Those of you who have heard me talk and seen my soon to be published journal article titled The Coming Functionality Mashup In Personal Learning Environments have heard how I suggested that Google will respond with some vigor to the Facebook API work. My feeling was that Facebook had one-upped Google pretty badly on this and the Google would not sit back and let Facebook keep the first-mover advantage for long.
Just this morning Joseph sent me this article:
Open Social Opens New Can of Worms
In a move that was anticipated for weeks, Google has unveiled a set of application program interfaces (APIs) that allow third-party programmers to build widgets that take advantage of personal data and profile connections on a social-networking site. But instead of limiting the project to its own social-networking property, Orkut, Google has invited other sites along for the ride–including LinkedIn, Hi5, Plaxo, Ning, and Friendster.
Here is a quote from a June 2007 version of The Coming Functionality Mashup In Personal Learning Environments journal article:
While developing and improving standards for functionality mashups in a learning context are important efforts, general-purpose functionality mashups are likely to be promoted by market-leading web development companies such as Google. Much like current VLE producers use their proprietary extensions to gain and hold market share companies like Google and Facebook are trying to convince developers to write application extensions for their particular form of application functionality mashup.
While Google Applications have been around for some time, their scope is narrower then the functionality mashup proposed above. Google applications are effectively a new form of portlet, i.e., functionality can be placed and configured but there is no concept of a context under the control of the consumer where a set of applications / portlets inherit common authentication, authorization, etc.
The recently announced Facebook Platform  is a significant step towards functionality beyond Google Applications. Facebook applications begin to explore the notion of context. Each Facebook application operates in the
context of the given Facebook entry.
The initial set of APIs which Facebook Platform provides to developers is obviously influenced by the social networking aspects that form the core of Facebook software. However other APIs are completely general purpose and are very commonly found in today’s VLE systems. Applications can (when permitted) access and modify Facebook information using these APIs.
Using Facebook to produce a learning context might be as simple as building a Facebook entry for a class and then associating a number of Facebook applications with the context. While initially Facebook will seem a poor substitute for a high-functionality VLE system, all of the architectural elements are already in place to potentially replace VLE and other collaborative systems. The only question is which direction Facebook will evolve their APIs.
Currently it seems unlikely that Facebook will put much effort into building learning-centric capabilities into their framework. A more likely scenario is that Google Applications will realize that they have been “one-upped” by Facebook and competition will ensue. It is likely that features that support teaching and learning will not be seen by either Google or FaceBook as strategic priorities in the short to medium term. However, if competition ensues, Google, Facebook and others will continue to refine, improve, and richen the concept of context. Perhaps PLE developers and users can shim learning applications onto these efforts when contexts become rich enough.
Apple’s recent announcement of the ability to extend the iPhone by writing Web 2.0 applications will potentially stimulate yet another thread of innovation around the notion of context, at least the notion of personal context.
So now it is “game on” – I have been thinking about Functionality Mashup for many years now – mostly spurred by my involvement in IMS Tool Interoperability and the amazing potential I see in true functionality mashup. At times it has felt like no one cared about this model – certainly very few would invest developer time to make this happen or be willing to try it on their campus.
Until now, it was a weird situation to see Google uncomfortably catching up with *any* technology company – usually Google is years ahead of the game – kudos to Facebook – but rest assured that the FB advantage will likely be short-lived – because Google moves very quickly and moves to the right location in the market very quickly. Google realizes that what is important is knowing “what to do?” – classic management issues like “how to do it?” or “how much will it cost?” or “how will I make money off it?” are secondary issues if you want to be a real leader in technology. Folks who sit back and ponder the the management issues are forever doomed to be behind Google.
Functionality Mashup is now moving into the fast lane – time for me to sit back and watch and enjoy it all unfold.
Here is a couple of my recent Functionality Mashup talks:
Functionality Mashup – Edinburgh, Scottland May 2007
Functionality Mashup – Barcelona Spain, October 2007