LONDON--A lot of hands in the audience went up at the Future of Web Apps conference when Facebook senior platform manager Dave Morin kicked off his talk at the conference with the question "How many people have built something on Facebook Platform before?"
Fewer went up when Morin then asked the crowd how many had used Facebook Connect, the company's new data-portability initiative. It's live now, he said.
Facebook unveiled Facebook Connect in May amid a flurry of other companies' data-portability announcements, like Google's Friend Connect and MySpace's Data Availability, which has partners like Yahoo and eBay. A few Facebook Connect partners have rolled out already, and others have announced concrete plans--like blog network Gawker Media, which says that commenters will soon be able to use their Facebook log-in credentials.
Though Facebook has a reputation for keeping its user data behind (virtual) closed doors, Morin said that's the opposite of Facebook Connect's aim. "We wanted to take down those walls and make you able to integrate Facebook anywhere on the Web in any way that you want," he said, explaining that Facebook Connect has a trifold aim: transporting your Facebook identity, making your friends lists portable, and seeing detailed activity feeds from what your friends do across the Web.
"If one of your friends did something on the Web, and you don't know about it, did it actually happen?" Morin asked jokingly. But on a more serious note, Facebook Connect could be a formidable threat to social aggregators like FriendFeed if it's deployed widely across the Web. But sites like FriendFeed simply rely on RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Facebook Connect requires active partnerships. That's why Morin's talk was such an important sales pitch for the company: the developer-heavy audience was full of the people whom Morin and his colleagues need to convert.
Demonstrating the integration of Facebook Connect using an internally created sample site called "The Run Around" (it logs workouts) as well as a smattering of examples from partners like Red Bull, Digg, Six Apart, and CBS (which publishes CNET News), Morin emphasized that it's an extremely simple process for developers.
As for privacy, something that has been a big topic for critics of data-portability projects, Morin said Facebook Connect will provide a benefit rather than a drawback. "What we're trying to do here," he said, "is putting the user fully in control. On Facebook, users have a robust set of privacy settings. With Facebook Connect, those privacy settings can transfer directly to your site. We think that's really powerful."