Facebook Connect -"Holy Cr*p This Changes Everything"

Facebook Connect, launched yesterday, signifies a huge step forward in socialising the Web.

It’s not the first initiative in this direction, as we’ve mused on Google’s Open Social (basically a a standard way to attach applications to any site) here before. As Google pointed out at the time “we’re just providing some technologies so the web as a whole can become more social, because that’s clearly what users are interested in”.

Earlier this year, and building on this idea of a social Web, Google launched Friend Connect. Friend Connect is a way for site owners to attach a social network to their websites, where people can import friends from any of the partnering networks, including Google’s own Orkut, MySpace and a growing list of partners.  

Facebook was not one of these partners, clearly because they had plans of their own – and yesterday they announced the details of Facebook Connect.

It’s easy to think that Web domination awaiteth for Facebook, but not without first asking  why Facebook Connect will be more succesful than FriendConnect.

The fact is that Facebook has many more mainstream ‘non techy’ users, who would adopt and use the Facebook connect features way before they would move to something else, which suggests its use would grow faster – and at the very least that the two will be competing head to head.

The potential of Friend Connect for companies was discussed by Jeremiah Owyang in a post entitled “What Facebook Connect means for corporate websites".

Facebook Connect will allow corporate websites to authenticate, interact, and share with their Facebook network – all without leaving the corporate website. Boring, static corporate websites can now become social.

Corporate websites now don’t need to create a community, they just need to tap into an existing one and aggregate users from Facebook. Facebook’s press release also discusses the possibility of creating more meaningful and useful applications based on specific corporate websites.

Because Facebook would now be present on any website and any blog, users activities across the Web can also be imported into their news feeds. As pointed out by Om Malik, if you comment on a blog for example, you are telling Facebook a lot about yourself.

You are essentially telling Facebook’s proverbial brain what topics – blogs or specific posts – you like to engage with. In other words, you just told the system a little bit about yourself. Now imagine such information coming from dozens of Facebook Connect partners.

Facebook Connect doesn’t just socialise the Web, it makes Facebook a central identity aggregator across all websites – whether they be government websites, the blogs your read, your employers site or your favourite online store. Om Malik is right in saying this is a version of Beacon that users will opt in to. It will offer a huge amount of information for advertisers (just think what would happen if combined with Google’s idea for FriendRank) but it also raises some serious questions about security and privacy.
Thanks to Rafiq for sending me the links, and to quote him directly “holy cr*p, this is huge…it changes everything”.

Update: In my excitement I became slightly overzealous in my word choice, so must apologise and highlight that Facebook Connect wasn’t launched yesterday, rather just anounced, as it will be rolled out in the fall.

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