Three's Company Or Three's A Crowd? Google To Launch "Friend Connect" On Monday

Don’t they say good things come in threes? Well, regardless, we’ve heard from multiple sources that Google will launch a new product on Monday called “Friend Connect,” which will be a set of APIs for Open Social participants to pull profile information from social networks into third party websites.

MySpace launched Data Availability on Thursday, a competing product. Yesterday, in a suspiciously timed pre-release announcement, we heard about Facebook Connect, another similar product (with a nearly identical name to Google’s Friend Connect).

Like Data Availability and Facebook Connect, Google’s Friend Connect will be a way to securely send personal profile data, including friend lists, presence/status information, etc., to third party applications, say our sources. The primary benefit of these services is to allow users to maintain a single friends list and to coordinate social activities across different sites that perform different services. See my post on the Centralized Me for more of my thoughts on this.

The reason these companies are rushing to get products out the door is because whoever is a player in this space is likely to control user data over the long run. If users don’t have to put profile and friend information into multiple sites, they will gravitate towards one site that they identify with, and then allow other sites to access that data. The desire to own user identities over the long run is also causing the big Internet companies, in my opinion, to rush to become OpenID issuers (but not relying parties).

If what we hear is correct, Google’s offering may not be as attractive as MySpace’s and Facebook’s. Google may be keeping a tighter reign on data, requiring third parties to show it directly from Google’s servers in an iframe. By contract, MySpace and Facebook are sending data via an API and trusting third parties not to abuse it (with strict terms of service in case they violate that trust). That flexibility also allows those third parties to do more with the data, including combining it with their own data before displaying it.

We’ll have to wait until Monday for the exact details, though. But what’s clear is that Google wants to get in between social networks and the web sites that want to access their data. By controlling the flow through Open Social and the new Friend Connect product, they can effectively become a huge social network without actually having a, well, social network (unless you count Orkut).

Google’s been scrambling for partners to announce on Monday as well. So far our understanding is they have their own Orkut and Plaxo. Compare that to MySpace (Yahoo, eBay and Twitter, plus their own PhotoBucket) and Facebook, which announced Digg as an early partner.

Another limiting factor with Google’s product is that, unlike Facebook and MySpace, they do not already control user profiles for tens of millions of active users. That means they’ll quickly need to get big partners on board as well. Will MySpace help them? They may – MySpace is already part of Open Social and said on Thursday that they will adopt Open Social initiatives in this space once they are defined. We’ll see.

More details as they come in.