In Tim O'Reilly's influential Web 2.0 manifesto, written in late 2005, he wrote: "The race is on to own certain classes of core data: location, identity, calendaring of public events, product identifiers and namespaces. In many cases... the winner will be the company that first reaches critical mass via user aggregation, and turns that aggregated data into a system service."
While O'Reilly wasn't talking specifically about Facebook, let alone Facebook Connect which was only announced this May, he could well have been. In Facebook Connect, the company is making a play to own at least two, and possibly three, classes of data: a user's Identity, Social Graph, and Lifestream.
This one is pretty easy to grok, and Facebook is far from alone in wanting to own the Identity space. Facebook Connect will enable third-party sites to offer authentication (e.g. log-in) via Facebook, negating the need to sign up to yet another web service, and making Facebook the central home for a user's identity - including a user's online profile. While Facebook could have adopted the OpenID standard instead of developing its own protocol, since all of the major players who have done so only support OpenID one way - e.g. you can use your AOL account to log-in to sites that accept OpenID but not vice versa - at this stage I don't see that much difference.
Facebook Connect will enable third-party sites, with a user's permission, to access Facebook's Social Graph data. Essentially allowing a user to sync their friends list, albeit in a limited way, with those third-party sites. At the F8 developer conference, SixApart showed off a plug-in for the blogging platform Moveable Type built on Facebook Connect. In this example, blog commenting is made easier by using Facebook for authentication (Identity) and more compelling by being able to see which of your Facebook friends have also commented (Social Graph).
Facebook Connect is also making it easy for third-party sites to pipe activity data into Facebook, and in doing so, the site gets to own a user's Lifestream data (defined as an aggregated stream of a user's Web activity). The social news site Digg's use of Facebook Connect gives a great example, whereby stories submitted and voted on will show up in a user’s Facebook mini-feed.
The end result, as Om Malik points out, is that this Lifestream data, and in particular when packaged together with Identity data, could be a gold mine to Facebook. Why? Because, explains Om, "when you use Facebook Connect on a web service outside of Facebook, say Digg or Xobni, you are transmitting back 'a little something about you' to the proverbial Facebook brain."
And it's Facebook's proverbial brain, or the three classes of data the company wants to own and have access to - Identity, Social Graph, and Lifestream - that will be of real value to advertisers.