My Web Without Facebook Connect

I have had better days. I woke up to the sound of a hailstorm beating my bedroom window to a pulp. I saw the weather gods, in a passive aggressive mood, pelt San Francisco with sleet right at the time I go for my early morning walk. And if that was not enough, I had emails from three friends letting me know that my Facebook account had been hacked and hijacked. 

I emailed Facebook support, who quickly killed the account after confirming that it was really me who was requesting it be shut off. And then I emailed their PR department to see if other folks were hacked too. After all, if that was the case, it would be a story.

Nope, it was just me who was on the receiving end of the machinations of someone who clearly doesn’t like me — this person emailed TechCrunch Tips, who kindly let me know what had happened.

So much drama! It should have made me very angry — but it didn’t. I was embarrassed because a lot of friends, family and colleagues who make up my Facebook network were now exposed to an impostor. The breach of my account made me take stock of my Facebook usage. It is a lot less than it used to be. And almost always, it is inside the Facebook mobile apps — whether on Blackberry, Android or iPhone.

I scan through the photos of my friends, catch on updates about their babies, their relationship (or lack thereof) statuses and most importantly, birthday dates. I rarely do updates or share links, though I do message people. And I can do these easily and quickly on the mobile apps, thanks to the use of notifications (on my iPhone).

But almost half a day without Facebook has caused an unusual pain — it has made me unable to log into several of the services that use Facebook Connect as a log-in mechanism — like the Bejeweled Blitz and Words Free — two games I absolutely love. Ironically, it was me living inside the future I had envisioned myself.

About two-and-half-years ago, I had pointed out that Facebook Connect was the single biggest move made by Facebook and it was one of the reasons the company would eventually be a winner. It’s essentially a system that enables application and web developers to allow web surfers to sign in to their services using their Facebook identities. Here is what I wrote then:

In addition to offering a simple authentication method, FC allows granular social interactions to be embedded in non-Facebook services. If Facebook can work with its partners to build interesting use-case scenarios that go beyond simple sign-on, it is quite feasible that Facebook can out-execute Google, MySpace and everyone else with its ID ambitions. Why? Because this is their one chance of building a monetization engine.

And just as it is becoming the underpinning of a brand new money-making scheme, for its users Facebook Connect is the easiest way to connect to other web services. Taking a people-centric approach to the web, Facebook predictably has become a new Internet monster.
A day without Google, no matter how bad its critics say it has become, would make it virtually impossible to find things on the web. But a day without Facebook, is quickly making the web unusable. Sure, there aren’t any mission-critical applications that are using Facebook — but in the future there might be.
As it moves forward, and again transforms itself to subsume the communication functionality, I wonder how this control is going to manifest itself in our lives. In April 2010 we wrote about how Facebook was becoming the single point of failure on the web, thanks to its growing influence.

As a user, having your social self represent you around the web will at first be creepy but ultimately be useful. As one Facebook engineer put it to me today, “Imagine if you had one login for the whole web. That would be so sweet.”

Sweet, or sad. Eighteen hours after no Facebook, I know one thing is for sure — I don’t have access to my favorite casual games to make me feel better.