Birth of the Social Web: Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect Now Available to All

December 4, 2008. Today may be remembered as the birth of the Social Web, as two major projects aimed at turning the Web social emerged from their restricted beta periods for general availability, Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect. Together, these two major events sound the death knell for the walled garden phase of social networking. Early reactions to the news are quick to frame this as a head-to-head battle between Google and Facebook, but the truth requires a look at the details, and I think something much more profound is happening…

First, the similarities. Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect share the same basic vision of the Social Web. Any site can become social, without having to build up its own social network. Users should be able to access those social features without having to experience the pain of usernames, passwords, uploading a photo, filling out a profile, importing an address book, and re-friending the people they’ve already connected with elsewhere. And, activity streams out to web-wide lifestream aggregators should become important engines of social discovery and growth for the site.

Now to the differences. One major difference between these two offerings is the technology under the hood. Google Friend Connect is built on the “open stack,” leveraging building blocks like OpenID, OAuth, and OpenSocial, whereas Facebook Connect is built on Facebook’s proprietary stack. A second difference is target market. Facebook has clearly focused on major sites, like Digg, Hulu, and CitySearch, and while simple implementations can be done with very little coding, most will involve a bit more complex development. Google, in contrast, has explicitly targeted the “long tail” of the web, sites that would never dream of writing their own social code; the focus of Google Friend Connect is to help these sites become social by cutting-and-pasting a few lines of javascript. The third major difference is one of strategy. Facebook Connect is all about making Facebook more useful to its users all over the Web. Google Friend Connect, on the other hand, is all about making the Web more social, with an approach that incorporates other social networks. For example, the current release integrates not only Orkut, but also Plaxo. (And recall that the earliest version also included Facebook, until Facebook shut that down.)

I’ve been playing around with Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect all along the way while these services were being carefully tested and refined prior to today’s formal rollout. I like them both, but see lots of room for improvement. But that’s to be expected; this is a major shift in how the Web will work, and there’s a lot of complexity under the covers. Today marks the birth of the Social Web, and we should expect to see lots of rapid progress for this newborn.

For those who haven’t checked out Google Friend Connect yet, I’m including a few screenshots…

Signing up via Google Friend Connect

Turning on Sharing to Plaxo

Signed in with a single click

Activity shows up in Plaxo!
My activity showing up in Plaxo

Oh, and you can check out the “Dive Bomber” site I used for these screenshots here.

Update: I just realized that I can now declare victory on the prediction I made for 2008, a prediction I made on December 6, 2007!

Update: The new episode of The Social Web TV is now up, with Joseph Smarr and I addressing the question, “Facebook Connect vs. OpenID?”:

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13 thoughts on “Birth of the Social Web: Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect Now Available to All

  1. [...] shows a 50 percent increase in engagement on websites that have implemented it. John McCrae had a good post about the announcements calling it the Birthday of the Social [...]

  2. [...] Mobile web grows two heads overnight [...]

  3. [...] Connect. These are two different ways of opening the social network. John (The Real) McCrea has a great article on these two services. ReadWriteWeb also has a great article (thanks Alex K for this [...]

  4. [...] And John McCrea sees it as the birth of the social web. [...]

  5. [...] entirely speculative. I’m very excited about these new connections (McCrea thinks this is the “birth of the social web”) but am also worried that the desire for growth and monetization will cloud developers’ minds [...]

  6. traderruss says:

    We are considering using either Facebook Connect or Friend Connect for our local search directory http://click2connect.com and I was hoping for some guidance from this article, but maybe I am missing something.
    It seems that an added advantage of using the Facebook Connect is the possibility of leveraging a widget in Facebook also.
    If we used the Friend Connect product, we would lose the Facebook widget integration power…or am I missing something?

  7. therealmccrea says:

    Traderruss,

    Probably the best way for you to decide which is best for is to check out some of the implementations out there. You’ll see that you can have a deeper level of integration with Facebook Connect (example: CitySearch). And you can see that it’s really easy to add signup/signin and commenting with Google Friend Connect. I suppose you could even do both. Which path is best for you depends on your site and your vision/strategy for going social. Expect lots of rapid evolution in this space, so if neither of these meets all your needs out of the box, don’t fret. Oh, and both teams are keen on feedback, so feel free to experiment and let them know what you’d want in future releases.

  8. Robert says:

    You can have a deeper level of integration NOW: but my money is definitely on the more open and the easier to integrate friend connect.

    They have a good relationship with developers, which effectively means that they will have an army of people working on developing gadgets for open social.
    Facebook is big, but the web is much BIGGER, and the possibilities are much bigger.
    Everyone is getting hung up on getting user activity into Facebooks walled garden, and the fact that with friend connect user activity can (if the user wants it go not only in one direction but in many!

    I have added Google friend connect to two blogs and my main project site; once there are some other “worthy” (I don’t mean big I just mean sites that interest me) sites with friend connect I can easily join and show my activity across all “my” (be they sites I operate, or sites I have a connection with) sites.
    That is (will be) distribution, distribution, distribution!

    The short sighted will choose Facebook connect. I think Facebook will re-join the bigger party in the summer of next year.

  9. [...] 12, 2008 in Uncategorized | Tags: Facebook, FacebookConnect, lukeshepard When I wrote about the launch of Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect last week, I tried to explain the similarities and the differences. One difference I suggested was ease of [...]

  10. [...] would-be futurists are compelled to publicly assert their predictions for the coming year. IMHO, I knocked it out of the park with my prediction for [...]

  11. [...] week’s simultaneous launches of Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect diverted attention from an equally important launch: [...]

  12. emina says:

    موقع متخصص بالصحف اللبنانية، العربية والعالمية

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