Meebo Rallies Open Posse to Battle Facebook

Web publishers want to do anything they can to encourage users to share their content, so they often end up throwing up way too many tiny icons to connect to other social sites — Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, Google Buzz. See the pictured screenshot from ClearSpring’s AddThis, which can also include options for the long tail of sharing sites including Arto, Aero and Blurpalicious. Some people call this logo overload the NASCAR problem of the social web.

But do we really need the option of sharing on so many random services? What if those sharing widgets had a bit of intelligence about what a certain user already prefers, and just showed her the options she’s likely to use? That’s the aim of a new open platform called XAuth that’s being released on Monday by Meebo, with the support of Google, Microsoft, MySpace, Yahoo, JanRain, Disqus and Gigya.

XAuth detects whether or not a user is logged into a service, or has recently done so, by looking at his browser history by checking for a local XAuth token left using the XAuth JavaScript API. Then a publisher can prominently display those preferred social networks and communication sites, in the hope that seeing their favorite logos will make users more likely to connect and share.

The tool will clearly be useful for Meebo, which offers a service to encourage sharing called the Meebo Bar that runs alongside the bottom of hundreds of sites, reaching an estimated 120 million users per month. But XAuth could be all the more useful if many web services choose to use the same code, which Meebo plans to open-source and place under the care of the Open Identity Exchange or the OpenID Foundation. It’s promising that so many large web services have already signed on, if only for the inaugural press release.

However, Clearspring is absent from that list of partners, as is Facebook, which would prefer that everyone used Facebook Connect. Facebook is expected to launch its own sharing toolbar that would compete with Meebo’s as early as this week at its f8 developer conference in San Francisco.

I think visiting a web site that knows I’m logged in elsewhere could get a little creepy. Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg said that XAuth won’t know anything about a user’s email address or login, and that it’s a way to pass data around with privacy restrictions and white-listing intact. Further, he said, XAuth could be extended in ways that make it more worthwhile for users. For instance, if you were reading an article on a newspaper’s site, it might be nice to see a feed of your social gaming activity pop up, alerting you to head back to another site to resume playing.

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Meebo is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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