Web 2.0 Single Sign-on Update: Federating Friends with Facebook Connect and Google Friendconnect

Watch out for This Web 2.0 Transformation Driver

Facebook ConnectWeb 2.0 sites provide rich functionality and interactivity, but these have come with a significant tax: users need to create credentials and profiles in order to log in to each site, and this is frustrating and reduces interactivity. Users think, “Why can’t we just have one login!?” (i.e.,”single sign-on” or “federated identity”). In 2009, Facebook launched Facebook Connect (FC) while Google offered Google Friendconnect (GFC) which are significant steps toward Web 2.0 single sign-on—with some interesting wrinkles.

google_friendconnectAt some levels, FC and GFC are quite similar, but they are starkly different in other ways. However, these offerings are one of the most important Web 2.0 milestones of 2009, and here I’ll discuss their far-reaching implications for businesses and people. As I will argue, they are major transformation drivers in the next phase of Web 2.0 maturity, and they offer individuals and companies exciting new opportunities and threats.

Opportunity #1: Addressing Users’ Login Frustration

google_friendconnect_gtw20This happens to me several times a week: I read a news story, blog post or some other content, and if I want to interact in some way (this becomes second nature on Web 2.0 sites), I must create a login for that site. Often, I just navigate away because it’s not exciting to create additional identities out there that I must ultimately manage. Enter Facebook Connect and Google Friendconnect, which offer users the choice to log in with their credentials, so users don’t have to create additional logins. Google and Facebook offer APIs that any website can invoke. Facebook and Google have hundreds of sites that offer logins this way. As more sites put FC and GFC on their sites, users will have fewer logins and interact more.

Opportunity #2: More Sociality for Individuals

When you log in with GFC, it is broadly analagous to becoming a (Facebook) fan of that site. To use GFC, you create a username and password, along with some other information and a photo (optional). When you see a site that offers a login with GFC (“join this site”), you can sign in, which also means that other GFC members who are also fans of that site can see you and interact with you if you let them (based on the information you have provided GFC). Let’s say it is a website dedicated to something specific like transfer pricing; it might be interesting to interact with some other members. Depending on what GFC options that site has included, you can leave comments and have conversations with GFC. At a basic level, it can make any website more social.

In addition, Google just announced an alliance with Twitter, so comments you make to a site you logged into with GFC can be automatically published to your Twitter stream if you want.

Facebook Connect is a similar idea, but it is more profound in its implications. If you log in to Yelp with FC, all your Facebook Friends who are also on Yelp can interact with you. If you contemplate writing a review of a restaurant, your Facebook Friends can automatically see it. Even more powerful, if you haven’t gone to the restaurant yet, log in to Yelp with FC, and see reviews written by your Facebook Friends (as well as other Yelpers). In effect, FC enables you to take your friends anywhere. Your social graph becomes ultra-portable. Your trusted friends will be increasingly available to advise you at the point of planning/purchase. The same thing for CNN.com; if you would like to comment on a story on the Copenhagen summit, you can also see what your Facebook Friends are saying.

Oportunity #3: Website Owners Can Become a Destination

facebook-connect-diggGFC is a light-weight way to give any website a few key social functions. It is absurdly easy to set up and, knowing Google, it will become more feature-rich quickly. It is a way to make your site more sticky. However, it offers loose ties because Google doesn’t know who your friends are, it’s not a social network. Google certainly has the chops to begin suggesting sites or friends to you, based on your activity, but that would be relatively far in the future.

Facebook, by contrast, offers you that now. FC is much more difficult to set up on your site, but it can offer much tighter connections (these are your Friends), and your site becomes far more sticky. BTW, when you interact with a partner site (which offers FC), you can opt to share that interaction (i.e. comment) with your Facebook Wall, automatically. So for website owners, it’s a qualified plug for come content on your site.

Disruptive Ideas

  • Think about this: Facebook went from 140 million users in December 2008 to over 350 million in December 2009. Facebook does have a trust problem with a vocal contingent (the most savvy) of its members, so that will serve to slow adoption. However, if you have 300 Facebook Friends, many share your interests. As they sign up for FC, their interactions help advise you as you traipse around the Web. This puts your friends in your iPhone, ready to help. Many (older) people still don’t trust “reviews” from strangers, but if the review is from someone you know, it can be very powerful. This makes friends actionable.
  • If you are a business, that means that reviews will become far more powerful in influencing buying decisions, and this power will be pervasive.
  • Facebook also gets something huge out of this: when you log in with FC, Facebook knows where you’ve been on the Web, and how you’ve interacted. This enables Facebook to understand you far better, and you become a far better target for advertisers. Facebook has a spotty record on privacy, so this is why I don’t use FC yet.
  • In researching for this post, I unearthed this tantalizing hypothesis: GFC and FC could become mechanisms to reintroduce micropayments on the Web. During Web 1.0, micropayment failed because the administrative tax was too high. Google already has Checkout, and Facebook is working on a payment system. Want that journal article for $4.95? In the past, you had to create a login, dig out your credit card… too much hassle, so those schemes failed. More on this.
  • FC criticism often takes the form of, “I don’t want my Facebook Friends popping up on the Web.” That is easily remedied, all Facebook has to do is enable Friend Lists with FC, so you could create a subset of your Friends with whom to interact on FC.

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