One of the problems that has long plagued the Web sites of legacy media companies has been the inability to offer users a single sign-in. I don’t mean a single sign-in around the Web, I mean just a single sign-in on their own site. Getting many different vendors and databases to play nicely with each other has been an impossible task. There has been some hope that this problem might be ended with OpenID, but so far it’s been too complex and disorganized to really offer a good solution. The launch of Facebook Connect seems to hold more promise.
Facebook Connect is an elegantly simple solution that just works. Yes it’s a closed system, and yes, it seems to really work for Facebook’s benefit, but it’s also a great user benefit.
It’s hard to think about applications like Facebook Connect without wondering how it will affect online anonymity. It’s a small step to think about how much more civilized (and perhaps thought-out) the comments on newspaper Web sites would be if no one was anonymous. Seems like a wonderful world, doesn’t it? But, there is a downside. Anonymity allows people to post comments that have real value but which they would never say if they had to identify themselves. Think of whistleblowers and crime victims. Forgetting for a moment that it will be a while before everyone has a social network account that can be used this way, would media sites ever want to do away completely with anonymous posting? The answer may be yes, leaving other avenues such as anonymous email, open for people legitimately worried about revealing their identity. The problem is that removes the spontaneity of an immediate post, and maybe even the desire to share information at all.
The other aspect of this loss of anonymity is about having to share personal information with companies across the Web. A concern, for sure, but it’s not like we’re giving it to the government…