I Got ID

Ever since the WWW came online, the consumer web has pwned the enterprise web.

The consumer web is the ‘tubes at large, with all its content, bells and whistles, networking, gradients, rounded corners and flashing lights. The enterprise web is the intratubes, erm intranet, inside the corporate firewall, hidden from outsiders and often from insiders.

There no comparison really, and for good reason. Web development inside the firewall, doesn’t have the audience and therefore, the need to be as bleeding edge, and even if it were better, very few people would ever know or care.

Now, the enterprise finally gets one back from its older sibling.

Inside the firewall, we know who you are, and you’ll only ever need a single set of credentials.  LDAP provides an easy way for new web apps inside the firewall to authenticate who you are. No fuss, no mess and no need for a new account on every single new 2.0 web app that you want to try.

Not so on the consumer web, where your identity is fragmented and your data live inside walled gardens.

This week a few interesting lines have been drawn between two competing credential management systems, i.e. OpenID and Facebook Connect.

OK, so OpenID isn’t a single system, it’s a standard, and there are many providers. OpenID generally suffers from confusion among users, but it works. And the logic is sound, i.e. you control and manage your credentials, how they are used and by which sites.

If you use OpenID, you have some measure of data portability and control, and ideally, you can scrap the password.txt file you use to keep track of all your accounts. I said ideally, not practically though because the onus is on sites to uptake OpenID.

OpenID has gained momentum lately with big names like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google supporting all or pieces of its standard.

But beyond the benefits of single sign-on, data portability is another highly desirable and highly charged hot button topic on the consumer web. Data portability means you take your profile, its attributes and your network of friends with you wherever you go online.

If it’s not already, this is where it gets murky. First you have an open standards body, DataPortability. Then, you have three (for now) services that seem to provide data portability, MySpace Data Availability, Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect.

Let’s look at MySpace first. As part of the Data Availability feature, they also announced they plan to implement OpenID and possible become a provider. They also belong to OpenSocial as a founding partner and as a container, and Google’s Friend Connect is built on OpenSocial APIs.

So, MySpace is all over the place, without a really clear plan on how these potentially competing services coexist. This week, they were mentioned as the catalyst for the Flock+Vidoop partnership that produced the in-browser OpenID management extension for Flock.

Incidentally, I’m wondering if that extension works for Firefox; it should since Flock is basically Firefox at the core, and the extension is just an .xpi file. Still, I’m a bit scared and don’t feel like recovering a borked FF instance. If you’ve tried this, let me know in comments.

Now for Google. Google’s OpenID implementation came under fire when it was announced, and they quickly clarified. On the data portability front, Google Friend Connect uses the OpenSocial APIs to allow you to add social features to your site. If you have a Google Profile, you can use it; you can also cross-pollinate with your Orkut and Plaxo profile and networks.

Want an example? Look to the right. Rich has implemented Friend Connect here. Eddie also added it to OraNA.

This doesn’t seem terribly useful, but it definitely flies in the face of Facebook and to a lesser extent FriendFeed by building a network around content, instead of adding content to your network.

And now for Facebook.

Facebook wants to be a walled garden, and Facebook Connect is further proof. Initially, Google included Facebook as a service to which you could cross-pollinate Google Friend Connect information, but Facebook quickly banned it as a violation of their terms.

This isn’t that surprising, really. Facebook has the most users now, and they need to monetize in a hurry. But before TechCrunch announced they were going to implement Facebook Connect, I didn’t realize how broad Facebook’s reach was.

Facebook Connect allows you to 1) login to another site with your FB credentials and 2) cross-pollinate your activity with your News Feed. Seems pretty benign and possibly useful.

However, I don’t think Facebook plans to support OpenID or any data portability initiatives. They want to keep your data inside the walled garden, which is good business. The more they know about you, the better they can target advertising at you. Sure, Beacon was a failure, but Friend Connect, done right, could be even better at pitching you.

The big question is do you care?

Most of the voices against the walled garden are early adopters in favor of an open web, i.e. OpenID, DataPortability, etc. Or they’re the voices of Facebook’s competition.

Facebook is definitely mainstream now, and as people build networks of real friends, they will strenghten their position as the de facto social network. Sorry MySpace.

As people join and realize they can use their Facebook credentials in other places on the ‘tubes, Facebook’s position will improve.

Frankly, I don’t think a mainstream user of the ‘tubes cares about open standards or data portability or monopolies for that matter. The opposing coalition will continue to play catch-up until they can offer value that trumps Facebook.

This stuff is interesting to watch, and it will shape the ‘tubes of tomorrow.

Sound off in the comments.




  1. I can't keep up anymore.

    I don't care one way or another anymroe. I like facebook becase it's allowed me to find people I haven't seen or talked to in 20 years. I like google and all it's tools that seem to become more integrated by day. Should it be open(ish) like google or the walled garden like facebook? I don't care. I just like the fact that they both allow me to stay in touch with old friends and meet new ones online.

    I wish this was around growing up though; HI, NE, AZ, MS, CA, FL, CO and FL.

  2. Yeah, your view is shared by the majority of people, which is precisely why I think Facebook has the advantage here. It's dead simple and not confusing.

    Not that this is good IMO, but it definitely looks like the prevailing trend to me. Facebook looks a lot like the new Microsoft to me, which may not be an accident. Microsoft was an early ad partner and now owns a hefty stake.

    Wouldn't that be a fun end game for Google?

  3. So, dude will you be sharing your comments and activity from sites where you use FB Connect with your FB News Feed, e.g. if you comment on TechCrunch or CitySearch, will you choose to cross-post it to FB?

    Just wondering, since beyond the identity piece, FB's play is about bringing in content (and learning about you) too.

  4. the advantage I see to the OpenID play over the FB play is with the profile portability. I want to own my network (and it's sub sets – work friends, old HighSchool and College Friends, Family etc) and bring that anywhere I go rather than rebuilding it each time I find something interesting. FB doesn't want me to do that and that's one way the keep me in their walled garden.

  5. You're talking about data portability, which is another major component of the open web. Google has been pretty supportive of the open web so far with OpenSocial, Friend Connect, OpenID support. As you say, FB is not and won't be.

    The problem is that FB has critical mass, and the average user doesn't care about open vs. closed web, walled gardens, any of that crap. Look at AOL and Microsoft for examples.

    There's room for both, but for how long?

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