Implementing Facebook Connect (Part 1) - What is Facebook Connect?

I have been spending some time recently developing an online community which will hopefully be launched next quarter. One of the things I wanted to integrate is OpenID to try and lessen the burden of signing-up and logging-in. However, after doing some research I’m thinking that Facebook Connect might be the better way to go. This is the first of at least 2 posts about implementing Facebook Connect with your own PHP application. To begin we will first look at what Facebook Connect is and does and the next post will get technical and look at how to integrate it with your next CodeIgniter or PHP application.

What is Facebook Connect and how does it differ from OpenID?

Facebook Connect (FC) allows users with Facebook accounts to log into your website/service using their Facebook log-in credentials. OpenID provides the same functionality except instead of using your Facebook credentials you use your OpenID credentials. The difference between the two is that FC brings a lot more, in terms of features and functionality, to the table for developers to work with than OpenID does. FC allows users to take their web based social identity with them from site to site.

The Facebook Developers site has a lot of useful information on FC and what you can do with it. Using FC, you can enable “…your users to seamlessly “connect” their Facebook account and information with your site, connect and find their friends who also use your site and share information and actions on your site with their friends on Facebook.” In a nutshell, when you integrate FC with your website or web based application you are allowing your users to interact with their Facebook account from within your app thereby adding value to your site right off the bat.

As I stated above, FC offers more than just authentication. If a user logs into your application using FC you have the ability to interact with that users Facebook profile, friends, Facebook Feed, requests and notifications (if they give your app permission). A nice example of FC functionality and features is a sample app Facebook staff developed as an example called The Run Around. This example shows how FC would be integrated with a typical web app. You can either create your account using The Run Around registration form and connect your Facebook account later on the settings screen. Or, you can just use your Facebook account to log-in and forgo the static registration all together.

When a user logs into The Run Around, and they have connected their account to their Facebook account, the app can now post updates to the users Facebook Feed and show them any friends of theirs that are also using the app. So now you can not only leverage a users Facebook log-in information but you can create an app that interacts with that users Facebook account which I think is totally cool. This opens the door for developers to create nice sites that compliment Facebook and vice verse.

Now that we have covered what Facebook Connect is the next post in this series will begin to look at how we go about using it in our own apps. Check out part 2 to estalibsh your applications connection to Facebook.