Single sign-on. Universal log-in. It is the Holy Grail of Internet services. Coming into the new century, Microsoft planned to use Passport as a universal, single sign-on authentication system aligned with Windows. Following privacy group complaints, a Federal Trade Commission investigation and subsequent settlement, Microsoft backed off the authentication strategy. A decade later, Facebook emerged as contender; many sites or services request, and some even require, signing in with Facebook credentials. Twitter is another option, and there are other choices, such as OpenID.
Now Google comes calling, today adding Google+ Sign-In as an option developers can include with their apps. I cannot overstate just how bold and disruptive the authentication system could be, or how much Google could -- scratch that, most likely will -- benefit. If widely adopted, the service could, if nothing else, give Google+ huge lift against Facebook. Welcome to the social network wars, and my money is on the the big G winning because Android, search and other assets offer so much leverage.
Simply put: Google makes authentication a development platform tied to its social network and some other assets. Same can be said about Facebook, which offers authentication and apps platform. Both companies promise developers improved customer engagement and visibility over time.
The difference: Facebook apps run within the social network's confines, although authentication reaches beyond and pulls users in. Google has Android, which is the dominant phone OS by huge margin, and extends the authentication platform to iOS, too. Combined, the two operating systems had 90.1 percent smartphone share during fourth quarter, based on actual sales, according to Gartner. Google+ Sign-In also supports web apps.
Successful platforms share six common traits:
- There are good development tools and APIs for easily creating applications
- There is at least one killer application people really want
- There is breadth of useful applications
- Third parties make lots of money
- The platform is broadly available
- There is a robust ecosystem
The most important is the fourth. Developers follow the money. Here Google uses one platform, social networking/authentication, to benefit another -- mobile apps. The concept: Social engagement drives apps usage and sales, whether direct, additional or ancillary.
If developers sign on, they're sure to drive more traffic to Google+, which isn't good for Facebook. Likewise, the search giant offers an alternative to Facebook log-in for apps and some related services.