Facebook Connect makes sense if you're ready for it
From the announcements that came out today, it seems Facebook and Google are taking the famous advice of Margaret Schlegel, the main character of E.M. Forster's "Howard's End." The phrase, originally an appeal to get in touch with one's inner passions, also seems like an apt marketing maxim for the new superaccount features that big sites are hawking now.
Today Facebook formally launched its Facebook Connect feature, which lets the social network's users easily log in to a limited but varied array of sites -- including Digg, CNN, CNET and HowCast -- using their Facebook credentials. Once you've done so, a sort of channel is opened between your Facebook account and the extra-Facebookian site. So for instance, if you log in to CitySearch and write a review of your new favorite Chinese restaurant, the review is also published to your profile so friends can see it -- so now instead of just strangers seeing your review, the people you know can get your thoughts too.
Although not all of the sites have friendly interfaces yet, you can imagine similar activity echoing from all kinds of sites -- news, culture, shopping, hobbies, online video -- the ultimate idea being that instead of just getting status updates and seeing your new photos, friends will be able to more closely track what you're doing online, and you'll be able to see what they're doing too. It's becoming pretty clear that using your friends' preferences as a way to cut through the Web's info glut is a winning idea. Odds are you're more likely to share their interests more than you would those of a random cross-section of the population.
At first, the idea of having all your activities monitored and beamed to your friends can feel a bit invasive -- and Facebook got creamed for a similar idea last year. But before you run screaming for the bunker, remember that there are thousands of sites that have been tracking our online behavior for years...
... and no one seems to mind all that much. In fact, the Big Brother argument starts to sound silly when you realize that Facebook's very existence is based on users sharing lots of personal information about each other all the time. If we really hated doing that so much, the site wouldn't have become one of the top properties on the Internet.
Google's new Friend Connect feature, which seemed to come hurriedly on the heels of Facebook's announcement, is supposed to be a similar feature. But if you play around with it (or just watch Google's snoozalicious video on its service), you'll see that where Facebook's system looks multifarious and flexible, Google just looks kind of generic. Google's obvious disadvantage is that it's not a social network -- a central meeting place where people go to mess around, look at pictures and comment on each others' profiles. Facebook draws users in and keeps them there, while Google is an outward-bound service -- you start off there, but always go somewhere else.
Still, no use in dinging anyone too much yet. This is just the beginning of this grand log-in experiment, the 2009 version of the Betamax-VHS format wars. And as everyone knows, those can go either way.
It is true Google likes beta though...
— David Sarno