Facebook Connect: OpenID Without the Email

Yesterday Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Connect and with it the opportunity for sites around the web to easily integrate into the largest “social graph” on the web. The pre-f8 hype along with MySpace’s Data Availability initiative and Google’s Friend Connect program ended up muting much of the buzz that was intended for Facebook Connect. Whether or not it was buzzed about, Facebook Connect could have a substantial impact on the future of the web as Om Malik points out.

I agree with Om and I think that Facebook Connect could truly be game changing. As many industry thought leaders were saying last night at f8, Facebook Connect is the alternative to OpenID. It’s also the first time that mainstream users will understand the power of an OpenID-like system, something that only geeks previously understood.

Mike Arrington previously suggested that there is currently a land grab for user identities by becoming the largest OpenID issuer. I agree that there is a land grab for user identities on the web but OpenID may not be the answer that many thought leaders were hoping for. Instead Facebook, MySpace and Google are all racing to create their own standards which are essentially abstract OpenID copycats.

I fully support the concept of Facebook Connect aside for one thing: I don’t have access to a user’s personally identifiable information. As a business implementing an OpenID system I at least get a user’s email when they register for my site. This contrasts Facebook where all I know is what a user’s friends Facebook IDs are. Theoretically, in a worst case scenario Facebook could switch all users’ Facebook IDs to protect user identities.

This would leave all the businesses without a way of reaching out to their user base that registered via Facebook Connect. One of the most valuable assets that large web companies have are user email addresses and phone numbers. It provides the companies with a valuable marketing potential. Now Facebook will force me to contact users through the Facebook API.

Am I going to rely on Facebook’s algorithm to arbitrarily decide how many emails I can send out every day to my users? If I want to spam my registered user base I should be able to. It’s my own business decision. So while I’m all for Facebook becoming the center of my identity online, I’m not cool with Facebook telling me how I should run my business outside of their finely pruned walled garden.