About two weeks ago Chris Messina wrote a post titled OpenID Connect where he argued for the existence of a Facebook Connect style technology build on OpenID. He describes the technology as follows

So, to summarize:

  • for the non-tech, uninitiated audiences: OpenID Connect is a technology that lets you use an account that you already have to sign up, sign in, and bring your profile, contacts, data, and activities with you to any compatible site on the web.
  • for techies: OpenID Connect is OpenID rewritten on top of OAuth WRAP using service discovery to advertise Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, and any other well known API endpoints, and a means to automatically bootstrap consumer registration and token issuance.

This is something I brought up over a year ago in my post Some Thoughts on OpenID vs. Facebook Connect. The fact is that OpenID by itself is simply not as useful as Facebook Connect. The former allows me to sign-in to participating sites with my existing credentials while the latter lets me sign-in, share content with my social network, personalize and find my friends on participating sites using my Facebook identity.

As I mentioned in my previous post there are many pieces of different “Open brand” technologies that can be pieced together to create something similar to Facebook Connect such as OpenID + OpenID Attribute Exchange + Portable Contacts + OAuth WRAP + Activity Streams. However no one has put together a coherent package that ties all of these together as a complete end-to-end solution. This isn’t helped by the fact that these specs are at varying levels of maturity and completion.

One of the reasons this hasn’t happened is for a reason I failed to anticipate. Back in late 2008, I assumed we would see lots of competitors to Facebook Connect. This hasn’t truly materialized. Google Friend Connect has turned out to be an interesting combination of OpenID sign-in and the ability to add “social” widgets to your site but not about integrating with Google’s social networking services in a deep way (probably because Google doesn’t have any?). MySpaceID has failed to gain traction and lacks key features of Facebook Connect such as being able to publish rich activities from a 3rd party site to MySpace. And that’s it. Those two technologies are the closest to Facebook Connect from a major online player and they fall far short.

So do we need an OpenID Connect? We would if there were lots of Facebook Connect style offerings that significantly differed in implementation. However there aren’t. One could argue that perhaps the reason we don’t have many is that there are no standards that guide websites on what to implement. However this sounds like using “standards” for inventing technologies instead of standardizing best practice. I’ve always considered this questionable from my days working with XML technologies XML Schema, SOAP and WSDL.

If you got together to create an OpenID Connect now, the best you could do is come up with a knock off of Facebook Connect using “Open brand” technologies since that’s the only example we have to work off of. That’s great until Facebook Connect adds more features or websites finally wrap their heads around this problem space and actually start competing with Facebook Connect. Premature standardization hinders instead of helps.

Although we might need OpenID Connect someday, that day isn’t today.

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Marshall Kirkpatrick has a post entitled Facebook's Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over where he reviews some quotes by Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook, on their recent privacy changes and how these changes are reflecting evolving social norms. Below is an excerpt on Marshall's take on Mark Zuckerburg's comments

Facebook allows everyday people to share the minutiae of their daily lives with trusted friends and family, to easily distribute photos and videos - if you use it regularly you know how it has made a very real impact on families and social groups that used to communicate very infrequently. Accessible social networking technology changes communication between people in a way similar to if not as intensely as the introduction of the telephone and the printing press. It changes the fabric of peoples' lives together. 350 million people signed up for Facebook under the belief their information could be shared just between trusted friends. Now the company says that's old news, that people are changing. I don't believe it.

I think Facebook is just saying that because that's what it wants to be true.

There's lots of food for thought here. At first I wondered whether Facebook would have become the global phenomenon that is today where your friends, neighbors, coworkers and old school chums are sharing the minutiae of their lives with you if it had been public by default. Then I realized that sort of thinking doesn't matter since Facebook has 350 million users today so wondering how things could have turned out years ago with a different design isn't particularly interesting.  

What is interesting is considering why Facebook would want it to be true that many of their users think nothing of making their Facebook data public versus sharing it within their social network? The simple answer is Twitter.

Below is the Google Trends chart showing the difference in traffic between both sites.

In looking at the above chart, one might think it ludicrous that Facebook would have anything to fear from Twitter given that it has at least an order of magnitude more users. However compare the above chart to a comparison of news references and search queries for the phrases "search twitter" versus "search Facebook".

There are two things you learn from the above chart. The first is that the news media is a lot more interested in talking about search and Twitter instead of search and Facebook. This implies that even though Facebook has similar features to Twitter and ten times the user base, people don't talk about the power of being able to search Facebook status updates like they do about Twitter. The second is that there actually more interest from people actually doing search queries in searching content on Facebook than in searching Twitter content which is unsurprising since Facebook has a lot more users.

However the fact that status updates and other content on Facebook is private by default means Facebook cannot participate in this space even though it has the same kind of content that Twitter does but it is more valuable because they have lots more content and it is backed by real identities not anonymous users. Here's a quick list of the top of my head of the kinds of apps you can enable over Twitter's public stream of status updates that Facebook was locked out of until their privacy change

  1. What The Trend – Lists topics that are currently trending on Twitter and why. Often a quick way to find breaking news before it is reported by the mainstream media.
  2. TweetmemeThe top links that are currently being shared on Twitter. Another source of breaking news and cool content. It's like Digg and Reddit but without having to vote on content on some geeky "social news" site.
  3. Bitly.TVA place to watch the videos that are currently being shared on Twitter.
  4. Twittervision – A cool way to idle away the minutes by seeing what people all over the world are saying on Twirter.
  5. Google Real-Time search – See what Twitter users are saying about a particular search term in real-time as part of your search results
  6. Filtrbox – A tool that enables companies to see what their customers are saying about their products and brands on Twitter

All of these and more are the kinds of scenario Facebook could enable if their status update streams are public instead of private. People think Twitter is worth $1 billion because it is sitting on this well of real-time status updates and has created this ecosystem of services that live of its stream. However Facebook is sitting on ten times as much data yet could not be a part of this world because of their history of being a privacy centered social network. Being able to participate in the real-time search increases Facebook value and broadens its reach across the Web. With the privacy changes in place this will now be the case. Especially since 50 percent of their users have accepted the more public default privacy settings. Facebook can now participate in the same real-time ecosystem as Twitter and will bring more content that is easier to trust since it comes from people's real identities.

That said, I commend the people at Facebook for having the courage to evolve their product in the face of new market opportunities instead of being tied to their past. Lots of companies let themselves be ruled by fear and thus stick to the status quo for fear of ticking off their users which often leads to bored users. Kudos.  

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Categories: Social Software

Recently I came across two blogs I thought were interesting and would love to follow regularly; Chris Dixon's blog and the Inside Windows Live blog. What surprised me was that my first instinct was to see if they were on Twitter instead of adding their RSS feeds to my favorite RSS reader. I thought this was interesting and decided to analyze my internal thought process that led me to preferring following blogs via Twitter instead of consuming the RSS feeds in Google Reader + RSS Bandit.

I realized it comes down to two things, one I’ve mentioned before and the second which dawned on me recently

  1. The first problem is that the user experience around consuming feeds in traditional RSS readers which take their design cues from email readers is all sorts of wrong. I’ve written about this previously in my post The Top 5 Reasons RSS Readers Went Wrong. Treating every blog post as important enough that I have view the entire content and explicitly mark it as read is wrong. Not providing a consistent mechanism to give the author feedback or easily reshare the content is archaic in today’s world. And so on.

  2. The mobile experience for consuming Twitter streams is all sorts of awesome. I currently use Echofon to consume Twitter on my phone and have used Twitterific which is also excellent. I’ve also heard people say lots of good things about Tweetie. On the other hand, I haven’t found a great mobile application for consuming RSS feeds on my mobile phone which may be a consequence of #1 above.

So I’ve been thinking about how to make my RSS experience more like my Twitter experience given that not all the blogs I read are on Twitter or will ever be on the service. At first I flirted with building a tool that automatically creates a Twitter account for a given RSS feed but backed away from that when I remembered that the Twitter team hates people using it as a platform for rebroadcasting RSS feeds.

I realized that what I really need is a Twitter applicationthat also understands RSS feeds and shows them in the same stream. In addition, I may have been fine with this being a new app on the Web but don’t want to lose the existing Twitter clients on my mobile phone. So I really want a web app that shows me a merged Twitter/RSS streams and that exposes the Twitter API so I can point apps like Echofon/Twitterific/Tweetie at it.

As I thought about which web app could be closest to doing this today I landed on Brizzly and Seesmic Web. These sites are currently slightly different web interfaces to to the Twitter service which [at least to me] currently haven’t provided enough value above and beyond the Twitter website for me to use on a regular basis. Being able to consume both my RSS feeds and my Twitter stream on such services would not only serve as a differentiator between them and other Twitter web clients but would also be functionality that Twitter wouldn’t be able to make obsolete given their stated dislike of RSS content on their service.

I’d write something myself except that I doubt that the authors of Twitter mobile apps will be interested in making it easy to consume a Twitter stream from sites other than http://www.twitter.com unless lots of their users ask for this feature which will only happen if services like Brizzly, Seesmic Web and others start providing a reason to consume Twitter-like streams from non-Twitter sources. 


A couple of weeks ago Paul Adams, a user experience researcher at Google, wrote a post titled Why “Liking” is about more than just liking which contained the following insight

Why do people ‘like’ things on social networks?

It would be easy for us to assume that it is because they liked the content. But it is a bit more complicated than that. It’s a combination of the content, and the person who posted it.

People sometimes ‘like’ content, not because they actually like it, but because they want a lightweight way of building their relationship with the other person. It’s similar to being in a group, maybe in a bar or cafe, and there is someone there that you’d like to get to know better. They tell a joke that isn’t very funny - but you laugh that extra bit louder, and grab a bit of eye contact, just to build that relationship

What this means: Just because someone ‘liked’ a YouTube video about Budweiser, that doesn’t mean that they’ll respond positively to Budweiser advertising. It also doesn’t mean that they want to become a member of the Budweiser fan page. In fact, they may dislike Budweiser, but like the person who shared the video. By targeting Budweiser ads, you may do more damage to the brand than good. When targeting advertising on social networks, mining content in the absence of understanding the people relationships is a risky strategy.

I agree that in the context of Facebook, liking a status update or shared link is often just as much about phatic communication as it is about the content that is being shared. In the example from the screenshot, the people who liked the item aren’t saying they like the key terms in the status updat(i.e. hospitality, Tokyo, Japanese, etc) but instead are showing interest in the poster’s news from their trip abroad. When considered, the fact is that the work like actually harms the feature’s use since I’ve seen people want to show some sign of support by “liking” an item on Facebook but then shied away when considering what the word actually means. For example, I was recently a victim of identity theft and I know someone who almost clicked the “like” button as a show of support until he realized he didn’t want people to think he actually liked the fact that I was a victim of fraud.

However Facebook’s isn’t the only model for users in a social media application to show their appreciation for the status updates of others. Both FriendFeed’s like feature and Twitter’s retweet also provide a mechanism for showing one’s interest in another’s status update but also have the side effect of sharing this update with your friends as well. On both of these services, a user clicking on Like/Retweet often means they are interested in the content they are sharing not just engaging in social niceties with a friend online.

In other words, although it may not make sense for Facebook to target against ads to you based on the content of the status updates you’ve liked, it may actually make sense for Twitter or Twitter apps to target ads based on the content you’ve retweeted. 


Categories: Social Software