By Harry McCracken | Friday, December 5, 2008 at 12:35 pm
Google and Facebook have both rolled out new platforms designed to spread their tendrils across more of the Web than ever. The names–Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect–are similar. (Very similar.) So are the overarching goals, which is to let folks use login IDs they already have to sign into sites and manage friendships all around the Web. But the emphasis of the two services are quite different. And based on my wholly unscientific first impressions, Facebook Connect is more fully baked.
Google Friend Connect is pitching itself as an easy way for anyone with a Web site to add some community functionality in a hurry. (In that respect, it’s a competitor to Ning, which Technologizer uses to power our Technologizer Community.) It provides widgets for features such as Facebook-style Wall posts, user reviews, and finding and adding friends, and lets users of these features sign in with Google, Yahoo, AIM, or OpenID accounts. All of this involves pasting of code snippets into a site–it’s not much more tricky than embedding a YouTube video.
I sampled what it’s like to use Google Friend Connect by visiting a site called Go2Web2.0 that incorporates Friend Connect’s social networking. And I ended up…well, kinda confused. I clicked Sign In, and got this:
Google Friend Connect knew enough about me to decide that my Go2Web2.0 name should be HarryMcC, but it didn’t explain how it had figured that out; I’m assuming it’s because I was signed into Gmail at the time. Probably. But I’m not positive where the “HarryMcC” came from, since that’s not my Google Account user name.
I got more confused when I clicked an “Invite” link:
These are–I think–people from my Gmail address book who themselves have Gmail accounts (and therefore Google Accounts). But Friend Connect doesn’t explain that. And I have no idea why some of these folks are identified with full names, and others are just “David,” “Ryan,” “Neil,” and “Sparky.” I know multiple Davids, Ryans, and Neils, and don’t have a clue which ones are in this friend list. And as far as I can tell, this Invite dialog box provides no way to get more information about these people that might help me identify them (such as their e-mail addresses).
It also took me a while to figure out that Friend Connect would only let me sign in via Yahoo, AIM, or OpenID if I wasn’t signed into a Google service such as Gmail at the time. And I’m still not sure if there’s a way to sign out of a site powered by Friend Connect short of unjoining that site.
Even that Friend Connect signup page is a tad on the cryptic side–it provides surprisingly sparse information about the features that Web site proprietors can add via the service, and some of what it does mention is in the form of a video.
Friend Connect still looks like a good idea (if I wasn’t using Ning, I might well try it here) and I want to give it more time before coming to any firm conclusions. But so far, not all that good. Much of the stuff that gave me pause could, however, be fixed with more explanatory text.
My introduction to Facebook Connect, on the other hand, went swimmingly. Facebook’s Connect isn’t the no-programming-required everyperson’s tool that Friend Connect aims to be–actually, implementing involves a fair amount of complexity. And Facebook has signed up a bunch of brand-name partners: Citysearch, CNN’s The Forum, CBS’ The Insider, TechCrunch, and more.
Facebook Connect lets you sign in using your Facebook account on participating sites, and establishes a pipeline to pump information about your activities between sites. The example that Facebook founder Mark Zuckberg gives in his blog post does a good job of explaining the benefit: You can log in at Citysearch with your Facebook details, post reviews, and then choose to publish them in your Facebook feed as well. So I replicated it myself.
First, I logged in on Citysearch, wrote a review, and selected the “Publish this review to Facebook” option:
Facebook Connect confirmed that I wanted to publish the review to my Facebook feed, and gave me some options (including backing out of the process):
And the next time I checked my feed on Facebook, there was a link to the review:
Facebook Beacon bears some obvious resemblance to Beacon, the controversial social advertising feature that left some folks baffled to find that shopping transactions they’d made on other sites were showing up in their Facebook feeds. But Connect seems to go to extreme, extremely respectful lengths to ensure that you’ll never, ever accidentally send data to Facebook: I not only had to opt in to publish my Citysearch review, but had to opt in a second time. And I will opt in, since I’d rather review restaurants at Citysearch than on Facebook, but am tickled to have the opportunity to notify my Facebook buddies that I’ve done so.
In the long run, I hope that both Connects are hits for the respective companies behind them. For one thing, I don’t want to join umpteen social networks all over the Web, so extending the reach of the memberships I’m sure I’ll keep (including both my Google Account and Facebook) makes plenty of sense. For another, there’s huge potential in the basic idea of stitching together my activities at multiple sites into one tapestry of activities. But the bottom line for me as of right now is thst Facebook Connect provided me with some instant gratification, and Google Friend Connect didn’t…