The Battle For The Single Web Identity

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I don’t know about you but my web experience is becoming a myriad of logins, usernames and passwords.  Some tools like iGoogle, and Netvibes bring everything into one place but ultimately that’s not solving the problem.  Microsoft identified this problem years ago and went about creating a service called “Passport”.  Although 90% of us have one of these Passport accounts (via Hotmail) it hasn’t been adopted by any other publishers.  Next up was Open ID.  To quote Wikipedia “OpenID is an open, decentralized standard for user authentication and access control, allowing users to log onto many services with the same digital identity”. What Open ID is not is a single password / username.  It’s much more technical than that and it scares a lot of people off.  Don’t by mean means write this one off though.  So who else is throwing their hat into the ring?  Well suprise suprise there’s Google and Facebook.  Where have we heard that one before!

So short of having a single username and password why else do we need a single web identity?  Read Write Web eloquantly put it, “this battle isn’t about ‘single sign-on’ – it’s about the payload that comes with it (friend networks, personal data, maybe more)”.  As we know the web has become an incredibly social experience and we don’t necessarily want to create a whole new group of friends everytime we sign-up to a new site.  We want one group of friends who we can share experiences and interact with across any site / widget / application etc.  To quote Kevin Marks, Developer Advocate for OpenSocial at Google ”Everything on the web is more interesting when it takes place with friends”.  Kevin Marks recently did an interview with Techcrunch on the social web.  It’s definitely worth a read.

So what’s in it for Facebook and Google?  For Facebook this is the second iteration of their Beacon system as Gig Om quite rightly points out.  The first iteration was one of Mark Zuckerberg’s biggest faux pas in what is becoming quite a large catalogue (see the lastest homepage redesign!).  Facebook are calling the second iteration Facebook Connect and in a nutshell it allows websites owners to allow people to log into their website using Facebook login credentials. The genius of this is that it instantly opens up a world of social options.  For example you can see which of your friends are already using the site, you can leave comments and interact with the community and crucially, this will all appear in your Facebook news feed.  This is good for the user at it enriches their Facebook experience and good for the website owner as it publisices their website in users news feeds.  Of course it’s great for Facebook  as they extend their reach across the web and increase their users interdependence on them  In addition from a commercial point of view they get a load more rich user data to mine and use to target people on behalf of advertisers.  Some of the sites already using Facebook Connect are Techcrunch, Digg.com, Mashable and Vimeo.  These aren’t just small sites, they have tens of millions of users.

Facebook Connect clearly makes a lot of sense for all parties involved as users have an established network of friends.  Google, on the other hand aren’t a social network and although most of us have a Google account for Gmail, iGoogle, Google docs etc, we don’t necessarily have a community that goes with it.  So what chance is there for Google Friend Connect? As we know you right Google off at your peril.  However, in saying that I’m going to do just that.  Although Google have integrated Open ID into their system, they simply don’t have the social back-end that say a Facebook have.  They have tried with Google Talk, Blogger etc. but it just doesn’t have the richness of data and friend connections that Facebook do. Sorry Google.

In an ideal world there would be one open source standard, that is what Open ID are campaigning for and they might one day get there.  At the moment though they are getting bogged down in politics (good article by Wired on this) and are already losing ground on Facebook.  For now, it’s a two way battle (Facebook Connect and Open ID are sadly not interoperable) and my money is on Facebook.  At the end of the day you have to look at the user need. Users want a single sign-on and the same friends across the web.  Facebook control that pot of data and that’s why they will win.

Lastly, why am I not using Facebook Connect on my blog? Well my PHP skills are somewhat lacking and although I tried and got it working momentarily it ended up crashing my site.  Any volunteers that fancy helping me, drop me a tweet.

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Who am I exactly? My name is Paul Mears, I live and work in London for Google (the search engine). I have an unhealthy interest in all things technological, particularly web design, affiliate marketing, and search marketing (of course)!

One Comment on "The Battle For The Single Web Identity"

  1. The Boak says:

    Interesting points – I agree in the main. However, one key issue that you’ve missed out is security. Tying multiple access points in one solution means that if the login details become compromised for that one central login, there’s an awful lot of data available to the would-be hacker. IT Pros are the early adopters in these areas, and tend to lead a lot of web behaviours. Security is a key concern for them, and until multi-layered protection can be built in, they’re unlikely to go for it en masse. Unfortunately, multi-layered protection means re-submission of details for different areas, which means we’re back to square one. Perhaps the answer is security where users can tailor their own settings i.e. access to certain logins with one password, then others with another…?

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