Facebook : “Push To Open”

A couple of days back, I wrote about Facebook vs Orkut, where I talked about the rapidly growing popularity of Facebook in India. However despite the success and popularity of Facebook, I haven’t been able to get comfortable with Facebook and get truly on-board. A few reasons why I somehow feel rather wary of Facebook.

  1. Facebook has made  privacy settings so complicated that they can be used only by advanced web users. The rest of the users think they have made themselves private when in reality 10s of faecbook apps are announcing to the world every minute thing that the user does. I wrote about the privacy issue some time back in (Facebook Privacy Settings Are Unfair And Intentionally Complex).
  2. The recent controversy about Facebook changing its terms of use and trying to own user data, kind of supported the closed and proprietary feel that I got from Facebook.
  3. Facebook stayed away from the OpenID foundation for a very long time and instead had a competing program called Facebook Connect. OpenId is a standard for providing single sign on across websites, and is supported by most major web players. Facebook suddenly and unexpectedly joined OpenId a few days back. However this move has been looked at by some analysts as “Facebook was likely to “pull a Microsoft” and try to destroy OpenID“.
  4. As far as I know, Facebook has stayed away from creating or joining standards like OpenSocial which would enable developers to create social software that would run across multiple networks. If you developed an application with OpenSocial, it would run on hi5, LinkedIn, MySpace, Netlog, Ning, orkut, and Yahoo!, but not on Facebook. If you want to develop for Facebook, you have to use the Facebook APIs.
  5. Facebook recently blocked Google Friend Connect from getting into Facebook user data. Google has maintained that Friend Connect reads a small amount of user data from Facebook using Facebook’s own public APIs. It is theorized that Facebook blocked Friend Connect primarily because Facebook was not asked and Google kind of barged in.

Overall, I just don’t get a nice and open feel about Facebook. Those in the software development world know that “free and open” are highly cherished ideas when it comes to software. Companies that are strongly proprietary are often unpopular and at times even hated in the software world.

Facebook sure has the momentum, the user base and maybe even good business reasons to do the things mentioned above. So one shouldn’t be tagging Facebook as ‘evil’ for doing any of the things mentioned above. However I wonder if we the users should be blindly supporting the network or pushing it to open up. The backlash from the recent “change of terms” controversy, I am sure would have been an eye opener for Facebook.

I hope and look forward to diving into an open, collaborative and friendlier Facebook.

  • Interesting post, Harshad. The conventional wisdom is that Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect have or will monopolize the “market” for third party identity login & authentication. But JanRain has a SaaS solution called RPX which allows website visitors to login to a site using their Google, Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook, AOL and Windows LiveID accounts. When the choice of identity providers is expanded, the result is increased registration rates on relying party sites, because a lot of users don’t necessarily want to login to a site using their Facebook account.

    I think you make a good point about people in the software world valuing openness … When you examine OpenID, look at how Microsoft’s .NET passport idea never gained widespread market adoption. Many savvy web users possess a natural aversion to overly-proprietary companies.

  • Interesting post, Harshad. The conventional wisdom is that Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect have or will monopolize the “market” for third party identity login & authentication. But JanRain has a SaaS solution called RPX which allows website visitors to login to a site using their Google, Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook, AOL and Windows LiveID accounts. When the choice of identity providers is expanded, the result is increased registration rates on relying party sites, because a lot of users don’t necessarily want to login to a site using their Facebook account.

    I think you make a good point about people in the software world valuing openness … When you examine OpenID, look at how Microsoft’s .NET passport idea never gained widespread market adoption. Many savvy web users possess a natural aversion to overly-proprietary companies.