Google and several partners recently launched OpenSocial, an open API for accessing social network information. If you haven’t read about this yet, check out the NY Times article for a primer.

Social networks aren’t the only domain where sharing information between sites is a much-requested feature. Indeed, we’ve all invested significant time in building (perhaps redundant) databases of our preferences in recommendation systems such as Netflix, Amazon, and MovieLens. Wouldn’t it be nice if those ratings would be portable? Then I could sign up for Netflix, and instantly bring my hundreds of movie ratings with me.

Of course, there are a number of issues with ratings portability, such as:

  • What is an entity, and how is it uniquely identified?  (e.g. Is the entire first season of the TV show The Wire a single "tv show entity", or several?)  How is an entity’s category/type determined?
  • How do I communicate my preferences for an entity to the system? Do I use a single 5 star scale, a set of yes/no questions, open text, or something else?
  • Why would any large company wish to share it’s ratings database? (Yes, Netflix and MovieLens have published ratings data sets, but those ratings have been anonymized)

While these are significant issues, I wonder if an open ratings API (built on a platform such as OpenSocial) would clear the path to more ubiquitous recommendations. We could allow MovieLens users to publish their ratings to OpenSocial. Myspace developers could then create a variety of social- or algorithm-driven recommendation systems based on this new source of data. If we were running MovieLens to make money, we’d probably try to build these apps ourselves, and sneak in viral features to bring more new users back to our site.

In the short-run, there are other nice benefits of OpenSocial for small-ish recommendation sites such as MovieLens. For example, could we do away with our "buddy" feature, and just allow users to import their social network from Myspace?


(Note: some newer recommendation companies like Flixter and iLike are OpenSocial "launch partners").

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