-- Facebook launched its Web-wide sign-on system, Facebook Connect, on Thursday -- and let me tell you, this thing has the potential to simplify and enrich social networking in a revolutionary way.
Facebook Connect lets you use your Facebook ID and password to sign-in to third-party sites. It's kind of like another Web-wide sign-on protocol called OpenID in that regard, but Facebook strikes me as having far greater potential of taking off on a large scale.
The reason? It's easy to use, understand, and control -- and users won't have to do any extra work to find it or make it function. OpenID, if you're not familiar with it, lets you use a single username and password to sign-on to numerous sites. But let's be honest: How many average, non-techie-type Web users are even aware OpenID exists? Odds are, most people have an OpenID-linked account somewhere. But does the typical Internet surfer even know what it is or how it'd be used?
Facebook Connect has visibility on its side. As the most visited social network worldwide, according to traffic measurement data by ComScore, it has an audience already connected and ready to roll. And with 100-plus partners expected to be on-board within Connect's first weeks, there will be plenty of places for that audience to go. Sites like CBS, CNN, and CitySearch are already signed up. My.BarackObama.com is said to be implementing the system. And countless blogs and Web sites are sure to follow.
So, realistically, what can this thing do for you? Let's say you're visiting a site like CitySearch, one of Connect's early adopters. Rather than having to create an account, you just click the Facebook logo at the top of the page. If you're already signed into Facebook in another window, it picks up your ID, asks for your privacy preferences, and you're in.
Your Facebook profile is then basically in front of you. Your name and photo automatically appear, and you can see your friends' activity, too.
But the real power for the social Web user comes in the interactive action. You can, for example, review a restaurant on CitySearch, and -- if you so choose -- have the review shot back over to your Facebook Wall at the same time it's posted on CitySearch.
The content shows up on Facebook as if it were any other Wall posting. The full extent of your activity is listed, along with a link for people to follow.
Blogs, Diggs, and More
That's novel, sure -- but what if you just don't use services like CitySearch? Facebook Connect can also let you link up any blog or Web site posting to your profile. I tested it using TechCrunch, which already has the system set up. One click on the site's Facebook logo, and I was signed in. Then, I could leave a regular comment with everything from my Facebook identity in place -- no need to enter in an e-mail address, upload a picture, or deal with any other hassles.
And, like with CitySearch, I can opt to have the comment posted back on my Facebook profile, too. My social network is now expanded far past the walls of a single site, and in the simplest possible manner.
Another upcoming addition that could prove useful is Digg. Once Digg has Facebook Connect implemented -- which is expected to happen within the next few weeks -- you'll be able to sign in with a single click and vote stories up using your Facebook ID. And, like with the previous examples, you can have the content you like automatically shared on your profile for your friends to see, too. Hulu, The Discovery Channel, and The San Francisco Chronicle are all working on adding the application as well.
There are clear privacy issues here, but this time, the power is in your hands. If you don't want your data shared with a particular site, you don't sign up with it. Or if you want to use your Facebook account there but not have the information relayed back to your profile, you just check the appropriate box when you initially sign on. It's a major shift from the failed Beacon experiment, and it's one area where Facebook Connect has a distinct advantage over Google Friend Connect, which was also introduced Thursday.
So far, Facebook says the sites involved in early testing reported a 50 percent jump in user engagement. For people who are really into social networking and use Facebook -- and, let's face it, that's a massive number nowadays -- Facebook Connect will offer a powerful new layer of interaction across the Web. It may not be the first system of its sort, but it could just be the first one to make a significant splash.