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Summary:

How important is Facebook? Very, and not in ways you and I realize. Sure you can see status updates and photos of your friends. What really is indispensable about Facbeook — its ability to glue the web together. I found that out the hardway.

facebookconnect

I have had better days. I woke up to the sound of a hailstorm beating my bedroom window to a pulp. I saw the weather gods, in a passive aggressive mood, pelt San Francisco with sleet right at the time I go for my early morning walk. And if that was not enough, I had emails from three friends letting me know that my Facebook account had been hacked and hijacked. 

I emailed Facebook support, who quickly killed the account after confirming that it was really me who was requesting it be shut off. And then I emailed their PR department to see if other folks were hacked too. After all, if that was the case, it would be a story.

Nope, it was just me who was on the receiving end of the machinations of someone who clearly doesn’t like me — this person emailed TechCrunch Tips, who kindly let me know what had happened.

So much drama! It should have made me very angry — but it didn’t. I was embarrassed because a lot of friends, family and colleagues who make up my Facebook network were now exposed to an impostor. The breach of my account made me take stock of my Facebook usage. It is a lot less than it used to be. And almost always, it is inside the Facebook mobile apps — whether on Blackberry, Android or iPhone.

I scan through the photos of my friends, catch on updates about their babies, their relationship (or lack thereof) statuses and most importantly, birthday dates. I rarely do updates or share links, though I do message people. And I can do these easily and quickly on the mobile apps, thanks to the use of notifications (on my iPhone).

But almost half a day without Facebook has caused an unusual pain — it has made me unable to log into several of the services that use Facebook Connect as a log-in mechanism — like the Bejeweled Blitz and Words Free — two games I absolutely love. Ironically, it was me living inside the future I had envisioned myself.

About two-and-half-years ago, I had pointed out that Facebook Connect was the single biggest move made by Facebook and it was one of the reasons the company would eventually be a winner. It’s essentially a system that enables application and web developers to allow web surfers to sign in to their services using their Facebook identities. Here is what I wrote then:

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.

And just as it is becoming the underpinning of a brand new money-making scheme, for its users Facebook Connect is the easiest way to connect to other web services. Taking a people-centric approach to the web, Facebook predictably has become a new Internet monster.
A day without Google, no matter how bad its critics say it has become, would make it virtually impossible to find things on the web. But a day without Facebook, is quickly making the web unusable. Sure, there aren’t any mission-critical applications that are using Facebook — but in the future there might be.
As it moves forward, and again transforms itself to subsume the communication functionality, I wonder how this control is going to manifest itself in our lives. In April 2010 we wrote about how Facebook was becoming the single point of failure on the web, thanks to its growing influence.

As a user, having your social self represent you around the web will at first be creepy but ultimately be useful. As one Facebook engineer put it to me today, “Imagine if you had one login for the whole web. That would be so sweet.”

Sweet, or sad. Eighteen hours after no Facebook, I know one thing is for sure — I don’t have access to my favorite casual games to make me feel better.

  1. Om, that’s lousy, and I’m sorry to hear it happened to you.

    I’ve been saying for a couple of years that logins via Facebook Connect and other outsource-your-account-management schemes are problematic for exactly this reason, especially for paid web services. As the Q & A page for my own (soon-to-launch) web service says:

    “We really don’t want people shut out of their CardVine accounts due to some problem with Facebook. So you have to sign up for CardVine the old-fashioned way and sign in with your CardVine credentials. If your Facebook account ever gets suspended, you’ll be thanking us.”

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    1. Ralph

      I agree and this is incredibly hard thing for folks to grok because FC is so damn easy. I think we now have more options but people still believe that they are getting a lot more from FC than anything. I today got an app with FC as the only login option. I cannot use it, and now they are pretty much useless and I will not write about them for that specific reasons.

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  2. Sorry to hear Om…
    Luckily, I’ve never believed in the “one sign-in for all thingy”. Have never wanted to give anyone – say nothing of a company – that much control.

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    1. Yup that is a good thing! I am sure I am going to feel the repercussions for a long time

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  3. Hi Om, I’m really enjoying your daily emails. Please keep them up. This one is particularly interesting. It’s ironic that one of the sites that has truly benefited from this paradigm was in fact created by the Quora co-founders. I believe the next set to truly take advantage of this is Votizen. Real identities translated online matter and pave a path toward building true online value, all thanks to the ubiquity of Facebook.

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    1. Semil

      Thanks for the kind words. While this isn’t the newsletter — mostly because dealing with it took my entire day. Anyway I think the real hurdle is when Facebook can build a system where there is security built in, despite the lack of it on the part of their customers.

      Anyway back to normal duty on Monday. Gracias.

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  4. https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/ejpepffjfmamnambagiibghpglaidiec

    problems pretty solved. i rarely ever use fb and never play games through fb. never understand why so many give so much to one silo. never a good thing in the long run.

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    1. What Geoff said. :)

      I know you laugh at me sometimes, Om, but since Beacon, Facebook sits in its own browser. Away from my personal email. Away from any online shopping activity. And I never use Facebook connect to sign up for any online service. I may have over 200 and some-odd passwords, but the more I keep things separate, the better I feel about not losing any additional functionality should one of these services go down or get hacked.

      Trust no one. ;)

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  5. Fred Snodgrass Friday, February 25, 2011

    “But a day without Facebook, is quickly making the web unusable.”

    I’ve never used Facebook and likely never will, yet the web is quite usable for me.

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    1. Fred

      We both have different usage behaviors and since I have to write and learn about many more, I get exposed to Facebook connect more often! I think it is a sign of things to come as Facebook connect is becoming pervasive.

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  6. Out of curiousity, how did your account get hacked?

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    1. KenG

      Sorry for slow response. I have no idea how it got hacked :-;

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      1. May be while FB was updating its privacy policy somebody searched for you in Bing using IE 6 :)

        Hope you are back on FB now.

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  7. I find this Facebook feature powerful too. But your example shows how this crumbles down. But there are many services that provide similar login feature. Twitter, Google, OpenID, Yahoo and I guess there are others.

    I for some time was thinking on how you can with your site/service tie all those multiple account on other networks to one account on yours. One thing to win from it is as with Facebook to import contacts but I think if used in right way it can be a security and alternative logins feature just for such cases. Like Google allows for same reasons asks for your mobile phone number so that it could send password changes in case of some problems to you directly.

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  8. On the day without Google it’s perfectly possible to find things on the Web (using e.g. Bing). So in fact day without FB is much worse in comparison.

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  9. Hi Om,
    Every time a major tech media web site (such as GigaOm or TechCrunch) proclaims a single app or website or protocol or technology as a “winner”, my engineer DNA says “single point of failure”. The big lesson here is don’t put all your eggs in one webapp doesn’t matter how compelling the vision that is projected to you by the marketing folks. The only robust architecture for the Internet is one which is based on open interoperable protocols, not on closed proprietary applications.
    I wonder how many times someone has to see this before this fundamental truth sinks in.
    Hope your account is re-instated soon. And hope you move off the single-point-of-Internet-failure known as Facebook.

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    1. Nitin

      THey say that convenience is what causes all sorts of problems — this is clearly the case.

      Anyway I think you have told me enough times that I listen to it. But I think it is app developers who need to give folks an option more than anything else.

      My account will be re-instated but between you and me, I am not likely to invest much in it going forward. If there is an option to use a login method, I am going to stick to an optional one.

      It has been a very long day and a very long week.

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  10. The solution to this is to have multiple points of signing in for an account. Facebook can be one of the providers in addition to google or yahoo or perhaps even twitter. Thus monopoly problem solved, and risk is also mitigated.

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