Twitter's Legitimate Attack Against Facebook Connect

At last week’s SXSW, Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced the impending launch of their new product @anywhere, but so far even the most savvy followers are confused about the implications of the new product (Matthew Ingram called the launch a “whimper“). In addition to new images of the product (included in a video by Twitter at SXSW last week), we’ll highlight why we believe Twitter’s new @anywhere product will have a legitimate chance of taking on Facebook Connect.

What Is @anywhere?

Twitter @anywhere is essentially a digital identity platform which enables site owners to implement instantly through a couple of lines of javascript. It’s similar to Facebook Connect in that it’s only a “few lines of code”, however Twitter’s @anywhere product will provide much deeper context, far beyond that which is already provided by Facebook.

In addition to providing basic contextually relevant information (like the Flaming Lips pop-up box shown within an article below), the service will be a platform that developers can build applications on top of. In contrast to Facebook Connect which lets each site owner implement Facebook Connect, developers will be able to build “@anywhere-enabled products” that site owners can instantly implement.

These products or services will be focused on one single thing: providing more contextually relevant social information. In contrast to Facebook, who currently controls much of the social aspect of sites that implement Connect, @anywhere will be more “open”.

The Parallels To Foursquare And Gowalla

The best comparison I can come up with between the two services (Facebook Connect and @anywhere) is the difference between Gowalla and Foursquare. Foursquare lets any developer insert and retrieve location data from the Foursquare platform. Gowalla is much more restricted in their functionality in order to “protect the overall user experience”.

While we don’t have enough details about the full product, it appears that enabling developers to build practically anything on top of @anywhere will put Twitter in the Foursquare camp and Facebook in the Gowalla camp. Ironically, Gowalla was the company presenting at the Facebook Developer Garage at SXSW, not Foursquare.

The parallels aren’t perfect but it hopefully illustrates the differing strategies between Facebook and Twitter when it comes to each of their digital identity services.

Twitter Prepares For Their f8

As I just mentioned, Twitter’s @connect service is just as much about identity as Facebook Connect is. While Facebook has a massive head start over Twitter when it comes to adoption (Facebook Connect has over 60 million monthly users), Twitter is hoping that the greater contextual relevance will catapult them forward. The company is also embracing openness in the hopes that it will enable the company to truly compete with Facebook on a broader scale.

Despite being many years younger than Facebook (Twitter is only 3 years old and Facebook is 6 years old), the company has a number of comparable developer services. Now Twitter is launching a Facebook Connect competitor little over one year after Facebook initially launched Connect. It’s an impressive feat and despite having a fraction of Facebook’s user base, the openness strategy appears to be fueling the company’s growth.

Prior to even hosting their first developer event (Chirp), Twitter has a user base equal to the one Facebook had at their first f8 and a developer ecosystem which is arguably comparable to Facebook’s. As the company prepares to unleash their new identity platform among other things, Twitter continues to be a significant threat to Facebook. With continued growth, underestimating the power of @anywhere as a legitimate digital identity service is absolutely foolish.