Facebook May 9 announced Facebook Connect, which allows the company’s almost 70 million users to port their identity and friends list securely to other Web sites.
Connect comes a day after MySpace unveiled Data Availability, which allows users to move data to eBay, Yahoo, Twitter and Photobucket, and a couple days before Google will announce its own data portability move, according to sources.
Facebook Connect will allow users to sync their Facebook profile securely with any partner Web site, though there are no partners yet, which means Facebook pulled the trigger simply because MySpace did and Mark Zuckerberg’s company doesn’t want to appear behind the eight ball.
Users will have the same kind of control as they have for applications that they can leverage on the Facebook Platform, meaning they will have total control of the permissions granted, dictating whether sites that agree to host Facebook data get to see basic profile information, including users’ pictures, names, friends and photos.
Users will also be able to make their friends lists portable, which is something MySpace stressed as important, too. Moreover, like MySpace’s Data Availability, users who make an update to their profile information will see those changes in a partner Web site.
Also, like Data Availability, Facebook Connect will be available in the next several weeks.
Questions for Facebook
But eWEEK has questions.
For example, MySpace is launching with four partners, so is Facebook launching with partners, or just throwing something to see if it sticks?
Also, what security method is Facebook using? MySpace is using OAUTH.
Will Facebook leverage OAUTH, OpenID or some proprietary security, which will go against the grain of standardization?
Facebook, which did not respond to eWEEK, will have to answer these questions.
Facebook told Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li, one of the analysts fortunate enough to get a briefing May 9, that Yelp.com could be one of the sites it is targeting.
“If I link my Facebook identity to my Yelp identity, I’ll be able to port over my profile, my content, my reviews,” Li wrote in her blog. “Also, I’ll be able to see if any of my Facebook friends are also members of Yelp-and be able to automatically have our friendships authenticated and visible on Yelp.”
So, clearly Facebook Connect is supposed to work like MySpace. What is unclear is how.
Also, days after Google declined to answer whether or not it would join MySpace’s Data Availability effort, Google appears set to announce its own take on data portability.
According to TechCrunch, Google will introduce May 12 Friend Connect, a set of APIs that lets OpenSocial members shuttle profile information from social networks into other Web sites. Ideally, users could move data from MySpace to other apps, perhaps even Google Apps.
TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington raises an important point: “The reason these companies are rushing to get products out the door is because whoever is a player in this space is likely to control user data over the long run. If users don’t have to put profile and friend information into multiple sites, they will gravitate toward one site that they identify with, and then allow other sites to access that data.”
The idea that the companies will hold any sway creates a nice competitive atmosphere, but the fact is that this is now table stakes; as Forrester’s Li points out in her blog, social networks are becoming like air, and companies will have no choice but to let users control the data.
Whether MySpace, Facebook or Google is first won’t matter. Users will demand, and vendors will have no choice but to supply.