The battle for control of your digital identity has begun. Yesterday, Yahoo announced that they will be integrating Facebook Connect throughout their sites. Some people may say that this is Yahoo hoping to maintain relevance, but Yahoo is still one of the most trafficked sites in the world, and it still maintains the largest online email service. There may be a lot of overlap in the people using Facebook and Yahoo, but combining Facebook’s 350 million users with Yahoo’s 500 million visitors per month, and you get an identity monster. Why is this important to anyone besides Yahoo? Marshall Kirkpatrick has a very good explanation of identity on ReadWriteWeb:

Identity is a very important matter online, particularly as everything becomes more social. Online identity is your address book, it’s your wallet, it’s your reputation and it could become a lot more. Increasingly, you take that Identity from site to site, leveraging on the next site what you did on the last one.

This does not explain why the Facebook and Yahoo integration is so interesting. By itself it may not be, but later in the day, Google made a similar announcement. They stated that Google FriendConnect allows you to join a site using your Twitter login. If you watch the video, you will see the sign in form for FriendConnect.

Google Friend Connect Sign InAs you can see in this image, Google has chosen to focus on itself, Twitter and Yahoo. Marshall has a great comment on the implications of this design:

By choosing to favor branded log-ins and making standards-based systems an afterthought, websites using these systems are disincentivized to leverage the innovations that come from the open standards community and big Identity brands stay in control.

Marshall has some very interesting information regarding these moves and open standards as well. If we ignore the open standards implications and just focus on the companies involved, you can see there is something bigger here. In the sign in image, Facebook is missing mainly because they are Google’s main competition in the identity space. The battle for your digital identity is not as simple as “he who has the most logins wins”. This is really about owning your attention and the attention of your network of friends. I talked about the battle for attention just a few months ago as well. This battle is heating up considerably with these types of partnerships. There is a quote from that post that still rings true today:

Both companies know that communication is the key to winning. If they provide the easiest and best communications tools, they will likely become the destination of choice. The real question is whether there is something missing. Is there some key piece of functionality that we do not have yet that could make either of them the clear winner?

At that time, I mentioned Yahoo as one of the few companies that may be able to compete with Facebook and Google, but also noted that they are trying to find their focus. The integration with Facebook means that they are now more on the Facebook team than the Google team. It also means that they are not competing anymore and just want to be on the winning side. Is there anyone else that can compete for digital identity and attention? Could Microsoft make some moves with their MSN monster?

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