Connect is the opening of the walled garden for Facebook's 120 million users, letting users sign in to other Web sites with their Facebook user names and passwords and share what they're doing with friends.
Remembering that MySpace.com announced its own Data Availability effort, Facebook announced Connect and Google hinted at Friend Connect within a week of each other in May, I wrote on Monday about the likely responses to Connect's launch:
"In the meantime, my guess is MySpace and Google will accelerate their data portability efforts very much the way the three companies all scrambled to announce them back in May. Expect to hear more from both vendors in the next few weeks (or months, eek)."
It turns out that Google pulled the trigger sooner than expected, launching an open beta for Friend Connect today just hours before the official unveiling of Facebook Connect, as TechCrunch detected today.
Like Facebook Connect, Friend Connect enables data portability, but the two use markedly different mechanisms for data transport. Facebook Connect uses its own proprietary technology to enable users to sign into sites such as Digg and Hulu with their Facebook IDs.
Friend Connect is based on the trendy open-source OpenID standard and lets Web sites accept a member's OpenSocial user name and password to log into their sites, share info through a personal profile and so on. Because it leverages OpenID, Friend Connect lets you log in using an existing account from Google, Yahoo or AOL, which all support the single sign-on standard.
Some folks see the Facebook Connect-Friend Connect dichotomy as a new front in an old holy war: proprietary versus open source. They will suggest that Web site operators will need to choose a religion and imply that one may be better than the other. It may well turn out that way if the vendors won't play nice, but for now it's too early in the game to matter.
Do Web sites want to go proprietary (ooooohhhhh, risky) with Facebook, in which case they'll be forced to explain why they went for "closed" over open? Or do they want to maintain the illusion of openness and side with Google? Yes, I wrote illusion; Google is a monopolist and is no longer fooling anyone with the "Do no evil" shtick.
What, you didn't get the memo? That's right, Google was 3 hours shy of becoming the new Microsoft. The piety from the OpenSocial folks at Google is surely sincere, but stands out at a company so close to the edge of a credibility precipice.
So, in my mind, when considering Facebook Connect, Friend Connect or Data Availability, you need to consider what will work best for you, because the goal of all three efforts is to be open with other Web sites, even if they won't interoperate. Pick the one whose sites are closest to your interests.
Open-source geeks will side with Friend Connect and even Data Availability, driven by fear of the proprietary. I have to agree with VentureBeat's Eric Eldon that Facebook Connect looks like the safe bet in the early going. As he points out, Google has no social network to hang its hat on, while MySpace just isn't doing it for programmers.
Bottom line: I use Facebook and would have no problem using Facebook Connect. I also use lots of Google services and would have no problem using Friend Connect.
In a perfect world, Facebook Connect, Friend Connect and Data Availability would all interoperate. It would save us a lot of energy arguing and writing about proprietary versus open source for the social Web. Whether it's Windows versus Linux or Connect versus OpenID, OpenSocial, et al., the crusade is getting tired.
We have other things to worry about, no?