Friday, May 16, 2008

Facebook Takes a Swing at Google

Facebook came out swinging yesterday to defend their users and their turf. They have basically shut down Google’s use of their API to collect user profile and social graph information on the new Friend Connect service. Here’s my take on the background and what is going on…

Google has made a nice business out of an open Internet. Facebook carved out a nice little corner of the Internet with a social network that does not give Google the type of visibility they would like into that little corner. In addition, that little corner looks like it might be kind of valuable. Google makes a few moves like buying Orkut and amassing all the other social networking vendors and creating Open Social. Those things are OK, but not really opening up that corner that Google now has become to covet.

Well, the world of social network walled gardens kind of exploded last week. MySpace, Facebook and Google all seemed to rush announcements to market without full thought, without proper collaboration and certainly a bit hastily.

Here’s the issue. Google’s Friend Connect has the potential of recreating the whole Facebook profile base and social graph. Two big problems. First, the terms of service that Facebook has defined and that Facebook users trust may in fact be broken. The Facebook API (the one Ringside uses) is meant for applications or individual websites to make use of the data as long as a user allows it. It puts things under user control. It is manageable by Facebook because they can turn off applications of websites that do not conform to the terms of service. The risk of opening up to Friend Connect is that rogue applications and websites might be able to access the Facebook profile and social graph information. This is obviously a legitimate concern and Facebook is in fact protecting their users.

The second problem is obviously Google’s ability to replicate what Facebook (and their users) have built. If that happens, where is the value for Facebook? Facebook has built this valuable asset. On the other hand, the users own their own profiles and individual social connections. Hmmm. Tough problem. And the real reason I say that all these announcements feel rushed to market…

From a Ringside perspective, we see the right path is a federated social graph that is under the direction of users. Let users make their own walls – and the big social networks will be there to protect their users, but enable them to open up when and how they want.

No comments: