Even if you’re not a not a big Facebook fan, you should care about the upcoming launch of Facebook Connect — a service that allows people to use their Facebook accounts to log into other websites. Facebook Connect, and its success or failure, might signal what we can expect as broad users of the internet during the next few years.
Other big internet players, such as Google and MySpace, have implemented similar initiatives, such as Google Friend Connect and MySpace’s Data Availability.
But Facebook, which you could easily argue is the most important social network right now, validates the market’s need for such a service with Facebook Connect.
Facebook Connect will try to address a problem that has dogged all of us during the past few years. I can’t tell you how much I have to hit “forgot password” at services I use (frequently) because I can’t keep track of them all. Most of the time, I have my browser just remember it, which I realize isn’t the most secure thing in the world, but I can’t spend my time entering logins and passwords all day.
Then, of course, at each site I must fill out information forms essentially sharing the same information that I’d have in a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, for instance.
Up until now, data portability, the idea of taking your information with you around the Web and sharing it (when you want to) has been just that — an idea, great in conception but far from reality on a massive scale.
Most of the moves have been symbolic. Both Facebook and Google have had people sit it on the Data Portability Project, which seeks to address the problem by enabling open standards on the Web and making it easier for users to move their data between services. The OpenID Foundation, which counts IBM, Microsoft and Google as supporters, focuses on single sign-on technology.
But until now, both projects and the vendors supporting them have struggled to make substantive advances in this area. Google launched OpenSocial, but that was merely a platform in which developers could build applications to run on multiple social networks (except Facebook, who never joined, keeping its Facebook platform Facebook-centric). OpenSocial was significant, but it didn’t address this problem of data portability for end-users directly.
Now, with Facebook Connect, we’ll see a serious foray into how this might work. Right now, one of the known sites to participate is Digg, the news aggragator that behaves much like a social network. What might give Facebook an advantage over Google is that Facebook’s applications are innately more social. The notion that you can bring your Facebook friends with you to other services, and see whether or not they engage with that service too, is very powerful.
Like all things, how we deal with this problem in the consumer space could seriously affect our business lives as well. The emergence of cloud computing has created a “walled garden” environment for many companies, as they try to get applications provided by different Web-based vendors to place nicely with one another.
In the end, one of the things all these internet companies must be mindful of is user privacy. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who seemed to learned from his company’s past mistakes with Beacon advertising, has indicated that he would tread carefully with Facebook Connect.
In this New York Times story, Zuckerberg said, “We want to make the experience as lightweight and easy to use as possible. But we also have to make sure that people understand what’s going on and have control over it.”
We, too, are looking forward to having that control to move freely between services, which to date has long been overdue.