So our friends at the leading social networks -- MySpace, Facebook, and Google -Ã¢â‚¬â€œ are finally getting the idea that we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really want to spend all our online lives on their websites. Last week these three companies launched new plans to let us integrate our profiles on their networks with other sites we use. All three initiatives claim to be advancing us closer to the idea of the utopian open social web, where we can connect with all our friends on any network through any website. But how close are we?
Google's initiative here is the most interesting Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ and the most disappointing. Called Google Friend Connect, this initiative allows any website owner to, as Google's David Glazer says, "sprinkle a little social" on their sites (listen to the audio of the announcement, thanks to ReadWriteTalk). I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realize Ã¢â‚¬Å“socialÃ¢â‚¬Â was a noun, but I digress. Through some applications Google is developing and, eventually, other developers will be contributing, a website owner can paste in a little code on her website and voila! she can now have users post photos, add comments, and other social functions on her website (check out Google's demonstrations to see what I mean). Sounds kind of cool. And it's definitely great if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got a static site that needs some spice, and you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know a lick of code.
But there are a couple of key failings of this new plan.
First, you've still got to select your network. After Google announced Friend Connect, which originally was supposed to include your Facebook profile as a networking option, Facebook banned Friend Connect, saying it violates their privacy settings. So, if you put a Friend Connect application on your site, your users have to have a Google or OpenID account. If you want let people connect with their Facebook friends, you can't do it through Friend Connect.
The bigger drawback, however, is that there's no way to integrate the data from Friend Connect with whatever youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing on your site. At EchoDitto, we recommend using everything you know about your users to tailor your communications with them and their experiences on your site. But the really cool discussions that you might foster on your site, or information on the users who submitted photos to your contest, all of that will be inaccessible to you. And that doesn't sound very open.
The jury's still out on Google Friend Connect, which isn't even available to the public yet, as well as Facebook Connect and MySpace's Data Avaibility initiatives, so it remains to be seen how these programs will work in practice, or how quickly they'll lead us to that utopia of the open social web.