Everyone's heard of MySpace and FaceBook--what about Bebo, Orkut, Friendster, LinkedIn, or Ning? There are dozens of social networking sites, each with their own user base and virtual walls separating their users from "socializing" with members of other networks. In fact, many people maintain redundant accounts and profiles in more than one social network, because not everyone in their social network uses the same platform. Well, Google hopes to change this (for reasons more selfish than mentioned here) by making its own social network, Orkut, compatible with an open set of web standards and encouraging others to do the same.
The OpenSocial project aims to allow any web site to embed social networking within their site--creating a layer of social networking throughout the web to be used as a portable resource. It's rather like those Verizon commercials--you know, the ones showing "the network" represented as a mass of people and vehicles following one customer. Well, that's the idea--imagine the potential benefit (and potential harm) of being able to access your network of friends (and their friends) when searching for information, considering a purchase, making important life decisions, studying, etc. They would just follow you--you wouldn't have to seek them out (i.e. login to your MySpace).
We're not quite there yet, but so far this OpenSocial initiative has garnered commitments from all of the aforementioned networks, EXCEPT Facebook. Notably, both MySpace (number 1 social networking site in the U.S.) and Bebo (number 1 in the U.K.) have already joined the OpenSocial project.