Eggs and Baskets

Quick post today, mostly to draw your attention to this post over at Geek Wire about the experiences of a new company and Facebook Connect (thanks to @binaryape for the heads up!). At the recent OpenAthens ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder’ events, I highlighted the problem of putting all of your identity eggs in to one Facebook sized basket – and Zapd obviously experienced this problem when their access to Facebook Connect was switched off without warning.

The interesting thing here is that Zapd has no real interest in Facebook Connect as an authentication method. The real value was having the Zapd brand splashed all over people’s Facebook walls – an easy way to achieve viral marketing. Tripit (a service I find very useful as I’m chaotically unorganised) does a very similar thing…I don’t really have much need to constantly tell my Facebook friends that I’m off on another trip (but I do anyway!) So it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship – Facebook maintains the power of its ‘ownership’ of the identity process and you get free marketing. What can go wrong?

Well the problems arise when you rely on a marketing tool for functionality, and the problems arise when you don’t have any real relationship with the identity provider. This is why federations exist in the education and research sector. To be able to rely on an external identity provider you have to have trust. To have trust, there has to be a level playing field and there has to be an agreement somewhere. In a federated world, ‘just switching off’ your IdP should not be possible – there is a process for complaints to be dealt with and a standard of behaviour that is expected. Regrettably Facebook offers you no such assurances.

So sure, make use of Facebook Connect to help you market in the social world…just don’t depend on it for functionality. Nothing annoys a user more than not being able to log-in…believe me :-)