Can Google And Facebook be Friends After All?

Filling in two of the last major gaps in the drive toward easing the exchange of data across the social Web, Google and Facebook have announced their support of the DataPortability Workgroup. Also joining the group is the online address service Plaxo.

The announcement could defuse talk of the emerging rivalry between Google and Facebook in the scramble to become the dominant standard for sharing user-generated content across social platforms.

Speculation about Facebook’s plans to compete with Google’s OpenSocial renewed in December with the announcement that it would open the tools and tags underlying its platform architecture so that developers’ applications could run seamlessly across any site that adopts the standard.

Now that representatives from both companies will be sitting down at the same table, concerns over competing social standards may evaporate.

“We have the same goal,” a Google spokesman told at the time of the Facebook announcement, noting to each company’s expressed desire of making the Web more open and social.

Accordingly, those desires may achieve greater traction thanks to both groups’ participation in the DataPortability Workgroup. Led by Faraday Media co-founder and CEO Chris Saad, the group’s major initiatives includes the development of the DataPortability Reference Design, a template for the implementation of open standards and protocols across the social Web, with the ultimate goal of breaking down the barriers between various social network and media sites.

“Plaxo, Google and Facebook together represent the key players in the competing approaches to social networking platforms and data portability,” Saad said in a blog post.

“Their joint support of the DataPortability initiative presents a new opportunity for the next generation of software — particularly in the fields of social software, user rights and interoperability,” he wrote.

In a practical sense, the collaboration means that a Facebook widget would (theoretically) be accessible on MySpace, which announced its support of OpenSocial in November.

In the Workgroup vision, photos, videos and other user-generated content would be universally accessible regardless of the vendor or tools underlying the platform.

Saad said the technology to implement platform interoperability already exists, but the challenge is bringing together the various stakeholders to hash out a common reference design that can be shared with the developer community.

Google’s delegate to the Workgroup will be LiveJournal creator Brad Fitzpatrick. Facebook will be represented by Benjamin Ling, perhaps best known as the project lead for Google’s Checkout service before he defected to Facebook in October. Joseph Smarr will represent Plaxo.

Part of the impetus behind the announcements could be the recent flap over Facebook shutting down the profile of prominent blogger Robert Scoble, after he ran a Plaxo script to scrape the e-mail addresses of his Facebook friends.

Facebook has since restored Scoble’s profile, but the incident set off a new wave of protests over Facebook’s “go-it-alone” philosophy.

While the creation of a pipeline between Google and Facebook might silence critics of the so-called “walled garden” of social networks, linking the two repositories of an immense volume of social data also may raise some privacy concerns.

Facebook, having recently been scorched by the controversy over the data-sharing practices put in place through its Beacon advertising program, might understandably move with caution into an initiative that could again open the door to its databases.

To Saad, however, the privacy issue is a dead letter.

“Privacy is a very poor, outdated word,” he wrote. “In a social world, privacy is less of a concern than complexity and information overload.”

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