This March has been a busy time for the leading architects of the social web. Twitter announced its @Anywhere at Chirp. Meanwhile, Facebook brought the Open Graph protocol to light the path of social sharing and separately announced support for OAuth 2.0 at F8.

Personal information sharing across the web is transforming in front of our eyes. To get our bearings on the innovation taking place, we took the time to talk to JanRain a leading third-party login services to find out what the changes in the recent landscape mean for open standards and user facing services.

2010 is the Year of Third Party Growth: Websites and Users

Lisa Hannah, head of marketing of JanRain mentioned that in the first quarter of 2010, the total number of web site customers using their RPX third party login service grew by 50%.

At the same time frame, the total number of logins through RPX accounts grew by 100%. Both the base of applications supporting third party login is growing, increase in use overall for sites using third party login services.

The number of websites using JanRain's RPX worldwide have passed the 200,000 mark. Here is an example of what it looks like that you may have seen on the web.

A Quick Summary of the Provider Landscape

Google and Facebook are leading providers of identity services that enable third party login.

Google: Early innovator in identity, manages email, domains, and consumer facing services such as news, google health, and Google Docs as a core service for identity. Uses email as a central token for hanging authentication services within Google.

JanRain mentioned that Google is still the largest authentication provider in their pool of user population, shown here are recent stats.

Twitter: Early innovator in the OAuth implementation ecosystem, the company offers one of the cleanest and fastest growing examples of sharing identity across the web. "Tweet This" and similar features bring more and more users to Twitter. Twitter uses its unique id for each account @Twitter. It also has made an increasing prominence its goal to know the users email, mobile number, and location.

Facebook. Facebook Connect has been the companies special sauce for embedding Facebook services into websites and connecting users on the web. This strategy has been evolving, and at F8 the company announced its open standard support and an increase in presence of social sharing services for users to target the sharing of content they consume from the web.

Shown here, we see Facebook as a clear leader among media providers in the population. This may be partly due to media provider tense relationships with Google on search.

Who Sets the Terms

A decade or so ago, Google transformed the perceptive of the web by offering the "I'm feeling lucky". This amazing product (at the time) offered a knowing of the "best hit" for a term being searched. In a subtle, but important way, a taxonomy for the web has been introduced for the web. This default view is now monetized - and controlled - by Google in how it links to top level documents on the web.

We're starting to think of Facebook's platform to be like Google. In a way, it is indexing the world of information, not by most linked, but by most liked. Like Google, when this filter is applied to the good old fashioned web, it shows that the world's content is valuable, and it can be monetized.

Here is a summary of how Facebook's Open Graph protocol works, from the companies site.

In this way, both Google and Facebook could be seen as sponges that continually absorb more and more around them. As third party login grows and it becomes easy to drop content from the web into their sites a long-time bond may be forming around social connections like it did search.

The web is evolving in a way that puts more and more responsiblity in a few key players that provision our identities.

Will the join of Twitter, Facebook, and Google be good enough competitors to do the right things with personalized services to win our trust?

Open Questions for Us and Them

There are questions still being formed as to how the rules of engagement evolve in social networking. Many of these questions look at the balance of what the social hub desire and what we are willing to give them.

Below, are a few things we think will be important as third party login grows and central services continue to grow into the fabric of the Internet.

  • Will Facebook, Google, and Twitter continue to let companies and web site owners use mutliple services? Today, this can be done by hooking up a service like JanRain. Will this open/closed ecosystem continue?
  • Will OAuth 2.0 be implemented by each of the leading providers in a way that makes their services interoperable? Will Twitter's XAuth, and Google's GAuth variants merge nicely with Facebook in the end.
  • Who will be the holder of the super-set of contacts a person engages with. Today, for many, the social graphs of Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook are still distinct islands. Will they merge?
  • Will consumers rise up as a power to dictate the terms of social networking, data sharing, and mining of personal traits. How will balance be reached, or will it?
  • Does it matter to people as consumers whether it is Google, Twitter, or Facebook as the identity service? Will another option spring up in the marketplace to meet the consumer in more friendly terms?

There is a lot of change in this landscape of social sharing on the web. Although it is growing quickly, we still feel that we're in a chapter in the middle of book, rather than the closing pages.

Right now, it feels like anything can happen in the landscape, and we're getting to know each of the main characters - and their intentions - well enough to get a feeling on how it may end.

What do you think, will third-party login services be a happy ending for the world wide web?

Photo credit: sidelong