Internet leaders Facebook and Google made big headlines this week by officially rolling out, within minutes of one another, their universal log-in systems--Facebook Connect and Friend Connect, respectively.
Both promising users an easy way to sign in to multiple Web sites using just a single name and password, the news came amid the backdrop of better-than-expected Cyber Monday sales results and yet continual layoff announcements as the now officially declared recession deepens.
The week kicked off with lots of buzz about Facebook Connect, which was announced last spring, but wasn't officially rolled out until Thursday. It lets members connect their Facebook identity across the Web, including profile photos, names, photos, friends, groups, events, and other information.
Similarly, Google Friend Connect lets users register with a log-in that they're comfortable with and probably use every day--their Google or Gmail ID and password. Friend Connect is linked to OpenSocial, the Google-led set of common APIs for building social applications across multiple Web sites.
Both Facebook Connect and Friend Connect are simple and bring the concept of data portability--something long embraced by the more geek-oriented Open ID standard created in 2005--into the mainstream.
All of the universal log-in services have their merits, but many are betting on Facebook's because, in addition to boosting involvement, what users do on these sites can get reflected back to their activity stream on Facebook. In other words, it's not just a registration system, but also a marketing channel with a built-in audience of 130 million monthly active users (according to Facebook).
The services will likely make life easier for users. Sites get more users. Central registration authorities get more valuable user behavior data. With all that, however, comes more potential for abuse on the part of sites and identity providers--or even cyberscoundrels.
Facebook users this week had to deal with Koobface, a nasty virus triggered by an e-mail lure and a fake Adobe Flash update request. Once infected, searches performed on the likes of Google, Yahoo, MSN, or Live.com were hijacked to other, lesser-known search sites.
And also amid all the "Connect" news, Google detailed extension plans for its Chrome browsers. Among the most requested features for the open-source browser are plug-in customization, and yes, an ad-blocking extension would be allowed.
And in the realm of Web pioneers, reports surfaced again this week that AOL's former CEO, Jonathan Miller, might be interested in buying some or all of Yahoo. This sent Yahoo's beleaguered stock rising, and triggered billionaire investor-activist Carl Icahn to publicly oppose selling just a portion of Yahoo.
Faces of recession
It's nice to know we'll all be easily connected on the Web, even if we're cash-strapped with no credit and no job. That is to say, the gloomy recession news just kept coming in this week, with AT&T laying off 12,000 employees and other reductions reported at RealNetworks, Viacom, Adobe Systems, Carlyle Group, and Gawker Media. (See our layoff scorecard for more details.)
We've gone one step deeper this week, however, and started telling stories about not just the numbers and the dollars, but the real people dealing with the recession.
LogLogic's Patricia Sueltz, for example, heard a clear message about the economy from investors, but she already knows a thing or two about navigating through tough times.
And we also heard a confession from a CEO who actually has to hand out the pink slips. It's easy to vilify him, but contrary to popular notions, these aren't decisions that are taken lightly, at least with the executive we interviewed.
Meanwhile, the downturn in the economy has meant start-ups like green-tech Mascoma have had to slow expectations. Just six months ago, Mascoma had the wind in its sails, as did the rest of the clean-tech sector. Now, the company is treading carefully and scaling back.
And we also learned about how the Erickson family has learned to cope with a layoff, a story becoming less and less unique. Balancing the checkbook is a tense chore for this unemployed IT consultant and his wife.
Consumers still buying
Despite all the bad economic news, Cyber Monday turned out to be a welcome relief for an industry that had been bracing itself for the worst. Visitors to e-commerce sites spent $846 million on Monday, an increase of 15 percent over the same day a year ago, according to ComScore.
It also ranked as the second-biggest day of online shopping ever and capped off a successful Thanksgiving holiday weekend for the industry, which overall saw spending jump 13 percent.
Google also saw double-digit jumps for paid click results on Cyber Monday.
But consumers were wooed mostly by amazing deals and aggressive promotions--they certainly aren't buying the likes of Nokia's much buzzed about mystery device, the fancy N97, which was unveiled this week to much fanfare at the Nokia World 2008 conference in Barcelona, Spain.
Part of the company's high-end N series of multimedia computers, the N97 trumps all previous models with a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard and a tilting 3.5-inch touch screen. It's expected to ship in Europe during the first half of 2009, with an estimated price of 550 euros ($695). No official word on when we'll see the N97 stateside.
It takes a jab at other popular touch-screen smartphones like the Apple iPhone 3G, T-Mobile G1, and Research In Motion BlackBerry Storm. But it remains to be seen whether it will succeed. CNET News' Maggie Reardon, who got a live demo of the N97, offers more details and claims "it's no iPhone."
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