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.
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.