In ID platform race, Facebook Connect grabs lead

If adoption examples sent to us from Facebook and Google are a fair representation, Google's log-on platform, Friend Connect, has a long uphill battle ahead of it.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

It has only been a few days since Facebook and Google released their dueling press statements announcing that their identity platforms, Facebook Connect and Friend Connect, respectively, were open to the public.

I still think that Facebook will win this battle. But after I wrote my first posts, I was convinced to modify my early opinion with these qualifiers: it will win in the United States, and in the short term.

Facebook Connect sign-on is nicely done on this site.

In the States, Facebook's trump card is its social network. Google doesn't have a big U.S. social network, though in other countries (India and Brazil, notably), it has a strong presence with Orkut. And only a fool would discount Google in any market for good. In 1999, did anyone expect that the company would someday make a credible mobile-phone operating system?

So how are Facebook and Google doing so far in this battle? I asked both companies to send me a list of users for their identity services. Facebook quickly sent a list, which it claims is only partial, of sites from about 30 companies adopting Facebook Connect. Standouts include CitySearch, CNN.com Forum, TechCrunch, Xobni, MoveOn, and SFGate. To be fair, not all of the sites in the Facebook list have yet integrated the platform into their log-ins.

Getting competitive information from Google was more of a challenge. The list, I can say fairly, was not forthcoming. During a tortured telephone conversation, I was given a poor excuse about why I couldn't get the full list, and then later got a list of seven representative English-speaking sites, plus two in Portuguese, and one Chinese. The top sites on the list: The Inquistr and Go2Web20. The full list is after the jump.

Advantage, so far: Facebook

Google's Friend Connect widget.

As I've said previously, Google does not have technically inferior registration platform, by my estimation. But that's not its issue. For users, as least based on what I've seen so far, Facebook Connect can be more straightforward. Logging in via Google's Friend Connect is a little too different from what users may be accustomed to: You sign on in an Open Social widget and join the site as you would do with MyBlogLog. Once you join, other users can see that you're a member.

The advantage Google's widget-based approach has, though, is that it's pretty much the same on all the sites that use Friend Connect. And it gives users the option to sign in via not just a Google ID, but one from Yahoo, AOL, or an OpenID provider.

In the best implementations, logging into a site with Facebook pops up a blue-theme Facebook-branded log-in page. It can be more similar (though not identical) to logging in to any old site the old-fashioned way. And once you're in, your affiliation with the site isn't broadcast to the next hundred visitors to the site. Using Facebook Connect can be a smoother transition for users.

I do have to add, however, that on many sites, including some the examples in the Facebook list, user registration overall is a horrible mess. Many sites have separate systems for different community features, or a site log-in function that's not completely connected to the blog commenting system (a common affliction on sites that use a third-party comment engine such as Disqus).

Some sites that use one of the newer registration systems don't have it integrated throughout. And I've seen Facebook Connect integration pretty badly bungled: On some of the sites (such as CNN), you can't actually log in with your Facebook credentials. You get the confusing option, instead, to link your existing account to your Facebook ID, once you're already on the site.

Based solely on what I've seen so far--and not on its comparative technical strengths--Facebook looks like the stronger domestic player, at least for now. And nearly every site using either of these platforms would do well to refine its implementation to further remove confusion from the log-in process. But I continue to think that Facebook will extend its lead in this space, for three reasons:

  1. Users are (rightly or wrongly) comfortable with Facebook as a repository for personal information, and less so with Google.
  2. Logging into a site with Facebook credentials can feel much the same as logging in with a site's own username.
  3. Sites get a marketing bonus when they adopt the service.