Tracking the new standard in social networking application development

Creating an OpenSocial application - Example 1: Mini Google Search

November 6th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Fumbling together some basic code, I can now say that I have developed an application in OpenSocial: “Mini Google Search”.

Really, given that the application doesn’t rely on any friend information or any data on the social graph whatsoever, I’m not about to win an OpenSocial programming award, but it was an interesting exercise that gave me an opportunity to explore the testing environment Google has made available to developers through its social networking site, Orkut.

Application: Mini Google Search

I was interested in making a small application that allowed users to conduct a Google search without having to leave their social networking account.

Method: Pull apart some other applications to see how they worked

I went and checked out the applications at, as that site allows you to inspect some of the listed applications’ code.

Once I got an idea of some basic calls, I felt I was ready to proceed. It was time to hit the Orkut Sandbox.

Note: if you’d like to hit the Orkut sandbox, you’re going to need a specially whitelisted Orkut account, and you might have to wait a while for your invitation… 

Discovering the Orkut Sandbox

In programming, ’sandboxes’ are areas where you can play with technology without the risk of breaking anything valuable. Google has setup a sandbox for OpenSocial application devlopment within their social networking site, Orkut.

Within a few hours of developers being granted access to the Orkut Sandbox, it was discovered that applications that relied on ‘friends’ for testing were difficult to test because hardly anyone had any friends on Orkut, and you can’t just test your app using any friends, you can only test it using whitelisted friends (ie. other developers).

So using the Google OpenSocial group, a bunch of us agreed to add other developers as friends for OpenSocial testing purposes. At last count I have 52 ‘friends’ on Orkut. I haven’t met any of them, but I kind of wonder if I will actually get to know one or two of these guys over time (and yes, they are ALL guys).

So what did you bring to the Sandbox, Tim?

To make the application I needed to create three files:

  • An XML file to tell Orkut a little about my application (for example the application name, thumbnail image etc) - minigooglesearch.xml;
  • An HTML file that held the Google Search page (which I compiled from Google AJAX Search API) -  minigooglesearch.html; and,
  • A thumbnail image (to give the application an Icon in social network directories) -  minigooglesearch.jpg.

FILE ONE: minigooglesearch.xml
The XML file is only fairly small - have a look at it if you like.

Looking at the XML file, even a non-programmer could find themselves renaming the application and making themselves the author in no time at all!

FILE TWO: minigooglesearch.html

Now, the HTML file required was provided almost entirely from Google - it was presented to me when I signed up for their AJAX Search API as a ’starting point’.

So I took their starting point and made a few tweaks - mainly that I set the page to automatically load with the results for the search: “” - I thought I’d give the blog a plug! You can go straight to the search page file to see how it looks.

FILE THREE: minigooglesearch.jpg

A lot of the guys developing apps in Orkut’s sandpit aren’t bothering to create thumbnails at this stage, but it only takes a minute, so here’s what I knocked up:

Mini Google Search

So with all three files together, I uploaded them to my server ( and hit the sandbox…

Orkut’s Sandbox is full of broken toys, in fact, Orkut’s sandbox often IS a broken toy…

“Bad, bad server, no donut for you” - that’s not me cursing Orkut, that’s Orkut’s error message - it’s Orkut chastising itself.  Well, if you’ve been testing your application in Orkut, in the past few days, you’ve seen that message a lot.

So, on to testing “Mini Google Search”

It didn’t take too many goes to have Mini Google Search running like a proper social network application.

Here are two screenshots:

Screen Shot One: A list of my Orkut applications - at the time of the screenshot, I only had Mini Google Search installed.

Mini Google Search 1

Screen Shot Two: A look at my profile, complete with Mini Google Search

Mini Google Search 2

 Sharing the application so everyone can see how it works

My next step was to make the application publicly available. If you have a whitelisted Orkut account, you can install the application using this URL:

I have also shared the application at


Thanks to anyone who is taking time to answer questions at the OpenSocial Google Group. Forums are at their best when answers are swift and friendly.

…And speaking of swift and friendly, I have to send a big thank you to Chester Millsock - I had a question about his blog post and he came back with a helpful, detailed reply in no time at all.

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November 5th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment » is a wiki that allows developers to share their OpenSocial applications and code.

There are already a number of small applications available to dissect and explore.

A great place to share knowledge. Congratulations to Matthew Neal for getting the wiki together so quickly.

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OpenSocial communities and discussions springing up…

November 4th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The three main OpenSocial communities that I know about are:

OpenSocial Developer Forum - Official Google
OpenSocial Community on Orkut - General OpenSocial discussion
OpenSocial Orkut Sandbox - For Application developers

Of course I’m participating in all three. If you know of others, please add them in the comments.

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Making social networking applications just got easier, and therefore harder…

November 4th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The more I read about OpenSocial the more I realise how many thousands of apps there are going to be by Christmas. If they are as easy to build and deploy as Google’s launch partners are boasting, we’re in for a deluge.

As William Tan points out, even if making an app just became a whole lot easier, if anything, the challenge of how to make your app engaging, addictive and viral has become far greater. There is going to be a whole lot more competition out there…

Having a crack at building an OpenSocial app

On a side note, Google are allowing developer registration for Orkut OpenSocial Sandbox accounts. Impatient developers are wondering how long it’s going to take to be granted access, so don’t expect to get in immediately.

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If you can call friends that aren’t on your cell network…

November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

…then why can’t you interact with friends that aren’t on your social network?

Mark Hurricanes’ analogy sums up the flaw in social networking brilliantly.

The conversations I’m participating in around the web all point to one thing - the quicker the walls in the social network gardens come down the happier developers - and participants - will be.

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Breaking down the walled gardens - Sister Accounts using OpenSocial

November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A big concern about OpenSocial is that the various social networks (’containers’) will still remain silos. Check out this diagram from the Campfire One video… At the top are the various networks - silos - and then they are linked to the ‘developer’… But the containers are still walled gardens, right?

OpenSocial Silo Diagram One

Well, not according to Hi5 Architect Paul Lindner. In a recent post he enthused that OpenSocial actually breaks down the walled gardens. In this example he describes users identifying “sister accounts” - for example I can advise MySpace that I am also on LinkedIn…

“The reason OpenSocial has tremendous uptake was due to its simplicity and wide applicability.

Federating logins across multiple containers is a whole different game.

That said, one thing that isn’t mentioned much in the launch is the RESTful Server-Side version of OpenSocial calls.

The potential is there for one OpenSocial container to make calls to another OpenSocial container, once the credentials are set using OAuth.

For example, let’s say that a hi5 user adds a livejournal ’sister- account’ to their profile. Then, using OAuth that hi5 user can allow hi5 to talk to livejournal’s server side open social API.

That’s one reason I’m so excited about this. Open Social is breaking down the walled gardens and allowing interoperability where it never existed before.

Now that is promising…

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OpenSocial - Impact on developers

November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“OpenSocial is great. The user benefit is a shorter cycle before they see cool new apps and ways to spend more time on social networks independent of the network they are on …The most powerful implication is for developers. They’ll have less worry about in terms of complexity and back end integration.

“How well this plays out remains to be seen. It will be a frenzy initially and then the platforms will fine tune the controls so as not to piss off users….that’s what could cause the APIs to change.”

Max Levchin
Founder and CEO of Slide

“Google’s OpenSocial is more flexible and lighter weight, with HTML and Javascript in the container …At the moment, the Google APIs have less data–it will be trickier to get viral growth since there is no prompt to push an application to other friends because it doesn’t know who your friends are who don’t have it.

“OpenSocial will be able to answer other questions, such as what kind of activities have been done on a platform or it may know about calendar events and be able to pass on that intelligence.”

Brian Kellner
Vice president of product management at NewsGator

“If you are on Orkut and you see a great [SocialOpen] widget that shows who are your closest friends, we could use the same widget and drop it on an opportunity page [on] and see the same presentation but instead of friends it would be people most active on this sales deal …The data is coming from salesforce, or whoever provides the container.

“A developer can define what a friend means–you could say who are all the friends related to this opportunity. The sales rep could see the opportunity and the strength of relationships among the influencers associated with the given opportunity,”

Adam Gross
Vice president of developer marketing at

MORE TO COME… Feel free to add your ideas below.

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November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Google’s Campfire One “Highlights”: Introducing OpenSocial… Hype tape

If 60 minutes is a little long for you, why not watch this promotional video of the Google Campfire One. Warning: It’s not nearly as informative as the long form version.

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Complete list of OpenSocial Launch Partners

November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Prior to OpenSocial’s launch, the most comprehensive list of OpenSocial launch partners was purely speculative. And, as it turns out, small.

Check out the complete list of Google’s OpenSocial launch partners!

amiando, Animoto, Appirio, Bebo, Bleacher Report, BonstioNet, Brad Anderson, Bunchball, Inc, BuyFast, Cardinal Blue Software, Chakpak, Chronus Corporation, come2play, CurrentTV, E-junkie,, eTwine Holdings, Inc., Fendoo Ltd, Flixster, FotoFlexer, Friendster, Grimmthething,, Hi5, Hungry Machine, Hyves, iFamily, Inc, iLike, Imeem,, KlickSports, Inc., LabPixies Ltd., LimitNone, LinkedIn, LjmSite, LoveMyGadgets, LuvGoogleGadgets, Mesa Dynamics, LLC, Mixi, MuseStorm Inc, MySpace, Netvibes, NewsGator, Ning, NY Times, Oberon Media, Oracle, Orkut, Outside.In, PayPal, Plaxo, PROTRADE, Puxa, Qloud, RockYou,, Shelfari, SideStep, Inc., Six Apart, Slide, Theikos, Tianji, TooStep, Viadeo, VirtualTourist, Votigo, Whizz, Widgetbox, Xing, Zytu Inc.,

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November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Campfire One: Introducing OpenSocial

This is the first OpenSocial video Google has released.
Although it’s trying to be informal and ‘out in the open’, the campfire session is totally contrived. Even so, the video is a great introduction to how OpenSocial works and the spin Google is placing on this. A telling quote early in the video is “this is not GoogleSocial, it’s OpenSocial…”
It goes for an hour, so get comfortable!

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Open Social is Google's attempt to become the centre of social networking. The program's launch partners constitute top social networking application developers and 2nd tier social networking hosts.