Google Connects With 'Friends': Facebook Gives Cold Shoulder

Article ImageBoom, boom—boom. On May 8, 2008, MySpace introduced Data Availability. On May 9, Facebook Connect was announced. Then 3 days later, Google Friend Connect showed up on the "open social web" scene. Friend Connect lets websites grow traffic by adding social features simply by adding a few snippets of code—no programming necessary. Social features are chosen from a catalog of widgets on the Friend Connect website that enable an end-user website to engage more people.

Google Friend Connect bypasses the barriers to a site offering social applications, such as the cost of programming and the idea that people get tired of creating new profiles and friend lists all over the web. The hope is that this new service will encourage visitors to spend more time browsing because websites will be more engaging. Users will be able to enjoy and share their favorite features, such as pictures, ratings, reviews, and other social gadgets, with their friends on any site with Friend Connect’s service, across the web.

For example, on a cooking site, visitors could review a recipe and comment on it, or add a recipe to a social recipe box that appears across multiple cooking sites. Or, on an academic site, visitors could discuss and review articles with colleagues or others, and then develop connections with new visitors who have insightful postings.

"One good attribute of Google Friend Connect is that it is less user centric than the initiatives of MySpace and Facebook," says Caroline Dangson, research analyst for new media and entertainment at IDC.

Users just have to sign in using a pre-existing Google, Yahoo!, AOL Instant Messenger, or OpenID account. Then they can invite existing friends from social networks such as MySpace, Google Talk, hi5, orkut, Plaxo, and others to join in.

Right now site owners can sign up for a preview release by filling out a form on the Google Friend Connect website. Mussie Shore, Google Friend Connect product manager, who is also the narrator of the movie that explains the service, says they’re going to keep things pretty limited at first so they can gather feedback from site owners, developers, and users: "But, in the weeks ahead, we’ll be reaching out to more site owners and adding more social apps to the gallery."

Is everyone happy with the possibilities of this new service? In Facebook Developers News, developer Charlie Cheever wrote that they’d now had a chance to evaluate Friend Connect:
[We] found that it redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users’ knowledge, which doesn’t respect the privacy standards our users have come to expect and is a violation of our Terms of Service. Just as we’ve been forced to do for other applications that redistribute data in a way users might not expect or understand, we’ve had to suspend Friend Connect’s access to Facebook user information until it comes into compliance.

Dangson offers a different view:
Facebook realizes that by opening up to Google, it loses control over users’ social data. Facebook is not participating in Google’s OpenSocial initiative for this exact reason and probably figured out the Google Friend Connect is no different—Google wants and needs social data to enhance its services and sell more advertising. Facebook is not about to hand over this pot of gold.

In general, IDC believes these moves by the major internet players to be more open and ‘play nice’ with each other are really just competitive moves between MySpace, Facebook,Yahoo!, and Google to own user data over the long run. Now that users can carry around their profile and contact lists to other websites, they will rely more heavily on the original site where they stored most of this data as their universal login account. Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo!, and Google are fighting to reign as this central account for Web users.

Other analysts have similar views. Looks like Facebook won’t "connect" with Google. But a good many others may.