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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.

Investor Carl Icahn has been pressuring the company to separate out its mobile phone business, and has been engaged in a protracted legal struggle with the company regarding its future. Motorola offered up two board seats to Icahn this week, but the activist investor rejected the offer. CEO Greg Brown declined to comment on how this latest news will impact discussions with Icahn's camp.

In some respects it looks as if Motorola is giving Icahn some of what he originally wanted. The company is splitting off the handset business to increase shareholder value. Details of the transaction, which, if it's accepted by shareholders, would be complete in 2009, were not discussed during a conference call the company held Wednesday morning with investors and analysts.

Many experts agree that something had to be done. The company's iconic cell phone division, which typically makes up more than half its revenue, hasn't had a hit since the highly popular Razr. As a result, it's seen its global market share plunge from more than 20 percent a year ago to just 12 percent today. And it's fallen from second place in the cell phone market to third place, behind Nokia and Samsung Electronics.

In the end, however, the move might just be putting lipstick on the pig--a last attempt to pretty up the failing business unit to make it more attractive to potential buyers.

Meanwhile, Motorola and the rest of the wireless industry are getting ready for the semiannual CTIA trade show next week in Las Vegas. More than ever, it seems the show extends beyond showing off products and hobnobbing. It's also clearing the air and pushing a positive corporate storyline.

In other news on the wireless front, AT&T said Thursday that it will start offering live mobile TV service from MediaFlo in May. But News.com's Marguerite Reardon wonders if anyone will be watching. And Comcast and Time Warner are reportedly in talks to help form a new wireless company that would use WiMax and be run by Sprint Nextel and Clearwire.

Firefox and foes
So you think Firefox 3 is cool? Wait until you see what Mozilla has coming in the next version of the browser. On the eve of its 10-year anniversary, Mozilla this week held an open house and offered a glimpse of what's to come.

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Chris Beard, vice president of Labs for Mozilla, said the push is to blur the edges of the browser to make it both more tightly integrated with the computer it's running on, and also more hooked into Web services.

One thing was made clear at the Mozilla event: Microsoft should be worried.

Speaking of Microsoft, Windows XP may get a new reprieve. Although the software giant is pushing hard to move everyone to the latest version of Windows, there are some market realities that are going to keep Windows XP around for some time--likely well beyond the current June deadline for large computer makers to stop selling the older operating system.

News.com readers certainly aren't rushing to Windows Vista. Almost half of almost 6,000 voters in a related poll say they're holding out as long as they can to make the move. So do all roads lead to Vista?

Also of note
Adobe Systems opens shop on Web-based Photoshop Express...Google's terms of service prohibits those under 18 from using its Web properties...Advanced Micro Devices releases new Phenom chips and might be close to releasing details of future manufacturing plans...Apple releases updated iPhone SDK and Aperture plug-ins...Hackers are targeting Facebook apps... Netflix suffered an outage and offers credits...XM-Sirius merger clears one hurdle...Companies wrestle with employee blogs...and we're clicking less on Google search ads, but why?