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May 09, 2008

Facebook Connect - another step to open social networks

Charlene_li_2008_low_res by Charlene Li

Facebook just announced "Facebook Connect", which they position as the natural evolution of Facebook as an open platform, which started from their initial API in 2006 and expanded with Facebook Platform in May 2007. This is how they describe Facebook Connect:

"Facebook Connect is the next iteration of Facebook Platform that allows users to "connect" their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site. This will now enable third party websites to implement and offer even more features of Facebook Platform off of Facebook – similar to features available to third party applications today on Facebook."

Details on the four main feature -- Trusted Authentication, Real Identity, Friends Access, Dynamic Privacy are below in the extended post. Overall, this means that all of the fun stuff that developers are building into apps on Facebook Platform will now be available for third-party developers to build into applications OFF of Facebook.com.

I spoke with Ben Ling at Facebook, and the hypothetical example he used was yelp.com. If I link my Facebook identity to my Yelp identity, I'll be able to port over my profile, my content, my reviews. Also, I'll be able to see if any my Facebook friends are also members of Yelp -- and be able to automatically have our friendships authenticated and visible on Yelp.

This is the beginning of the future I laid out earlier this spring, where social networks will be like air -- everywhere you need and want them to be. Facebook has a distinct advantage in this space, given its vibrant member base AND its relationships with developers who are already creating these social apps. Ben gave me some startling numbers: 24,000 Facebook applications, 350,000 developers on Facebook Platform, and 70 million Facebook users who have installed an app.

So in a few weeks, we can expect to see Facebook leaving the confines of its server, allowing users to take their Facebook experience anywhere they want. Instead of damaging itself and eroding the value proposition, Facebook is extending the reach of its social network through the Web.

With Yahoo! Open announcing and MySpace in the data portability game, it's now a battle not for just users, but a race to see who can open faster -- and more importantly, play well with other sites. Remember Facebook Beacon? That was an innovative program with partner details not very well thought out or implemented. I don't expect Facebook to make the same mistakes and if anything, they are ahead of the game having learned from that painful experience.

I did ask Ben about the timing of the announcement, coming as it does on the heels of MySpace announcing that it was joining the Data Portability Project. He said, "Openness is part of our DNA, We want to be transparent about our intentions, about the type of functionality we will offer to developers. There is a lot of mistaken perception that we are a close community."

So welcome to the race -- and look for a lot of interesting things to happen as the giants in this space - MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft -- all try to outdo each other in connecting with other sites. I for one am very much looking forward to it -- good bye social silos!

What "dream applications" would like to see developers build in this brave new world of social networks being extended into other sites? And what concerns do you have, especially if you work on a site that could be linked to these social networks? Let me know in the comments below or email them to me at cli at forrester dot com.

Four key features of Facebook Connect, from their blog post:

Trusted Authentication
Users will be able to connect their Facebook account with any partner website using a trusted authentication method. Whether at login, or anywhere else a developer would like to add social context, the user will be able to authenticate and connect their account in a trusted environment. The user will have total control of the permissions granted.

Real Identity
Facebook users represent themselves with their real names and real identities. With Facebook Connect, users can bring their real identity information with them wherever they go on the Web, including: basic profile information, profile picture, name, friends, photos, events, groups, and more.

Friends Access
Users count on Facebook to stay connected to their friends and family. With Facebook Connect, users can take their friends with them wherever they go on the Web. Developers will be able to add rich social context to their websites. Developers will even be able to dynamically show which of their Facebook friends already have accounts on their sites.

Dynamic Privacy
As a user moves around the open Web, their privacy settings will follow, ensuring that users' information and privacy rules are always up-to-date. For example, if a user changes their profile picture, or removes a friend connection, this will be automatically updated in the external website.

These are just a few steps Facebook is taking to make the vision of data portability a reality for users worldwide. We believe the next evolution of data portability is about much more than data. It's about giving users the ability to take their identity and friends with them around the Web, while being able to trust that their information is always up to date and always protected by their privacy settings.

We look forward to working with other leading identity providers to develop the best policies and standards for enabling the portability and protection of users' information.


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Don't you see this as a way for scammers to create Identities?


I think this would give Facebook, MySpace, and whoever is involved, a broader network to advertise to. This will also enable the advertisers to follow their target audience where they go. I'm not sure if this will become an ad network. But if it were to... it's a great opportunity for marketers. This will be a win win opportunity to both users and advertisers.

Desmond Haynes, Jr.

And what are your thoughts on Open Social initiative?


I would like to direct people to a project that has been in the works for quite some time now called OpenID. OpenID is where Facebook Connect got their idea from, and is an open standard authentication system that people can use to login to third party web applications. It negates the need to register with every single site you use, and centrally stores any identifying information you wish to share with the websites you use.


This is different than Facebook Connect (or other similar services) in that it is not owned by a single corporation, but is an open and free standard based on agreements between multiple nonprofit, for-profit, community and government organizations.

Why this is important: Facebook reserves the right to assert control over the use of its service, while OpenID and all contributing party's have waived that right by signing a "Non-Assertion Covenant."

Why Non-Assertion is good: Waiving the right to assert complete control over a service means that it will remain democratically accessible to everyone. If one entity is able to act as a gatekeeper (see the US broadcast Media for examples of why this is bad) this generally tends to serve the needs of only that gatekeeper, instead of the wider society.

Thanks for listening to my screed about open standards. And thanks for helping to keep the Internet an open and democratic medium.

Collaborative Pankaj

it would be great if i could pull in my facebook information into my orkut account. beats alternating between two sites.

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