Did Twitter Just Quietly Start Twitter Connect? If Not, It Should.

picture-34Yesterday, on its Twitter API Wiki, Twitter quietly unveiled a “Sign in with Twitter” feature. It’s a very simple idea: It gives you the option to use your Twitter ID as your login for third party services. But what’s more interesting is what Twitter could do with this. Basically, this could be the first step at launching a “Twitter Connect” of sorts, the same type of platform that Facebook is building with Facebook Connect and Google is building with Friend Connect.

To most people, at its most basic level, Facebook Connect is useful right now simply because it allows you to sign into other services with your Facebook account. This is nice because hundreds of millions of people already have a Facebook login, and Facebook Connect eliminates the need to fill in all your credentials to yet another service. With millions of people already using Twitter and it is exploding in growth recently, Sign in with Twitter would be useful for the same reason.

But why sign in with Twitter over Facebook? Well, Twitter touts its integration of OAuth, the open standard for secure authentication, but most end users don’t care about that. What they would care about though is having the ability to sign in to a service with their Twitter names and interact with the micro-messaging platform to say, easily tweet out whatever it is you are doing. If you’re reading an article, you could tweet out the article with one click without leaving the page. If you’re playing a game, you could tweet that out from within the game.

Yes, that’s a lot less powerful than some of the proposed uses of Facebook Connect, which promises to port a lot of your online activity into your Facebook profile. Facebook’s grand goal with this seems to be becoming the centralized place for all of your activity online. But Facebook is a lot more complicated than Twitter, and one of the reasons Twitter has exploded in usage is because of its simplicity. And already a ton of services are popping up that are build on top of Twitter, just as Facebook’s Platform allowed services to be built on Facebook.

But one key difference is that Facebook is still a relatively closed environment in that regard. Twitter is anything but. Most applications built on top of Twitter seem to have no front-end connection with the service beyond maybe a name that is “Twit____” or a logo. Facebook applications all reside in Facebook.

But that’s another reason why Facebook Connect is so important to the social network. It allows other sites to leverage its platform (though not really the Platform) that aren’t affiliated with Facebook. But again, Twitter’s simplicity could make something like Twitter Connect viable. And it would seem to be more open, which developers tend to like. As Yahoo’s Eran Hammer-Lahav wrote about Sign in with Twitter yesterday, “It is Open done right.”

Of course, Twitter is still far, far behind Facebook in terms of users. And at the end of the day it would seem the the service that controls the most users will win what ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick has named the “calling card” battle. MySpace is in the battle as well, as is Google. But Facebook up until now has seemed to have most of the momentum in this space. Twitter could alter that a bit. If it cares to.

[sign in buttons by Peter Denton]