SAN FRANCISCO-Is Facebook close to allowing Google’s Friend Connect to work on its social network?
That’s the big question that came to mind after I spied David Glazer, Google’s lead engineer for OpenSocial, and fellow Google OpenSocial engineers Peter Chane and Graham Spencer at the Facebook F8 Conference here July 23.
Glazer and the others were attending a breakout session on Facebook Connect hosted by Facebook’s Dave Morin and Mike Vernal for a fraction of the 400,000 Facebook application developers who attended the one-day event.
Facebook Connect makes user profile information portable, allowing users to take their identity and friends with them to any third-party Web site, desktop application or device, while maintaining the privacy of users.
Google has already launched a similar service called Friend Connect, which Facebook promptly banned because the company said it violated its privacy rules. Friend Connect is based on the OpenSocial API Google created and donated to open source.
Facebook’s move sent up a big cautionary flag: If Friend Connect is supposed to exemplify the open Web, why ban it? It also underscored the delicacy of privacy issues, which both Facebook and Google take seriously.
I caught up with Glazer after the Facebook Connect session to ask him if Friend Connect works on Facebook yet and if there had been any progress on that front.
“Friend Connect does not work on Facebook today,” Glazer said. “Obviously, Google and Facebook are talking a bunch. You probably saw more than one Google badge here today. … So it’s a good ongoing conversation,” he finished, smiling slyly.
Clearly, Glazer was intimating that discussions about getting Friend Connect to work on Facebook were ongoing. It’s Wednesday now. How cool would it be if by Thursday or Friday Google and Facebook resolved their differences after meeting at F8?
No knock on Facebook, which put on a fabulously useful and top-notch event, but a Facebook hug of Friend Connect, or even a Facebook friending of OpenSocial, would be fantastic.
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Look, these two can slug each other in the face bloody over social ads. But before they get there, they need to open up the Web together and facilitate this “decentralization” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg so correctly preached multiple times today.
Glazer and the Facebook folks seem to be in agreement about socializing the Web, but that doesn’t mean there is a clear-cut right or wrong way to it. I asked Glazer to distinguish the Friend Connect and Facebook Connect approaches for me once again. He told me:
“The most obvious difference is Friend Connect lets you work with any other social information. Facebook Connect lets you work with Facebook. So whereas when you log into Friend Connect, you log in with any Open ID, from anyone on the Web, and you can use social information from anywhere in the Web. With Facebook Connect, you log in with a Facebook identity, you can use your Facebook profile and your Facebook friends. There are pros and cons to that, but that is a pretty significant difference. I think the other difference is, technically, how much of the core technology is based on open standards versus proprietary standards. That’s another choice. There are trade-offs to both.“
If you are like me at all (only half a conspiracy theorist), you will read that statement as a rather frank assertion that Google is more open with Friend Connect than Facebook is with Connect. Glazer won’t say that is bad, but he won’t say that is good. I asked him if this would be a problem for Facebook down the road. He said:
No. “Problem” is too strong a word. The dialogue will be, What’s the right mix of proprietary approaches and open standard approaches, between proprietary data and open data? All have the same strengths to respect the users’ privacy and respect the users’ wishes and let users do what they want and expect with their information. We’re all sharing those goals.
I say it’s bad for Facebook. At some point, the walled garden has to be razed. You can talk about decentralizing Facebook all you want, but until you level the playing field with open standards the way Friend Connect purports to do, you’re going to be kind of closed. But that’s just me.
The reason Facebook can make this work now is that it’s got 90 million users. That may be more than enough to propel Facebook Connect by itself, so Facebook may not care if it turns off a few open-source zealots.
Again, that’s just me mulling, not Glazer.