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User Identity and Preference Management: Facebook & Google Quo Vadis?

Published: July 31, 2012

Author: Rob Leathern

This is my first post on FBPPC. I run Optimal, Inc., and our software powers Facebook ad buying for many agencies and brands – I promise I’ll mostly talk about advertising on this site, but I want to start with something slightly different first and I hope you will indulge me.
Imagine you saw a press release that went something like this:  “A task such as booking a flight using an online travel reservation service will become much more effective. Facebook will help enable the travel service to automatically access the individual’s preferences and payment information. If traveling on business, a user’s affiliation with their company’s LinkedIn group identity makes it possible for the travel service to automatically show only the choices that meet the traveler’s individual preferences and which adhere to the company’s travel policies. Once the user has chosen a flight, the travel service can use Google — with the traveler’s permission — to automatically schedule the itinerary onto the specific calendaring service he or she uses. Through Twitter, live flight itinerary information can be shared with whomever the traveler designates, and can also be accessed through a PC, someone else’s PC, a smart phone, a PDA or any other connected device.”
Who would be kind enough to mention so many companies in a single release, anyway? Well, there was a press release something like this. Except where I’ve playfully inserted Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter, the Microsoft release out of Redmond, WA, on March 19, 2001, had instead inserted the term “HailStorm.” Back then, I was an industry analyst at Jupiter and covered, amongst other things, online user authentication and identity. I had the chance to participate in the Federal Trade Commission’s Security workshops and talked to a lot of companies about the possibilities of users having control of their own data and how that could help invigorate and drive the engines of e-commerce. We’d already seen the Crash of 2000, and a lot of the naïve optimism of Web 1.0 had already been replaced by the realization that the real work lay ahead.
In 2001, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter didn’t yet exist. Mark Zuckerberg was 16 years old.
Fast-forward 11 years to 2012. Whether in one service or several, the vision of an awesome global user preference and data management service “in the cloud” has still not come to pass. As an aside, Microsoft’s name for its Passport-powered in-the-cloud data service was pretty bad (pieces of cold, hard ice in clouds, get it?). Still, back in 2001, considering the excitement and passion Microsoft conveyed in speaking about it, this seemed a pretty cool set of services, and clearly with hundreds of millions more users now online from all manner of devices and browsers interacting with many more sites, services, apps, and products asking for their credentials, it would be more useful than ever.
Create easy ways to let people federate their identity across websites, sign in, store information about what they are up to, schedule things with friends, group together, manage business meetings and rules and … on and on. Instead though, our data is as scattered as ever – LinkedIn for business info, except for email and calendar, which are on Google Apps, but your friends are really on Facebook, except when you want to share news articles with them, which is what you do with Twitter. And you can sign into other services with Facebook, but you still have to manage your preferences in 100 different places for things because nobody trusts anyone else with that data and/or companies think it creates switching costs for them. It’s enough to give you a headache. Oh, it’s easier to sign into websites using Facebook or Twitter, or Google, than it was back then, but the closest thing that exists to the vision of letting developers just tap into great preference and payment tools that make everyone’s lives easier is probably the Apple App Store. And much as I love my iPhone and iTunes and apps, as someone building a business on top of platforms like Facebook, I know we can all do better – especially on mobile devices.
So whether you build apps or ads or data, or just consume these things, let’s hold Facebook, Google, and Twitter accountable and tell them what features they should build to really make a difference in our lives. And of course along the way, we’ll click on some of their ads, help companies do more to buy them more efficiently, and so on… but let’s get the features we want first!
Rob Leathern, Optimal, Inc.

1 S Wacker Drive
Suite 2250

Chicago, IL 60606(650) 539-4124


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