Does the world really crave a more social web? Judging by the mixed response to this week’s rollout of Facebook Connect, the answer is a definite maybe.
Facebook Connect enables users of the social networking site to port their account information, photos and links to their friends from Facebook to high profile sites including Digg, Discovery.com, Hulu, Twitter and StumbleUpon.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), MySpace and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) also announced similar plans earlier this year, all of which will utilize open standards. Facebook’s platform is proprietary, which some see as counter to the open nature of the web.
“It’s a shame that Facebook seems unwilling to entertain even the notion of using open standards despite making a show of participating with the rest of the community through the DataPortability project,” said Chris Saad, co-founder of the Data Portability project.
“Facebook Connect is much like Microsoft’s Passport/Hailstorm project from a number of years ago. It’s an attempt to provide a proprietary single sign-on for the Web. The advice I’m hearing from the marketplace is that people don’t want any of the social networking silos to own the social Web. OpenID is a key building block towards an open data portability ecosystem that will rival Facebook in both size and scope,” says Saad.
The stated goal behind the initiative is to provide an extra social layer to Web sites that opt to use Facebook Connect. Users would, for example, be able to log into Hulu and see what videos their circle of Facebook friends enjoyed, or easily discover the stories their buddies found particularly interesting on the San Francisco Chronicle’s site.
What’s in it for Facebook and Web sites that deploy the Connect platform? The most likely scenario is the ability to target advertising far more effectively. The more a company knows about peoples’ likes and dislikes the more successful their advertising efforts are likely to be.
That said, the business and marketing world is hardly in an excited tizzy about Facebook Connect.
“It’s significant in that the walled garden is slowly coming down. But I don’t think it’s particularly significant to most business people,” said Debbie Weil, a social media consultant based in Washington D.C.
“As far as business value, we’re still at the very early stages. As always, I think technology and the early adopters are way ahead of what typical business users would do. I think this is completely beyond them. It’s a technical advance that’s not terribly significant yet in terms of how business is approaching social media,” Weil added.
Expanding Facebook’s reach
Greg Sterling, founding principal at Sterling Market Intelligence, believes that Facebook Connect is more about building a powerbase than monetization right now.
“It expands the reach of Facebook more broadly across the Internet and though these participating sites,” Sterling said. “A business model may follow.”
Mike Gotta, an analyst with the Burton Group, said Facebook Connect “strikes me as a way for people to start building applications to leverage the community capabilities behind Facebook. It’s a way for them to open up the walled garden a little bit, but it’s still under their control.”
According to documentation that Facebook has released for Connect developers, users will be able to control their personal information and how it is shared across connected sites. But some wonder whether removing the separation between personal and private lives is a good thing.
“My concern here is if I am receiving business related e-mail and am also seeing pictures of people partying on their social networking sites. Do people really want to combine those two worlds?” said Gotta.
Weil admitted that she’s “sometimes turned off by how interconnected things already are … I don’t want to share everything.”
Others believe that most Internet users really do want to be able to socialize everywhere they surf.
“Everything is better when it is social,” said Saad. “More importantly though, everything is better when it is personal. Your personal preferences, interests and connections help to shape your online experience from news reading to productivity applications. Open standards based data portability makes that possible.”