/1.0/"
xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
xsi:schemaLocation="http://api.facebook.com/1.0/ http://api.facebook.com/
1.0/facebook.xsd"
list="true">
   <user>
     <uid>14358878523263729569</uid>
       <current_location>
       <city>Palo Alto</city>
       <state>CA</state>
       <country>United States</country>
       <zip>94303</zip>
     </current_location>
     <first_name>Elizabeth</first_name>
     <is_app_user>1</is_app_user>
     <has_added_app>1</has_added_app>
     <pic>http://photos-055.facebook.com/ip007/profile3/
1271/65/s8055_39735.jpg
     </pic>
   </user>
</users_getInfo_response>

I've already mentioned that I prefer idiomatic XML to tunneling data through Atom feeds. Comparing the readability of both examples should explain why.

The Activities Data API
A number of social networking sites now provide a feature which enables users to see the recent activities of members of their social network in an activity stream. The Facebook news feed, Orkut's updates from your friends, and the Windows Live Spaces what's new page are all examples of this feature. The OpenSocial Activities Data API provides a mechanism for OpenSocial applications to access and update this activity stream as an Atom feed. All of the users activities or all activities from a specific application can be accessed using URIs of the form http://<domain>/activities/feeds/activities/user/<userID> and http://<domain>/activities/feeds/activities/user/<userID>/source/<sourceID>, respectively.

Currently there is no reference documentation on this API. My assumption is that since Orkut is the only OpenSocial site that supports this feature, it is difficult to produce a spec that will work for other services without it being a verbatim description of Orkut's implementation.

There are some notes on how Orkut attempts to prevent applications from spamming a user's activity stream. For one, applications are only allowed to update the activity stream for their source directly instead of the activity stream for the user. I assume that Google applies some filter to the union of all the source-specific activity streams before generating the user's activity feed to eliminate spam. Secondly, applications are monitored to see if they post too many messages to the activity stream or if they post promotional messages instead of the user's activities to the stream. All of this makes it seem difficult to see how one could specify the behavior of this API and feature set reliably for a diverse set of social networking sites.

The Persistence Data API
The OpenSocial Persistence API allows applications to store and retrieve key<->value pairs that are either user-specific or are global to the application. An example of the former is a listing of company name and stock ticker pairs, while an example of the latter is a user's stock portfolio. The feed of global key<->value pairs for an application can be accessed at a URL of the form http://<domain>/feeds/apps/<appID>/persistence/global for the entire feed and http://<domain>/feeds/apps/<appID>/persistence/global/<key> if seeking a particular key<->value pair. User-specific key<->value pairs are available at the URL of the form http://<domain>/feeds/apps/<appID>/persistence/<userID>/instance/<instan....

This is probably the least interesting aspect of the API. A simple persistence API like this is useful for applications with simple storage needs that need to store user preferences or simple textual data that is needed by the application. However you aren't going to use this as the data storage platform for applications like iLike, Flixster or Scrabulous.

However, I will add that an Atom feed seems like a horrible representation for a list of key<->value pairs. It's so bad that the documentation doesn't provide an example of such a feed.

Hosting OpenSocial Applications
The documentation on hosting OpenSocial applications implies that any site that can host Google gadgets can also host OpenSocial applications. In practice, it means that any site that you can place a <script> element on can point to a gadget and thus render it. Whether the application will actually work will depend on whether the hosting service has actually implemented the OpenSocial Service Provider Interface (SPI).

Unfortunately, the documentation on implementing the OpenSocial SPI is missing in action. From the Google site:

To host OpenSocial apps, your website must support the SPI side of the OpenSocial APIs. Usually your SPI will connect to your own social network, so that an OpenSocial app added to your website automatically uses your site's data. However, it is possible to use data from another social network as well, should you prefer. Soon, we will provide a development kit with documentation and code to better support OpenSocial websites, along with a sample sandbox which implements the OpenSocial SPI using in-memory storage. The SPI implements:

  • Adding and removing friends Adding and removing apps
  • Storing activities Retrieving activity streams for self and friends
  • Storing and retrieving per-app and per-app-per-user data

The OpenSocial website development kit will include full SPI documentation. It will provide open source reference implementations for both client and server components.

I assume that the meat of the OpenSocial SPI documentation is just more detailed rules about how to implement the REST APIs described above. The interesting bits will likely be the reference implementations of the API which will likely become the de facto standard implementations instead of encouraging dozens of buggy incompatible versions of the OpenSocial API to bloom.

More Stories By Dare Obasanjo

Dare Obasanjo is a Program Manager at Microsoft where he works on the Contacts team. The Contacts team provides back-end support for Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Expo, and related services. Obasanjo is also known for RSS Bandit, a popular .NET-based RSS reader.

Comments (2) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
OpenSocial 11/06/07 04:53:58 AM EST

nothing more than another networking service that is consumed by multiple web application

bugzpodder 11/05/07 10:58:33 AM EST

Excellent post! Thank you!

@ThingsExpo Stories
Contrary to mainstream media attention, the multiple possibilities of how consumer IoT will transform our everyday lives aren’t the only angle of this headline-gaining trend. There’s a huge opportunity for “industrial IoT” and “Smart Cities” to impact the world in the same capacity – especially during critical situations. For example, a community water dam that needs to release water can leverage embedded critical communications logic to alert the appropriate individuals, on the right device, as soon as they are needed to take action.
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
Akana has announced the availability of the new Akana Healthcare Solution. The API-driven solution helps healthcare organizations accelerate their transition to being secure, digitally interoperable businesses. It leverages the Health Level Seven International Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7 FHIR) standard to enable broader business use of medical data. Akana developed the Healthcare Solution in response to healthcare businesses that want to increase electronic, multi-device access to health records while reducing operating costs and complying with government regulations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "Second Containers & Microservices Expo" will take place November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevOps to advance innovation and increase agility. Specializing in designing, imple...
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Through WebRTC, audio and video communications are being embedded more easily than ever into applications, helping carriers, enterprises and independent software vendors deliver greater functionality to their end users. With today’s business world increasingly focused on outcomes, users’ growing calls for ease of use, and businesses craving smarter, tighter integration, what’s the next step in delivering a richer, more immersive experience? That richer, more fully integrated experience comes about through a Communications Platform as a Service which allows for messaging, screen sharing, video...
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IceWarp will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IceWarp, the leader of cloud and on-premise messaging, delivers secured email, chat, documents, conferencing and collaboration to today's mobile workforce, all in one unified interface
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lee Williams, a producer of the first smartphones and tablets, will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater. He will explain how M2M controllers work through wirelessly connected remote controls; and specifically delve into a retrofit option that reverse-engineers control codes of existing conventional controller systems so they don't have to be replaced and are instantly converted to become smart, connected devices.
The Internet of Things is in the early stages of mainstream deployment but it promises to unlock value and rapidly transform how organizations manage, operationalize, and monetize their assets. IoT is a complex structure of hardware, sensors, applications, analytics and devices that need to be able to communicate geographically and across all functions. Once the data is collected from numerous endpoints, the challenge then becomes converting it into actionable insight.
With the proliferation of connected devices underpinning new Internet of Things systems, Brandon Schulz, Director of Luxoft IoT – Retail, will be looking at the transformation of the retail customer experience in brick and mortar stores in his session at @ThingsExpo. Questions he will address include: Will beacons drop to the wayside like QR codes, or be a proximity-based profit driver? How will the customer experience change in stores of all types when everything can be instrumented and analyzed? As an area of investment, how might a retail company move towards an innovation methodolo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Consumer IoT applications provide data about the user that just doesn’t exist in traditional PC or mobile web applications. This rich data, or “context,” enables the highly personalized consumer experiences that characterize many consumer IoT apps. This same data is also providing brands with unprecedented insight into how their connected products are being used, while, at the same time, powering highly targeted engagement and marketing opportunities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nathan Treloar, President and COO of Bebaio, will explore examples of brands transforming their businesses by t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Micron Technology, Inc., a global leader in advanced semiconductor systems, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Micron’s broad portfolio of high-performance memory technologies – including DRAM, NAND and NOR Flash – is the basis for solid state drives, modules, multichip packages and other system solutions. Backed by more than 35 years of technology leadership, Micron's memory solutions enable the world's most innovative computing, consumer,...
SYS-CON Events announced today the Containers & Microservices Bootcamp, being held November 3-4, 2015, in conjunction with 17th Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, and @DevOpsSummit at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. This is your chance to get started with the latest technology in the industry. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Containers and Microservices Bootcamp, led by Janakiram MSV, a Microsoft Regional Director, will include presentations as well as hands-on demos and comprehensive walkthroughs.
While many app developers are comfortable building apps for the smartphone, there is a whole new world out there. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Narayan Sainaney, Co-founder and CTO of Mojio, will discuss how the business case for connected car apps is growing and, with open platform companies having already done the heavy lifting, there really is no barrier to entry.
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts, GM of Platform at FinancialForce.com, will discuss the value of business applications on wearable ...
As more intelligent IoT applications shift into gear, they’re merging into the ever-increasing traffic flow of the Internet. It won’t be long before we experience bottlenecks, as IoT traffic peaks during rush hours. Organizations that are unprepared will find themselves by the side of the road unable to cross back into the fast lane. As billions of new devices begin to communicate and exchange data – will your infrastructure be scalable enough to handle this new interconnected world?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is about the digitization of physical assets including sensors, devices, machines, gateways, and the network. It creates possibilities for significant value creation and new revenue generating business models via data democratization and ubiquitous analytics across IoT networks. The explosion of data in all forms in IoT requires a more robust and broader lens in order to enable smarter timely actions and better outcomes. Business operations become the key driver of IoT applications and projects. Business operations, IT, and data scientists need advanced analytics t...