Not So Social: Google And Facebook Face-Off At Supernova

Today at the Supernova conference there was a panel about who owns the social graph. The panelists were Kevin Marks from Google, Joseph Smarr from Plaxo and Dave Morin, Facebook’s Senior Platform Manager. The conversation turned very interesting when moderator Tantek Celik pointed out a post by David Recordon that showed how Facebook is blocking Google’s Friend Connect product, and not allowing users to extract their Facebook social graph through Google. Morin from Facebook said that the reason they’re doing it is because Google’s implementation didn’t comply with the terms of use, while Marks from Google responded saying they strongly believed they were within the usage terms, and others suggested that there may be an ulterior motive for blocking friend connect.

Google Friend Connect is an API and application that allows users to extract their social graph data from various networks and then use the data in other applications that support the API. So for Friend Connect to be effective, it requires that the larger social networks allow their data to be extracted in one form or another. Facebook provides an API, but it seems they didn’t like how Google was using that interface as part of Friend Connect. Tantek attempted to prompt both Marks and Morin to reach a solution while on the panel, but Morin reverted to an earlier comment that “members from both parties were in discussions on working out a solution”. It was implied that this is happening on an engineering and executive level, and that legal teams had poured over the various terms of use agreements.

A question from the audience asked why Facebook is falling back on their global legal terms as a reason for not allowing individual users to extract their own data. Facebook committed to working this out, and Morin said that they did want to allow users to access their data freely. It is apparent that there is a war of control here, with Facebook hesitant to hand over the keys to their social graph to Google, despite the fact that each individual user needs to request to retrieve their data.

We recorded a video with David Recordon of Six Apart, who originally posted the issue on his blog and was part of a separate panel discussion today concerning open standards and formats.