Facebook essentially copies a bunch of services that are already available on the open internet — chat, e-mail, media sharing, profiles — for its 400 million active users. But it also provides tools to help those users interact with each other while they’re outside Facebook’s walls, and there are signs the company is ready to make those tools more open and more easily integrated into other websites and applications.
The social network has already seen great success with Facebook Connect, its authentication system other websites can use to let their visitors log in using their Facebook username and password, then leave comments or share items with their Facebook friends with a single click. They can also hop around between websites and apps without creating a new account at each stop.
Facebook Connect has certainly fueled the explosive growth of social interaction across hardware and software platforms, as it helps Facebook friends notify each other of their activities on other social websites, the movies they’re renting, or the high score they just got on their favorite iPhone game.
Facebook Connect was first announced in 2008 at F8, Facebook’s developer conference. The next F8 is taking place Wednesday in San Francisco, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to announce the next phase of his company’s plans to further extend its sharing platform during his keynote address.
The Facebook Connect system isn’t entirely open — a key reason for its existence is to feed social sharing traffic back into Facebook. But it has much in common with other emerging open standards like OpenID and OAuth. Most social websites use a mix of both Facebook and non-Facebook options to handle user authentication, and Facebook Connect is not fully interoperable with competing technologies.
But several recent events point to Facebook making its own platform work better with open technologies. Last year, the company joined the OpenID Foundation and it began partially supporting the technology by allowing users to log in to Facebook using OpenID credentials. Also last year, the company hired David Recordon, one of the key architects of OpenID and OAuth, and purchased FriendFeed, a website that aggregates people’s social activities. Soon after acquiring FriendFeed, Facebook released its Tornado sharing framework under an open-source license.
Facebook wouldn’t comment on any upcoming announcements when contacted for this story. However, outside developers remain hopeful that the company will continue to grow its sharing platform by making it work in tandem with other open technologies already in place.
Igor Pusenjak has incorporated Facebook Connect into Doodle Jump, the popular mobile game he co-created. Doodle Jump, which has over 3 million users on the iPhone and Android, uses Facebook Connect to allow players to share their high scores with their friends on Facebook. Pusenjak will be speaking on a panel at F8 called “Mobile + Social: Connecting the Dots.”
Pusenjak welcomes the possibility that Facebook could be moving towards open standards for user authentication like OAuth and OpenID by making them work better with Facebook Connect.
“Anything that can help reduce a number of passwords that need to be remembered and info that needs to be typed will both help the end users and small business,” he says in an e-mail. “Many people today are reluctant to create yet another account just to make one purchase.”
As if expecting such a development, the web-based chat site Meebo debuted its own entry into simplified authentication and sharing on Monday. It’s called XAuth, and it allows users to share links with their friends on some pretty large and powerful networks — Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and MySpace were part of the initial launch.
While Meebo says XAuth will eventually be released under an open source license, there are currently several unanswered questions about its design and its privacy implications that may hold it back.
As far as what else to expect from F8, there’s been some speculation that Facebook will provide its users with tools to better share their location. We noted this in March. Others may be anticipating this announcement, too — Google revamped its location-based search and advertising products Tuesday, and Twitter launched a new location-aware feature called “Places of Interest” at its Chirp developer’s conference last week. Both of these rely on users’ location data.
Twitter is actually an exemplar of how open standards can succeed in social sharing. The “Tweet This” buttons currently littering the web use OAuth to let people connect their Twitter accounts to whatever website or app they are using. Also launched at Chirp is @anywhere, a system web publishers can incorporate into their sites to make it easier for readers tweet and add followers directly from a website’s pages. It also uses OAuth.
Raffi Krikorian, the tech lead on the Twitter API team, says his company is active in developing the OpenID and OAuth 2.0 specifications. He thinks the broader adoption of open standards on the social web lead to better interaction between websites and third-party apps.
“We [at Twitter] want to make things more open, and more standard,” he says in an e-mail. “We want to make it easy for application developers to talk to us, and if that has a side effect of talking well with others, then that’s awesome.”
Krikorian is appearing on a panel at F8 that’s billed as a “Fireside chat about open technologies” on the social web. Also appearing on the panel are Allen Tom from Yahoo and Luke Shepard, Naitik Shah and David Recordon from Facebook.
Facebook’s F8 takes place Wednesday in San Francisco. Webmonkey will be at the show bringing you breaking news from Facebook and reactions from developers. Follow us on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook and subscribe to our Events category for real-time coverage.