Early this morning I found out that the new CitySearch beta site uses Facebook Connect to allow Facebook users to sign-in to the site and bring their social network with them to CitySearch. Below is a screenshot of the sign-in experience

a user can choose sign-in with their Facebook credentials and if so they can bring their social network and profile info from Facebook to CitySearch and there is the option that some of their activities on CitySearch are republished to Facebook.

Here's what it looks like to view my friends page on CitySearch after signing in with my Facebook credentials

From the screenshot, I have five Facebook friends who have also associated their Facebook profile with CitySearch.

A feature like Facebook Connect is something I've always wanted to see implemented but I've always gotten hung up on the details. The first stumbling block is the chicken and egg problem. Connecting your identity on multiple sites is only valuable if all my friends are doing it as well. From the above screenshot only 5 out of my 472 have linked their accounts and three of them are Facebook employees who work on Facebook Connect. Despite that, I think Facebook could incentivize users to link their accounts if it improves their user experience. For example, CitySearch isn't currently picking up that I live in Seattle even though it pulled in my Facebook profile information.

Another problem I saw with this sort of technology is that sites would be reluctant to tie their user authentication to another site (echoes of the Microsoft Passport is Evil fallout from the turn of the century) especially given all the hype behind decentralized identity solutions like OpenID. I believe Facebook has gotten around this concern in a couple of ways. The first is that Facebook Connect provides concrete benefits of access to a user's mini-feed and thus prime real estate on the user's Facebook profile. Secondly, it allows sites to bootstrap their social networks off of one of the must successful social networking sites in the world. Finally, Facebook's brand doesn't have the "baggage" that other companies that have tried to play in this place have had to struggle against.

Kudos to my friend Mike Vernal and all the other folks at Facebook who worked on Connect. This is just plain brilliant. Much love.

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