Facebook Connect – what’s the big deal?

Facebook has a major initiative underway to promote their Facebook Connect concept to independent web developers and content providers. They (FB) hope it will help bring them world domination by locking in control of the platform that provides social network (“social graph” in their terminology) information to and for everyone regardless of what site they visit. Google, Yahoo, MySpace, Microsoft and a few others in the industry are very concerned by this and promote their own mechanisms to accomplish the same thing.

Who will win? No-one knows.

Who cares? Not many “regular” folks.

Why not? Because Facebook, in spite of their size, their talent pool and their marketing wizards can’t yet explain their platform in any way that makes sense to people. I keep trying to get a good handle on it and fall short. If I was pushed right now I might be able to recall a feature or three of the platform. Natalie has been reading about it as well and also scratches her head. We are a pair of bright (no snickers) people who are heavily invested in understanding this concept and we are still somewhat in the dark. Big companies with lots of resources can obviously still make a mess of explaining a technical concept. I don’t feel as bad about my past sins in this area…

The dangerous part of this is that, in my moments of clarity around this topic, I’ve figured out that this concept is very important to FundRazr and I’m worried it will get ignored because people don’t “get” it. One of my key contentions is that people don’t want to go to multiple web sites to manage different parts of their social life (as opposed to their business life). They would prefer to have that information brought to them in the place where they already spend their time for one reason or another. They also don’t want to maintain yet another login account and all their personal information and social network connections in more than one place. I personally hate keying in all my details over and over to multiple web sites and I think others share my resistance to this requirement.

So what is Facebook Connect and why is it important to us? Connect is a set of APIs that, with a user’s permission, allow independent software vendors like us to request a user’s social network information from Facebook and use it to enhance the behaviour of our applications.

To see how this might be helpful, imagine that we have enabled our FundRazr portal site to use Facebook Connect and one of our users wants to log onto our site to manage their team. They would log in using their Facebook credentials and not have to establish a separate “account” with FundRazr. When they are using the site, they can post messages to their friends (on Facebook) directly from within our site. For example, the user could send a note to a team member about processing a credit for fee refund because of a broken leg. The team member would get the note via email and also as a message on FB. The user wouldn’t have to know the team member’s email address to make this happen (good for privacy).

The user could also write a note to the whole team and to fans of the team from our web site and it would be posted and delivered through Facebook. No-one would have to come to our web site to see this information although they could if they wanted to. If the user wanted to comment on an article on FundRazr.com about the effectiveness of various fundraising tips & tricks, they could post it on our site and it would be copied to Facebook and shared with their friends via the News Feed. Our user could also search for other posts on our site and specify that they only want to see information posted by their Facebook friends.

What this really does for us is it allows our applications to be more seamlessly connected with the Facebook platform and experience. The line between Facebook and FundRazr blurs to the benefit of the users.

Given its market dominance, Facebook is a natural leader in the industry and the likely candidate to provide this service IF they can get some traction with Facebook Connect. If they don’t, we’ll be able to develop for one or more of the other standards and may do that anyway to expand our market dominance. However, it would be very helpful if FB Connect takes off right away as focusing on one platform will reduce our development costs.

Advisors – any comments on this topic?

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