Facebook making sure there's nowhere on the Web to hide
Facebook's formal announcement of Facebook Connect is at once a transparently timed response to MySpace's announcement of partnerships with eBay and Twitter yesterday and the culmination of things the social network has been working on for ages. Facebook Connect, at its simplest, lets websites like Digg and Twitter integrate their users' activity into Facebook users' News Feeds. Those two companies, as well as Yahoo's Flickr and Google's Picasa, have been using Facebook Connect well before it was unveiled under that name. It cements Facebook's role as a central place to keep up with one's friends. Yet I'm not sure how I feel about it.
Facebook evangelist Dave Morin touts the ability to take one's real identity from Facebook to other websites. And indeed, that's one reason why I mocked MySpace's move; its users' pseudonymous logins have no particular value as sources of identity.
But do I really want to interconnect all my online identities? That's the premise of the "data portability" movement — that we really want nothing more than to take our friends with us from one website to another. And yet I'm content to segregate, say, the work acquaintances I have on LinkedIn from the more personal relationships I track on Facebook. Would Valleywag's commenters want to have their real names attached to their accounts? Some are happy to, while for others, that's a deal-breaker — and the site would be the lesser if it lost them.
Mark Zuckerberg's original, brilliant insight — to connect Facebook's identities to real names, schools, and workplaces — is its advantage over rival social networks like Bebo and MySpace. But I'm not sure I want a Web with non anonymity. Morin and others will hasten to note Facebook's privacy options — but surely they realize that when others give up their anonymity, there will be peer pressure for most to do so.
Real identity has value, say, when conducting commerce, which is why it's laughable that eBay partnered with MySpace and not Facebook — just another sign of that company's clueless technological leadership. But anonymity has its benefits. Facebook Connect threatens the anonymous Web. For that reason, I can't wish Facebook Connect anything more than partial success.