Yahoo announced that it will be making Facebook Connect a deeply-integrated part of its site earlier this week. The move surprised some people, because Yahoo itself has historically been the largest social site on the web. By relying on third parties like Facebook for key social features, like friend relationships, the company has now more narrowly defined itself as a content publisher.
But we should get ready for another big Facebook Connect integration, industry sources tell us: MySpace is planning to make it a key part of the site, rolling out a number of Connect features in the first part of 2010. In addition to relying on its own “social graph” of user relationships, MySpace will use the graphs from other sites. — Facebook’s social graph is currently the most reflective of people’s real-life relationships, so apparently it will soon be a significant part of MySpace.
Facebook Connect lets third party web sites access Facebook user data and site features, like sharing activity from other sites to its news feed home page — the idea is that Connect helps other sites get more social, and drives traffic between them and Facebook. For MySpace, as with any other web site, integration with Connect does not necessarily mean there is any special business relationship with Facebook.
Still, the MySpace move might seem even more surprising than Yahoo’s, given that Facebook and MySpace have been big rivals in the past. But the new MySpace management team, led by former Facebook executive Owen Van Natta, has in recent months described its vision as being about “social entertainment,” meaning content like music, videos and games. In September, the company took a step further into integrating third-party sharing services, providing two-way sync with Twitter, so you can tweet from MySpace and or update your MySpace status from Twitter.
Like Yahoo — and AOL, for that matter — the News Corp.-owned company has decided that it is not in the business of providing user identities. Facebook is a friend now, not an enemy. Or perhaps “frenemy.”
We don’t have too many specific details on what the Connect integration will look like, although our sources described it as being “everywhere,” with some News Corp. managers apparently “shocked” by how deep it is.
We assume that MySpace will pepper various parts of its site, like MySpace Music, with Facebook sharing buttons so users can put content into Facebook news feeds and profiles. The bigger question is what will happen to the parts of MySpace that are about identity, not necessarily content — users’ lists of MySpace friends, the MySpace email service, etc. Perhaps there will be a tool that will make it easy to find your Facebook friends who are also on MySpace?
The two companies loosely suggested that something was in the works in October — although they both downplayed the significance when we asked about it then. “Hypothetically speaking, as nothing has been formally arranged yet, MySpace could become a Facebook Connect partner – which would allow people to share content they liked from MySpace with their Facebook network,” Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg told The Telegraph.
And, here’s what Van Natta told the publication: “We are in talks with Facebook, and other sites, about how we could partner with them. Partnerships are going to be a big part of our strategy moving forward as a lot of value can be derived from them. Facebook is about core communications with your friendship network, whereas MySpace is about congregating around popular content with people who share your interests.”
The Identity Wars Continue
There are bigger implications with the move, as well. Who are the other big identity platforms left out there? Twitter, arguably, is one, although the service seems to be most popular with people who want to publicly broadcast information. While some people use the service to share their real lives, Facebook’s closed network seems to be what most social service users prefer for in terms of networking with real-life friends.
There’s also Microsoft and Google. Microsoft is a strategic investor in Facebook, so we imagine the company will continue to make Facebook a key part of any social identity features it rolls out, versus trying to compete against its investment. Google, on the other hand, has been working hard to provide alternatives to Facebook, most recently integrating Twitter into Friend Connect, the web-wide identity and sharing service that it has developed to rival Facebook Connect. But Friend Connect hasn’t been getting as much distribution as Facebook Connect, especially with major online publishers like television networks and movie web sites.
Google has also been busy building out its universal profiles. This feature, which lets you see your identities across Google properties and other sites, is the closest thing the company currently has to a social network (besides Orkut, a smaller social network that the company has not made a focus). And Google has notably been putting these profiles in search results — a clearly competitive move against Facebook.
With Yahoo and MySpace punting on identity, 2010 will see Facebook and Google more directly pitted against each other than ever before.