A few days ago, the top news story on Techmeme was the fact that Google launched Google Friend Connect and Facebook announced the final version of Facebook Connect within minutes of each other. Reading up on both announcements it seems interesting to note how most of the coverage is about who will win the race to dominate the Web as opposed to what end user value is actually being created by these technologies.

It was somewhat depressing until I read Dave Winer's brilliant post Soon it will be time to start over, again which contains the following excerpt

We're now reaching the end of a cycle, we're seeing feature wars. That's what's going on between Facebook and Google, both perfectly timing the rollouts of their developer proposition to coincide with the others' -- on the very same day! I don't even have to look at them and I am sure that they're too complicated. Because I've been around this loop so many times. The solution to the problem these guys are supposedly working on won't come in this generation, it can only come when people start over. They are too mired in the complexities of the past to solve this one. Both companies are getting ready to shrink. It's the last gasp of this generation of technology.  Permalink to this paragraph

But the next one can't be far away now. It will be exhilirating!! Permalink to this paragraph

Remember how great Google was when it first appeared? Permalink to this paragraph

Remember how great Netscape was, and before that Apple, and I know you guys won't like this, but Microsoft offered us some great new places to play. I remember finding out that their OS address space in 1981 was 640K. That was a lot to guy who was spending huge amounts of time trying to cram a 256K app into 48K. Permalink to this paragraph

The trick in each cycle is to fight complexity, so the growth can keep going. But you can't keep it out, engineers like complexity, not just because it provides them job security, also because they really just like it. But once the stack gets too arcane, the next generation throws their hands up and says "We're not going to deal with that mess."  Permalink to this paragraph

We're almost there now. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

The value of Facebook Connect to Facebook is obvious. They get to become a centralized identity provider for the Web including the benefit of tracking every single time one of their users logs-in on a partner which lets them build an even better advertising profile of their users. Similarly the value to the customers of the sites adopting it seem clear at first. Below are the claimed benefits of Facebook Connect to users from my initial perusal

  1. One login, multiple sites. No need to create a new account on partner sites.
  2. Account information such as profile picture, location and other fields on the partner site can be prepopulated from Facebook
  3. Bring your social graph with you to partner sites. 
  4. Let your friends on Facebook know what you are doing on partner sites. Updates show up on your profile but do not go in your friends' news feeds (they go in their live feed instead). 

Where things get interesting is that none of these benefits require a proprietary and centralized approach like Facebook has done. If Facebook implemented OpenID and OpenID attribute exchange, they could have given their users the benefits of #1 and #2 using widely adopted industry standards.  For #3, there is the burgeoning Portable Contacts effort to define a set of standard APIs for accessing the social graph that supports the key data portability principles around this information. As for broadcasting your updates from one site to another, FriendFeed has shown how that can be done using standard technologies like RSS, Atom and XMPP. 

Ignoring the fact that Facebook Connect is a proprietary and centralized approach instead of being based on open standards, there are still other points worthy of debate. When trying out sites like CitySearch beta with Facebook Connect, the experience is that I am connected with all of my Facebook friends who also use CitySearch. There is the genuine question of whether users really want to use one friends' list across every site regardless of context (e.g. interacting with the exact same people on LinkedIn, MySpace and XBox Live) or whether they want to have universal access to any of their friends lists and bridge them when necessary?

Yesterday on Twitter, I mentioned that Facebook Connect is the wrong direction to go on the Web for the reasons above. I also called Google Friend Connect a misguided "me too" effort for trying to copy Facebook's strategy and glomming an AJAX widget play on top of it. Kevin Marks, an evangelist at Google challenged by statement with the following response

@Carnage4Life the problem for users is re-entering data and restating friends for each app. For developers its becoming social without this

If that is truly the problem, how does the technology in the video below solve the problem any better than the combination of OpenID and Portable Contacts?

As with OpenSocial, Google has fallen in love with its role as a spoiler when it comes to Facebook's platform efforts without stopping to think whether it actually makes sense to be aping Facebook's strategies in the first place. Monkey see, monkey do.

This will be the death of them if they aren't careful. Once you become a follower and define yourself by reacting to others actions, it is hard to step back into a leadership role both in the industry and even within one's corporate culture.

Note Now Playing: Britney Spears - Circus Note


Sunday, December 7, 2008 8:56:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Great post.

A clear opportunity to lead in the emerging identity space is with security. The weakness of passwords will become even more apparent in an environment where you have one account for the entire web. One of the "me too" players could easily step up and differentiate here. A great example of this is in online banking. Bank of America stepped up and led with security. They made it a key piece of their offering. They now have the largest online bank in the US by an order of magnitude.

Give us the tools to protect our accounts!


Monday, December 8, 2008 12:57:58 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, I'm really encouraged to see your support for these open web standards, and look forward to seeing you implement them on the important social site you work on.

What you're missing in understanding Friend Connect is that it builds on the very open standards that you endorse - we made this clear back in May when we first announced it as preview release, and that is still true now.

What Google Friend Connect does is make it very easy for webmasters to make their sites social by integrating these Open Stack technologies without having to do complex backend coding. Judging by the reports from webmasters who've tried it out, it is succeeding at this.

By standardising on OAuth for OpenSocial REST, and converging the OpenSocial Person spec with PortableContacts, the OpenSocial community is rolling out these standard APIs across many different social sites.

Google Friend Connect means that any website that can add Javascript can become an OpenID relying party with a few minutes of effort, and no server-side code changes.

For a server-side developer such as yourself, integrating with the Open Stack protocols directly makes much more sense, and I fully expect to see more developers doing that too, especially as OpenSocial containers such as MySpace, Hi5, LinkedIn, orkut and Netlog roll out REST support alongside pioneers like Plaxo.
Monday, December 8, 2008 2:46:37 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The more important question: why were you listening to Britney Spears?
Monday, December 8, 2008 6:40:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, shouldn't you be sharing these great ideas of yours with executives? It would be a shame for a boss of a lesser intellect to pass off your ideas as his own.
Monday, December 8, 2008 10:41:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Is there any plan on the Windows Live Wave 3/4 to transform http://favorites.live.com/ to something like http://delicious.com/ ??
We know microsoft can do it, just take the experience from http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/ and do it :) we'll really appreciate it, expecially if I can then syncronize it via mesh (or something else) with my mobile phone and all my pcs...
Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:57:40 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
What's up with the updated resume? Planning on going somewhere?
Rick Rude
Monday, December 15, 2008 4:41:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Read your article,nice that you notice the "TROY" between them.

To cast my vote on open-ness and better integration, i vote Facebook Connect (only God knows why they dont want to go Open Social Way).

Google Friend Connect launches away from your domain. For a series of clicks away, users are off your domain, only to return stuffs for your callback to work with. That to me stains.

Also, Google Friend Connect also works well especially when you've already signed in to your google account. But not the same for yahoo. Cos for my geo-location, peeps use yahoo more. So that wont work for me.

@Kevin "What Google Friend Connect does is make it very easy for webmasters to make their sites social by integrating these Open Stack technologies without having to do complex backend coding."
--yea, it comes easy but with less control. And most peeps whats the information shared on the social network spread virally. G-Friend wont give you that. With FB Connect you can post directly into users facebook posts.
Try out using the runabout that comes with FB Connect. I like it.

I think in the clash of these titans, FB won.

The only snag is, in my current application I'm working on, all codes/api are google api and I hv to make a stop to use FB on the way, cos my peeps are all on FB.

But REALLY, Social Network will soon end its revival. We should start looking ahead. Moving ur XFN and FOAF still stands for me.
Comments are closed.