Google's OpenSocial API could convert iGoogle into a social media platform

A simple demonstration of adding access to the OpenSocial API through iGoogle gadgets is the hot topic of discussion among both Web developers and social network aficionados today, as Google looks more poised to take on the social net leaders.

A new tool for skilled and amateur developers to build social networking gadgets using version 0.7 of the OpenSocial API, launched by Google last October, looks very conspicuously like a way to populate the service's iGoogle personalized home pages with features that could put it in competition with social networking sites like MySpace.

This morning, a video posted to the Google Code Blog demonstrates how iGoogle page gadgets can be built using the latest version of the OpenSocial library. As a developer identified as Jake demonstrates, gadgets are created by embedding HTML and JavaScript code into XML <content> elements, though iGoogle developers already knew that.

The change comes when adding the library to the <require> declarations at the top of the XML code. That library enables the .newDataRequest method through JavaScript, which lets the programmer instantiate a variable that represents the connection to OpenSocial's data stream. From there, arrays of friends' names are retrieved using the .newFetchPersonRequest method. A callback function, generated using the .send method, picks up control asynchronously and renders the contents of the arrays to the browser, using a variation of an "each" iteration loop.

For JavaScript programmers, it should be nothing out of the ordinary; mastery of the basic concept may require just a few hours' practice. Google is calling this concept the "developer's sandbox," but it's clear that this little playground is intended for pretty rapid growth.

"Jake" demonstrates how a developer playing with JavaScript in iGoogle's sandbox could, just for the fun of it, start building gadgets that could very rapidly build its social garden into a formidable opponent to MySpace and Facebook.

One example of that intention comes by way of Google's extended explanation of its new "canvas view," which is its version of an expanded frame control that can be categorized using tabs. The example shows how the control can be expanded to show rows revealing thumbnails of book covers and their titles, corresponding to books that friends in the OpenSocial system say they're reading or have read.

The example does not show price or availability, though it doesn't seem likely that such an extrapolation would be off limits to developers playing in Google's sandbox.

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