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Summary:

On the surface, Facebook Connect seems to be yet another web ID system. Despite scant details, the system could help build a money-making advertising platform for the fast-growing social networking company. It could also help cement Facebook as a key component of the web infrastructure. Full details inside.

Facebook kicked off their second annual developer conference in San Francisco this afternoon with a keynote by founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The overproduced keynote, with too many words repeatedly incessantly, seemed like a lullaby sung by a nanny in a language alien to yours. There were some who compared Mark with Steve Jobs after last year’s presentation. Now, having watched the two weave their respective spells, I would say the comparison would be as exaggerated as equating the thespian abilities of Colin Ferrell with those of George Clooney.

These non-important and highly personal observations aside, I came away fairly impressed with what Mark & Company are doing with their Facebook Connect (FC) system. (The program launched today with 24 partners, and a press release. It will go into beta soon.) As a caveat, there is very little information available on how FC is going to work “technically.” Still, It seems Facebook has a much better chance of succeeding where Microsoft and othesr have failed. FC’s integration into services of partners like Digg and Six Apart makes it very clear that it is more than just a simple web ID system play.

In addition to offering a simple authentication method, FC allows granular social interactions to be embedded in non-Facebook services. If Facebook can work with its partners to build interesting use-case scenarios that go beyond simple sign-on, it is quite feasible that Facebook can out-execute Google, MySpace and everyone else with its ID ambitions.

Why? Because this is their one chance of building a monetization engine. The company makes no bones about trying to build a platform that allows it to offer branded advertising in a manner akin to Google’s Adsense. A simpler person (like yours truly) would call this a platform that serves ads for all occasions, reasons and seasons.

As I pointed out yesterday, Facebook Connect is the second iteration of the Beacon system and seems to be much less draconian and evil than the first version. Of course, it has been improved enough to become the underpinning of a highly effective advertising platform.

When you use Facebook Connect on a web service outside of Facebook, say Digg or Xobni, you are transmitting back “a little something about you” to the proverbial Facebook brain. I will use the example of the service built by Six Apart to illustrate my point.

If you visit a blog that is published using Six Apart’s Movable Type publishing system, you can leave a comment by using Facebook Connect for authentication of your ID. Your comment on a blog post can also be published to your Facebook account. This is fairly standard ID stuff.

However, it is the act of leaving a comment that is more important. You are essentially telling Facebook’s proverbial brain what topics — blogs or specific posts — with which you like to engage. In other words, you just told the system a little bit about yourself. Now imagine such information coming from dozens of Facebook Connect partners.

Each service adds a few more data points about you inside the Facebook brain, which is quite aware of your activities inside the Facebook ecosystem. The brain can then crunch all that information and build a fairly accurate image of who you are, what you like and what might interest you. With all that information at its disposal, Facebook can build a fairly large cash register.

In comparison with the Beacon system, this is almost benign. Beacon drew scorn & spit and my personal disdain, mostly because it sought to make commercial gains by compromising people’s privacy without giving them any choice. In comparison, the new system asks you to make a choice. By signing in to partner sites using the Facebook identity system, you are essentially saying yes and plugging into the Facebook brain. (I hope that Facebook and its partners learned from the mistakes of the past and make it very clear to their users how the system is going to work, and how their privacy/personal information will be used.)

At the post-keynote press confab (I skipped since I had to go see my doctor), when asked how the company will make money, Mark apparently said the company isn’t currently focused on monetization and will be looking to extend their platform’s reach. He doesn’t have to – if Facebook Connect works, the money will follow.

  1. Insightful, though I believe Facebook has enough information about its users just from crunching the actions we take within Facebook.

    We join groups, friend with people who fill their profile with things they like. Facebook is doing a fantastic job with the NewsFeed, which already shows that they can ‘target’ pretty well, heck they need not do anything special.

    Imagine measuring ads on control-groups and expanding them based on user clusters with highest CPM, etc. These are the sort of algorithms that don’t even need to know the actual topic/subject, they just do the math and cross it with the social graph.

    What’s more interesting with FriendConnect is how this weighs against things like OpenID. And, like you suggested, lets see some more exciting use-cases for the external site integrations.

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  2. i agree, this is better. there seems to be a clearer direction – as opposed previously shamelessly skewering eyeballs cuz you’re the best social utility in town (for the moment).

    (obv), how it’s all executed will be vital. fundamentally, getting the ‘granularity’ part is crucial.

    ahem **clears thoat** and finally. Mr Zuckerberg – the direction you’re heading in requires you to be more open…
    **coughs** Not just “philosophically aligned”.

    clearly getting in smart people has helped.

    good luck.

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  3. It always bothers me when technologies are launched with the positioning that the primary benefit is to the vendor rather than to the user. Google has, IMHO, done a good job of keeping the message, if not the tech, focused on user benefits.

    Yes, this is from a developer conference and no, I wasn’t there, but from your description, Om, the benefits to the user seem pretty marginal (now with your choice of logins!). Even worse, Colin Ferrell has to wipe the spit off before we’ll trust him again (and thanks for that image).

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  4. Well for starters, Colin Farrell is a much more complex actor than Clooney (who no doubt would agree), so now I am interested in hearing ‘Mark Zuccerat (PackRat nom de plume)in person.

    But I find it interesting that no one references the Firefox feature Ad Block Plus. A few wisps of this or that, without graphics, may catch my periphery; otherwise I am alone….with my FB pals. Their word-of-mouth is the only advertising I am interested in.

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  5. [...] On surface, Facebook Connect seems to be yet-another-Web-ID system. Despite scant details, the system could help build a money-making advertising platform for the fast growing social networking company. It could also help cement Facebook as a key component of web infrastructure. Full details inside. on surface, facebook connect seems to be zet-another-web-id szstem. despite scant details, the szstem could help build a monez-making advertising platform for the fast growing social networking companz. it could also help cement facebook as a kez component of web infrastructure. full details inside. [...]

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  6. “we are open and we want you to share” = “we really want everyone using facebook so we can control every transaction”

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  7. Not sure if this crossed Mark’s mind:
    Using FC, Facebook can infact enter into areas outside the US, where FB is not so popular (eg. India and China).

    Once FC opens itself up to other social networking sites in these regions, Mark might see a good influx of registrations into FB, thus allowing them to gain a foothold outside North America.

    But Om’s interpretation of this appears to bring out the long term monetization benefits using other social networks, anywhere in the world.

    I guess a year from now, we can come back and update this post with real life examples.

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  8. I strongly disagree that Facebook Connect will be a cash cow. The key difference towards Google is still intention. When I use Google, I’m showing my intentions here and now, and an ad might even be useful. When I’m on Facebook or another social service, you may know a lot about me, but I’m not in a buying mood and thus doesn’t pay attention to ads.

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  9. So much for Open ID, people are not as concerned as we would hope about their privacy, or what FB wants with our top ten friends & political affiliations, next it will be our credit card transactions. Time to delete my FB profile is nigh.

    Just like Beacon stepped over a few lines, and a few more toes – a few years before FB there was a concept called MATRIX which also received funding from the IAO. (We stumbled across this when doing a Matrix Search on Google). Ironically it got shut down due to serious public concerns that it invaded privacy. A few years later pops up friendly little FaceBook, amongst a now maturing Social Networking Market. Now our privacy can be handed over without hesitation, through a less intimidating ‘harmless’ interface.

    So much power in one place seems a little disconcerting. Shame the other Social Networks don’t clean up their act. Our lack of choice is a serious problem. Social Networking has yet to be reborn with consideration of more interesting use case scenarios for sure. Many scenarios exist that one generic greedy platform will not cater for. Not everyone wants to throw sheep at each other and tell some stranger in the CIA/IAO who his family and favourite friends are.

    Big Brother is not watching, he is digging, analysing, crunching and powering the all seeing eye which quite frighteningly sits on your dollar bill. God Bless America.

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  10. What happened to OPEN ID?! This is a nice way for FB to OPEN… , and us, their two fingers. As a wise Englishmen once said – lovely jubbly.

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