For some time I’ve been meaning to write about Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, two potentially huge social web developments that have been gathering speed and popularity over the past few weeks.
Both services are very similar. Essentially, each functions to simplify the connection between social and non-social websites by offering connectivity (and some functionality) of each’s proprietary central platform on 3rd party websites.
The idea is that a user can ‘Connect’ with whichever service the site has employed and find users with whom they’ve already connected with on the other services – rather than creating a new account, profile, repeat the steps of entering information to then find the friends you’ve already added over and over again with every other social-enabled web app you’ve used previously.
I first saw Facebook Connect in August with their demonstration service The Run Around. There, you could ‘Connect with Facebook’ to initially join the site and immediately see who else (of your Facebook friends) has joined too. This is all outside of the Facebook chrome, not on the Facebook domain. What’s more, as well as interacting with the linked data pulled from Facebook, the website could push data back in. The actual site intended to track your running routes and times, so when you submitted a new ‘run’, it would publish to your live newsfeed on your Facebook profile.
If this becomes as massive as it could be, we could see a single sign-in that abolishes the need to register and re-register for every newly launched social app. We’re already experiencing social fatigue within that process as consumers and as developers, we’re having to build whole registration and authentication systems from scratch every time. Plugging into a platform like this – that we assume to be secure and trusted – could offer a means to develop and deploy services much easier and faster.
But can we trust – or do we want to trust – a propriety platform to do this for us? The idea of a single social graph isn’t new, but I don’t know if I want Facebook to offer it. I’d much prefer FOAF – but how many people outside of the development world have heard of it?
I feel I need to write another post entirely about OpenID, OpenSocial and OAuth entirely – services that can’t go unmentioned here – but Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb wrote a direct comparison of Facebook Connect and OpenID that asks some interesting questions as well as offering a good introduction to the open source services anyway. Although he started by discussing as to which of the two should website owners use to authenticate and learn about their users, the community expanded his initial mindmap to cover pretty much every angle in the comparison – and it’s very detailed, see it here.
He also asks, even if it doesn’t become the dominant identifier online, will Facebook’s challenge breathe new life into the movement for open source, standards based, federated user identity?
Then there’s Google Friend Connect – launched in public beta the same day as Facebook Connect went public for 3rd party sites. This does use a blend of the open source services, but although integrating the open standards might suggest a weightier development process, the first thing to notice is a far less developer-oriented implementation than Facebook Connect.
Using Facebook Connect is down to the site creator to construct and integrate an interface to facilitate the connection – Google Friend Connect is widgety, with pretty much zero coding other than cutting and pasting directed portions. Similarly with the functionality, Google offer widgets for simple commenting on pages, media sharing, or rating content. With Facebook Connect you have to write that yourself – although admittedly, you then have full reign on design and interaction.
It’s not like this is just a two-horse race though, or that someone won’t work out a way two use both anyway. Google and Facebook are in direct competition, but attempting to open the Web in this way extends far beyond them.
What I find interesting is the interoperability. These technologies aren’t semantic, but do push the exposure and interoperation on a user’s social graph with ideas akin to the Semantic Web – utilising data to extend single-site online identities and networking social connections.
They’re not Semantic Web efforts but they have similar aims. Friend Connect’s goal is an open social web, the Semantic Web is – quite simply – a fully understood, completely open web, not only it’s social domain.