Microsoft eyeing up keys to social networking kingdom?

26 Mar 2008

Microsoft has just partnered with top social networking sites Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn, Hi5 and Tagged to provide a central element in the movement of data and relationships from one social networking site to another through Windows Live Contact API (application programming interface).

All of the companies have come together to work with Microsoft on this initiative at the same time as Google, Yahoo! and MySpace are collaborating on OpenSocial, which also aims to improve data portability on the web.

As of yesterday, Windows Live users have the option of adding any of their Facebook or Bebo friends to their Live Messenger through an application called, using the Windows Live Contact API. This functionality will soon be added to the other social networking sites involved in the project.

Microsoft said when it comes to data, it wants to put the power in the hands of the user: “We firmly believe we are simply stewards of customers’ data and that customers should be able to choose how they control and share their data.”

The Redmond-based firm said the only way customers were able to share data in the past was through ‘screen scraping’, where an application literally scrapes data from the screen output of another application – a practice that can be insecure and open to phishing attacks.

Microsoft’s Windows Live Contacts API gets right into the back-end of social networking sites like Facebook and extracts the information in a more secure manner.

This means that Microsoft and all these sites are sharing their APIs so they can safely exchange and share the information and relationships of their user bases.

While the Windows Live Contacts API heralds the opening up of the databases of these networking sites, and also the ability for users with multiple accounts to plug and play information, it also ties users into Microsoft and gives the firm an opening into the world of social networking.

Microsoft is already a member of DataPortability, a group dedicated to making it easy for consumers to share information on the web through the use of existing technology mixed with new standards.

For example, DataPortability could give someone with a Flickr account the opportunity to use a web-based photo editing tool on their photos. The suggested DataPortability standards used by both Flickr and the web-based photo editing tool would mean the user has instant access to their Flickr photos from this editing site and when he or she makes changes to a photo, this is automatically reflected on Flickr.

If this truly connected, truly interchangeable web is the new online direction, then it remains to be seen whether Microsoft, Facebook and friends will collaborate with Google, Yahoo! and MySpace, which are all standing on the other side of the data portability fence.

By Marie Boran