Facebook’s utter domination of the social networking landscape was set in motion long ago, but the minute it became decidedly clear could arguably be traced back to Facebook Connect. Way back in 2008, the social network launched its third party authentication API so that its platform would leave its footprint all over the Web.
One source of these footprints has been Facebook Comments, one of the most popular commenting systems for outside sites — much to other platforms’ chagrin and Facebook’s benefit. The lure of actual identity (or as close to it as we can get on the Internet) meant that publications could thwart commenting trolls and applications could have access to some of the richest user data available.
But this isn’t quite a win-win. While the advantages for outside platforms and publications using Facebook Connect are obvious, the real victor is, of course, Facebook. Naturally, the social network’s competitors can’t be thrilled with its near monopoly of this space.
And one of them is going to do something about it: Google. It stands to reason that the eternal Facebook rabble rouser would step up to the plate and build its own third party commenting platform. At a Google event in Saudi Arabia yesterday, the company revealed plans for the new service (via TheNextWeb). It will tie in the Google+ network, obviously, and plans to try to compete with Facebook for use as a commenting system.
It’s yet another attempt to strengthen the much-critiqued Google+. Google’s social efforts have once again come under fire as a former Googler who worked on the application shed yet more light on its struggles. He summed it up saying, “Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact the no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.”
You can’t help but feel like this is where Google should have started. Instead of biting off more than it could chew and introducing something that users simply weren’t asking for, it could have started with an alternative commenting system. It’s something that Facebook has a firm grip on but not one without a little wiggle room. When sites started deferring to the Facebook commenting system, there was the usual user outrage at the change – people didn’t necessarily want their Facebook account linked to their posts on outside sites. Critics said it would repress free discussion. But as these things do, the indignation eventually petered out.
Of course there’s nothing to say that these problems wouldn’t persist using Google+ profiles as substitutes. But what if Google could flip a switch and start with an answer to a user problem – would it have given its social network stronger legs to stand on?
Competitors like Disqus and Livefyre have become popular Facebook Comments alternatives, and they have the advantage of not being tied to social networks. Hindsight is 50-50, but it just once again feels like Google might be too late.