Facebook to open the gates with 'Facebook Connect'

Hot off the heels of rival MySpace's announcement that it would be connecting its profile content with other social-networking sites, Facebook revealed its own plan for exporting data to other Web sites.

This post was updated at 1:56 p.m. PDT.

Social network Facebook announced Friday the debut of Facebook Connect, a new technology for members to connect their profile data and authentication credentials to external Web sites. It makes the company the latest major Web site to embrace the concept of data portability .

The formal announcement was made through a post on Facebook's developer blog by senior platform manager Dave Morin, who has been one of the company's most visible evangelists in the developer community over the past year. Facebook Connect will launch within the next few weeks.

Through Facebook Connect, members will be able to use their Facebook identities across the Web--profile photos, names, photos, friends, groups, events, and other information. Facebook profile content, for example, could appear on other social sites, and Facebook event listings could theoretically connect with external event and invitation services.

Facebook will handle the authentication process, and while privacy controls have not been made clear, the company has stressed that user security will be a priority. And there's reason to believe Facebook will be particularly careful: The company already partners with outside services to share data in its Beacon advertising program , and the PR missteps surrounding Beacon's launch are something that Facebook likely does not want to repeat.

It's a big move for the site. Until this point, Facebook has had a reputation for keeping its cards close to its chest--even banning the account of popular blogger Robert Scoble when he used a script to export his Facebook contact list to Plaxo. But Facebook has a representative in the Data Portability Workgroup , and executives have said that Facebook has wanted to bring its information outside the site eventually.

"These are just a few steps Facebook is taking to make the vision of data portability a reality for users worldwide," Morin wrote in his blog post. "We believe the next evolution of data portability is about much more than data. It's about giving users the ability to take their identity and friends with them around the Web, while being able to trust that their information is always up to date and always protected by their privacy settings."

"We believe the next evolution of data portability is about much more than data. It's about giving users the ability to take their identity and friends with them around the Web, while being able to trust that their information is always up to date and always protected by their privacy settings."
--Dave Morin, Facebook senior platform manager

Last month, Facebook started partnering with other social sites to pull external data into Facebook's "mini-feeds," displaying user activity from the likes of Flickr and Yelp on Facebook profile pages.

No partner Web sites for Facebook Connect have been announced yet, but director of platform Ben Ling explained to CNET News.com that "there's been a lot of partner interest." One partner, however, was displayed in mockups on Facebook's developer blog: social news site Digg.

The technical details also remain unannounced. "We're not announcing the details of the partner integration today," Ling said. "What we're announcing at a high level is that we will have a program that's built into partners large and small, and they will be able to access Facebook Connect."

Facebook kick-started the social-networking developer platform craze when it launched the Facebook Platform a year ago. But on Thursday, bigger rival MySpace made a big move when it opened its own profile content to outside sites --in a sense the reverse of Facebook's famous decision to welcome external developers onto its own site. Facebook representatives said Friday that there are now more than 350,000 developers from 225 countries developing for the platform, although one prominent programmer said earlier this week that he believes activity may be slowing .

Facebook has also held over 50 "developer garage" events in 10 countries, and Ling said that Facebook Connect will be discussed at future "garages."

One Facebook insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said to CNET News.com that the project had been in the works for quite some time, and said the announcement wasn't issued as a response to MySpace's "Data Availability" project. "We actually think what they are up to is pretty cool."

Representatives from MySpace were not immediately available for comment.

MySpace has partnered with the likes of eBay and Yahoo for Data Availability, which means that many of the Web's biggest names are now warming up to the idea of social-network identity portability. It's likely to be popular with users eager to quell the onset of "social fatigue" from too many logins and profiles, but privacy and security advocates may raise a red flag--as might advertisers , to whom Facebook's walled-in user base was ideal for targeted marketing . Spreading that data across the Web could complicate matters on that front.

 

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