Online open standard collaboration tools help lesser known vendors

The analogy goes that there is always a big fish to feed on the small ones.

But on the Internet, which in its 40th year one might say is still evolving, real world analogies do not seem to hold good, and in some cases seem quite the contrary.

In a late July post, Google, on its official code blog (googlecode.blogspot.com), announced that it was extending its OpenId Federated Login to its popular business suite Google Applications, better known as Google Apps. The OpenId is essentially a concept wherein a common email id could be used to login and experience services of different vendors.

And among the early consumers to the move is Zoho Corp, a popular business suite vendor, which has its development centre in Chennai.

On August 26, Zoho announced on its official blog that it was extending its OpenId support to Google Apps. This paves the way for the Google Apps users to use their Google login to try out the Zoho suite of products after authentication.

What makes the scenario most interesting is that Zoho is a direct competitor to some of Google Applications’ suite of services.

Such a collaboration though seems inevitable and a progressive step in today’s cloud computing scenario.

The cloud

The cloud computing scenario has gained acceptance to a large extent in recent years. Under cloud computing, user data no longer resides in computers or servers of the individuals or the companies. Internet users are ready to trust “big fish” such as Amazon, Google, Yahoo! and the kind and allow their data to reside in a ‘cloud’ of servers maintained by them.

But this creates a highly polarised scenario that makes it tough for the smaller vendors to come up with innovative solutions that will find a large client base. Add to this the cumbersome need to create and remember multiple passwords and logins, some services die a premature death even without proper evaluation.

N. Chitrapandian, technical architect at Zoho Corp’s Chennai development centre, says this is a huge challenge for other lesser-known vendors who may still have products on a par or maybe even better than the big fish. “Take for example the time spent by most Internet users logged on to the bigger networks. There are people who stay logged on to Google for almost their entire work-time. It is very difficult for some of the smaller players to achieve that kind of trust.” And in Internet, especially in the cloud computing scenario, trust is everything.

‘Open’ concept

Most big fish, of late though, are ready to open up their servers by a common standard for coders to apply. At least that has been the idea behind initiatives such as Opensocial — a platform that facilitates a common API across social platforms. Hi5, LinkedIn, MySpace, Netlog, Ning, Orkut, and Yahoo! all come under the OpenSocial banner.

Opensocial.org has listed over 17,000 containers. A container is a service provider’s code for a single social network. So technically it is possible for service providers to provide their services as codes to various different social networks at one go.

The Google Federated Login Id is one such standard that the likes of Zoho are trying to exploit to reach out to a wider audience. Mr. Chitrapandian says the impact was almost immediate, where they have been able to see a sudden spurt in consumers wanting to try out their suite of products. “We have seen close to an 80 per cent jump in sign-ups after the Google Apps integration. So, more people are coming on board to try our products.” The ultimate aim would be to convert them to users of Zoho products on their own servers.

Agriya, another software vendor in Chennai, has seen the benefits of using OpenId. Sheerin Banu, vice-president, Marketing and Sales, Agriya, says OpenId support has helped them broadbase their products and most of their clients are asking for the support.