Google counter-volleys Facebook in social ID battle

Facebook this week launched Facebook Connect, a single-sign on service that lets Facebook users visting other sites, such as Citysearch and Digg, log-in using their Facebook credentials. Not to be outdone, Google also launched the beta of its Friend Connect service, which does much the same thing. Still, the two firms' strategies for the new competing services differ fundamentally, according to Plaxo's John McCrea. Where Facebook's iteration looks to improve the usefulness of Facebook, and just Facebook, Google seems to be trying to provide an easy way to spread social networking to the entire Web.

According to Facebook, the idea behind Facebook Connect is to make it easy to broadcast what you do outside Facebook back into Facebook:

For example, you can use Facebook Connect with the reviews website, Citysearch. You can easily log in using your Facebook account, and from there, you'll be able to interact with all of your Facebook friends. They'll be able to see some of the same profile information they can see on Facebook, which is fully controlled by your privacy settings. When you write a review for a restaurant, you'll have the option to publish that story back to Facebook, where your friends can see it, too. This makes finding your friends' reviews on Citysearch a snap.

Plus, Facebook Connect is built on the proprietary Facebook stack and the company has targeted only the biggest Web sites initially, including sites like Digg, Hulu and Citysearch. Google, on the other hand, has built Friend Connect on an open stack based on OpenID, OAuth and OpenSocial. As such, it can use login accounts from a variety of services, including Google, Yahoo, AOL or OpenID. Plus, it seems to be targeting smaller sites that are a bit less social Web-savvy. As McCrea explains it, Google:

"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 main difference? Focus. Whereas Facebook set out to improve Facebook, Google has set out to socialize the Web. The battle for social networking's hearts and minds is heating up. Both rivals seem to have plausible battle plans. But what's best for social networking--proprietary or open approaches? Let us know what you think is the best strategy.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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