Tag Archives: Facebook Connect

Facebook account is down. Is the Internet down?

My Facebook account was “temporarily unavailable due to site maintenance” today.

Seems like I’m far from the first person this happened to. It’s common enough to make it into Facebook’s FAQ.

So – no big deal, right? just had to wait a while with uploading photos from today’s trip with the kids, a little annoyance, nothing more. Then I wanted to check in the meantime what’s up on another site. Guess what I used as a login there? yep, Facebook connect. No login for you!

Facebook may be getting away with it for now, as it seems like these “maintenance” downtimes didn’t create negative buzz for Facebook connect’s position as the identity of choice for many avid FB users. But watch as more of these incidents start raising awareness to the implication of relying on Facebook as an identity provider. We’ll then realize it’s another point of failure on our way to our favorite sites, and one with no simple workaround.

Truth be told, this is not a Facebook issue, it’s an issue for centralized identity providers. If WordPress.com were down, my OpenID identity would be down just the same. With unified identity comes a unified point of failure…

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Owning the People Namespace

Chris Messina is an interesting guy to follow. Sort of an “NGO celebrity” on the web, he’s known as an advocate for open standards and efforts such as OpenID, DISO and Microformats, and in the past also SpreadFirefox.

One of the many issues Chris writes passionately about is our online identity. That little link I added to his name in the opening words of this post triggers an entire domain of debates, ideals and evil plans to take over the world. Should I have linked to his Facebook page? or Twitter? perhaps MySpace or even Google? all these companies beg us to choose them as our identity providers, so that we will let them be our companions when we visit other websites, thus helping their “social colonization” efforts.

So in a way, those companies are trying to become the global people namespace. On the web I may be http://facebook.com/ofer.egozi, or http://linkedin.com/in/oferegozi etc., and as Dave Morin of facebook tweeted, “/ is the new @ (hence their PR extravaganza on vanity urls). Our identity is associated with the domain on that url, much as our email domain.

An interesting corrolary I can suggest here is that the “commitment” of that company to your identity is reflected in the extra padding next to that ‘/’. Companies such as twitter and facebook say “profiles are not just another application for us, they ARE our application”, whereas others such as linkedin and google still interject a /in/ or /profiles/ in between, just in case something else becomes more important…

So why not use his Facebook then? with social networks being such a relatively new entities, we seem to forget the temporariness of a business organization. We also tend to forget that those network accounts are only as free as beer, and the organizations behind them can arbitrarily delete a user or change their policies any time, and your anchor on the web which you built over the years is suddenly at stake.Personal Anchor on the Web for Digital Identity

My own identity is this blog. I own the domain, I maintain an OpenID on it using WordPress.com, and I can always decide to modify that identity, take it elsewhere or remove it altogether. The control over that identity, how it’s portrayed and used remains with me, even if many other aspects (think social graph) are still locked up elsewhere. That’s a start.

OpenID needs a killer-app

openid_big_logo_textThe OpenID community is buzzing with board elections coming up next week. With Facebook and Google drawing attention with their simultaneous recycling of old news (MySpace’s PR person should have been fired long ago for being so bluntly left out), there is growing concern in that community for the future relevance of an open, rather than a commercially controlled, identity. Dave Winer thinks the commercialists will kill it by over-complexity. Chris Messina believes that better usability and branding could jumpstart OpenID. 

Personally I see no reason right now why Facebook won’t pull it off. The main reason is that they have a full turnkey system in-place. As a publisher, I don’t need to adopt an OpenID library, access a few Contacts APIs (standards are still only making baby steps) and then integrate some form of postback to an aggregator. Facebook gives me the whole monty, on a very large network provider, and a simple WordPress plugin can do all that work.

That’s where an open community lags behind a concentrated commercial effort – tying it all together to a killer-app. An open content platform? well, that was boringly nice, until someone connected it to a killer-app need of an anyone-can-edit-encyclopedia and suddenly everyone’s using wikis. Firefox did not become popular because it’s open, but rather because its openness allowed open features, such as greasemonkeying and tons of extensions. Where is the OpenID equivalent? 

Personally I think blog widgets, and in particular commenting platforms, can be exactly it. The blogosphere is decentralized enough for an open product to compete fairly against Facebook’s push. There are already commercial products making use of it, such as Disqus. Now just decentralize that too, and let every OpenID user assemble their own Disqus page from an OpenID-based commenting plug-in. If you don’t like that, find another potential killer-app (David Recordon’s browser-based identity has good potential too), just don’t assume that an open technology alone makes any difference to anyone beyond the techies.