What bothers me most about Facebook Connect, which has gone live today after being announced earlier in the year, is its unfairness toward those sites which adopt it. Facebook gets the lion’s share of the benefits of the program, much like I’ve mentioned before. I worry Facebook is attempting to use its large user base to bend others to its own ends, which is not good for the future of the Internet.
A client website of Facebook Connect benefits from two main things: an easier signup process for Facebook users and, like a Facebook Application, access to basic information about the users social group. The value of these varies based on the client site, but, however useful they are, Facebook’s benefits are huge in comparison.
One worrying possibility is that, by harvesting data from the client site to power its own functions, Facebook may force users of a third party site to sign up for Facebook if they wish to share their activities on the client site with their friends. In addition to this, Facebook seems to gain a control point over the client site—does a site loose a significant number of users if Facebook decides to pull the plug? How plausible is it that Facebook could hold a site to (some kind of) ransom? Add to this the increasing view into your life Facebook gets—and stores on its servers.
MySpace, in contrast, has been embracing open standards such as OpenID and OAuth to power its efforts. Myspace’s use of open standards makes me more confident I would be able to select services to use based on their quality rather than that I am already locked into them. The corporate IT world is becoming more fearful of lock-in, but consumers have yet to experience the pain of being locked-in to a single vendor. I hope the lessons learnt by businesses will not have to be relearnt by consumers, but all the signs indicate they may need to be.
The biggest benefit of MySpace’s use of open standards is that one is not beholden to Facebook’s— or another company’s —beck and call, which I believe is an unsound foundation to build upon. Open and widely used standards also attract a greater community around them, which should lead to greater longevity of the standards. I just don’t buy a closed standard like Facebook Connect can lead to an all-boats-rise result.
Previous efforts of this nature, such as Microsoft Passport, haven’t taken root despite huge user bases. Facebook’s Connect offers benefits over the single sign in offered before, but time will tell whether it becomes integrated into the fabric of the Internet in the way it obviously hopes to be.