Welcome!

Release Management Authors: Liz McMillan, Jnan Dash, Lori MacVittie, Gilad Parann-Nissany, Carmen Gonzalez

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)

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, will deep dive into best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.
There is growing need for data-driven applications and the need for digital platforms to build these apps. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Muddu Sudhakar, VP and GM of Security & IoT at Splunk, will cover different PaaS solutions and Big Data platforms that are available to build applications. In addition, AI and machine learning are creating new requirements that developers need in the building of next-gen apps. The next-generation digital platforms have some of the past platform needs a...
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at EMC, will introduce a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organizati...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
SYS-CON Events announced today Telecom Reseller has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Telecom Reseller reports on Unified Communications, UCaaS, BPaaS for enterprise and SMBs. They report extensively on both customer premises based solutions such as IP-PBX as well as cloud based and hosted platforms.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Adobe has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Adobe is changing the world though digital experiences. Adobe helps customers develop and deliver high-impact experiences that differentiate brands, build loyalty, and drive revenue across every screen, including smartphones, computers, tablets and TVs. Adobe content solutions are used daily by millions of co...
Why do your mobile transformations need to happen today? Mobile is the strategy that enterprise transformation centers on to drive customer engagement. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Woods, Director, Mobile Product & Strategy – Adobe Marketing Cloud, covered key IoT and mobile trends that are forcing mobile transformation, key components of a solid mobile strategy and explored how brands are effectively driving mobile change throughout the enterprise.
Pulzze Systems was happy to participate in such a premier event and thankful to be receiving the winning investment and global network support from G-Startup Worldwide. It is an exciting time for Pulzze to showcase the effectiveness of innovative technologies and enable them to make the world smarter and better. The reputable contest is held to identify promising startups around the globe that are assured to change the world through their innovative products and disruptive technologies. There w...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
Almost two-thirds of companies either have or soon will have IoT as the backbone of their business in 2016. However, IoT is far more complex than most firms expected. How can you not get trapped in the pitfalls? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will introduce a holistic method of IoTification, which is the process of IoTifying the existing technology and business models to adopt and leverage IoT. He will drill down to the components in this fra...
With so much going on in this space you could be forgiven for thinking you were always working with yesterday’s technologies. So much change, so quickly. What do you do if you have to build a solution from the ground up that is expected to live in the field for at least 5-10 years? This is the challenge we faced when we looked to refresh our existing 10-year-old custom hardware stack to measure the fullness of trash cans and compactors.
The emerging Internet of Everything creates tremendous new opportunities for customer engagement and business model innovation. However, enterprises must overcome a number of critical challenges to bring these new solutions to market. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Martin, CTO/CIO at nfrastructure, outlined these key challenges and recommended approaches for overcoming them to achieve speed and agility in the design, development and implementation of Internet of Everything solutions wi...
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...