Week in review: Social media open for business

The formation of a group to promote universal standards for social-network apps stood out amid a slew of headlines this week about companies merging, collaborating, or restructuring. (By CNET News.com's Michelle Meyers)

It was a week chock-full of headlines about companies merging, collaborating, or restructuring: Motorola announced it will split in two; the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger got Justice Department approval; and BitTorrent and Comcast have found some common ground on file sharing.

But among those stories, one that stood out for its potentially lasting implications was the formation of the OpenSocial Foundation, a nonprofit group to support the OpenSocial initiative that Google kick-started last year to promote a universal standard for developer applications on social-networking sites.

In what CNET News.com reporter Caroline McCarthy termed "the Justice League of social media," the OpenSocial Foundation was announced by partners Google, Yahoo, and News Corp.'s MySpace.com and is expected to be formed within 90 days, with more partners from across the Web on board.

Its specific goal is "to ensure the neutrality and longevity of OpenSocial as an open, community-governed specification for building social applications across the Web." And it's a particularly crucial move for Google, which has been eager to emphasize that OpenSocial is a community standard, not a Mountain View, Calif.-based project.

Of course, noticeably absent from the current partner list is Facebook, the site that started the social-networking platform craze in the first place. OpenSocial was a response to that mania, and an attempt to come up with some continuity among the disparate developer strategies.

And Facebook won't likely be joining the OpenSocial Foundation, at least in the near term. "As the largest contributor to the memecached system, Facebook has long been a leader and supporter of open-source initiatives but will not join the foundation," a statement from the company read. "The company will continue to evaluate partnership opportunities that will benefit the 300,000 Facebook Platform developers while improving the Facebook user experience."

"The majority of (Facebook's) users are in a demographic that can change their mind in an instant, leaving Facebook wondering 'Where did everyone go?'"
--CNET News.com reader

Practically speaking, OpenSocial competes with Facebook's system by letting user data cross-pollinate between sites and services using a single API (application programming interface). A photo-sharing application, for example, could tap into the social graphs of Orkut, Bebo, MySpace, Ning, or other services without any code changes.

But News.com's Dan Farber points out that Google is making Facebook's choice regarding OpenSocial more difficult by granting the OpenSocial code to the nonprofit foundation, which will be "independent of any undue influence by any one party," according to the Opensocial.org Web site.

Still, News.com's Charles Cooper questions Facebook's decision to sit this one out. And at least one reader agrees that Facebook, while a hit, might just be a "flavor of the month" in the grand scheme of things.

"The majority of its users are in a demographic that can change their mind in an instant, leaving Facebook wondering 'Where did everyone go?'" the reader wrote in News.com's Talkback in response to Cooper's blog.

File-sharing detente
After months of sparring, cable provider Comcast and file-sharing company BitTorrent agreed this week to work together on ways to make their technology more compatible. Comcast, of course, has been on the hot seat in recent weeks over its practice of stymieing the peer-to-peer traffic of BitTorrent users.

The two companies announced a "collaborative effort," in which the cable operator would devise a method to manage its traffic on a "protocol agnostic" basis, while the file-sharing application firm would work on making the process of transferring large files work more smoothly on that network.

The agreement doesn't mean that Comcast will stop doing traffic management deemed necessary to keep its pipes unclogged at peak congestion hours, but BitTorrent President and co-founder Ashwin Navin, speaking to a crowd at a tech policy forum in Hollywood, Calif., said he's OK with that.

Comcast's Joe Waz, senior vice president for external affairs and the company's public policy counsel, was also present at the forum and in an interview with News.com offered more details on the decision to work with Comcast.

Meanwhile, a prolonged legal fight with the movie industry forced TorrentSpy, BitTorrent's popular search engine, to shut down Monday. That left some wondering who the Motion Picture Association of America will target next. Unlike TorrentSpy, IsoHunt, for example, is determined to have its day in court.

The MPAA, for its part, is calling on broadband providers to pull the plug on copyright-infringing users. Jim Williams, the MPAA's chief technology officer and senior vice president, said on Thursday that it's in the best interests of Internet providers to sift through data traveling across their networks and interrupt transmissions that violate copyright law.

"Much of the Internet is being clogged up with stolen goods," Williams said at the same tech policy conference. "Basically you have a bunch of free riders who are hogging the bandwidth (and taking) it away from legitimate consumers.

Motorola redials handset biz
Motorola, whose cell phone business has been in a death spiral for several quarters, announced Wednesday that after a two-month formal analysis, it has decided to split the company into two publicly traded entities. One will handle handsets and accessories while the other will continue to concentrate on wireless broadband and enterprise communication products.

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