Patrick Salyer says he's known the appeal of social media since his days as a Harvard undergrad, when he lived in the same dorm as Mark Zuckerberg and signed up as one of Facebook's early users.

Today he's CEO of Gigya, a Mountain View startup that helps clients like Pepsi, Verizon and ABC deliver a Facebook-like experience to customers who want to post comments, play games or earn rewards when they visit a corporation's website or mobile app. Many of those sites let customers sign in by using their name and password from Facebook or another social networking account.

But some consumers are growing wary of sharing their social networking information with other websites. In this interview, edited for length and clarity, Salyer explains why companies want you to log in -- and why Gigya recently launched a new service, called "SocialPrivacy Certification," for sites that promise consumers their data won't be abused.

Q What does Gigya do?

A We provide online businesses with a complete social infrastructure. On the front end, we provide social plug-ins (so visitors can interact or post comments) and "gamification" technology (which lets them earn points or rewards), to create a kind of Facebook-like layer on a website or a mobile app. On the back end, we have a registration system that manages social-identity data, so users can log in with their social network accounts like Facebook or Twitter. We work with almost 700 large online businesses; altogether, we touch 1.5 billion users a month across our client base.


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Q What do your clients do with their customers' social identities?

A More than half of all people on the Internet have used social logins. It's great for sites because when someone registers in the traditional way, you might get four or five pieces of information. But if someone logs in (through a social network account), it's like you've known them your whole life. They opt into letting you know what their interests are, where they live, where they work -- an incredibly rich amount of information.

We help businesses make sense of all this data, so they can take what a person may be interested in and deliver a very targeted or customized email. Or you can change their site experience based on what you know about a user or their friends. This ends up being a much better and more relevant experience for users.

Q Are some people leery about using their Facebook credential on other sites?

A There have been cases where users felt burned in the past. Like some sites would automatically share something you read, like some article about Lindsay Lohan, and you didn't really want that shared (as an update to all your friends on Facebook). Not that that would ever happen to me. (Laughs.)

There's also concern that something's going to happen to your data. We think there are legitimate concerns, but the businesses we work with are not doing these things. And they're willing to promise that they will not do these things.

So we saw an opportunity where a business could make this promise, and users therefore would be much more comfortable and willing to provide this sort of information for a more customized experience.

Q So what does your "SocialPrivacy Certification" promise to consumers?

A We came up with four key tenets: First is not to spam your news feed. The site won't send a message to your news feed without your permission. Second, it won't send a message to your friends without your permission. Third, it won't sell your social data. And fourth, it won't spam your own email.

Q What does that leave for your clients to do?

A What businesses want to provide, and what users really want, are personalized, more relevant experiences. There are businesses that do this well -- like Spotify, when you want to see what your friends are listening to and I'm happy to share what I'm listening to, as long as it's an opt-in process. Or with TripAdvisor, if I'm thinking about making a trip to Kauai, and I want to see where my friends have stayed.

Users absolutely want this. That's why they spend so much time on Facebook. But they just want transparency, to know what's happening. We've started with several partners, including Martha Stewart Omnimedia, AutoTrader.com, the Globe and Mail (a Canadian newspaper). When sites implement this, we see an increase in social logins. So businesses are seeing that it's good for them to do the right thing.

Q How do you check that businesses are keeping their promises?

A There's an initial audit and then ongoing audits on a regular basis. We have a team that's checking the sites, logging in socially and doing activities on the site to make sure the tenets are being followed. We also are doing secret shopping to make sure users' data is not showing up in third-party data stores.

Q Is Facebook the most widely used credential for logging onto other sites?

A Facebook is the most widely used, but about a year ago it reached its height in terms of market share, about 58 percent. What that shows is users want choice.

I think of LinkedIn as my professional contacts. Twitter is people I want to be connected with but I might not know them personally. And Facebook is my real friends. In each instance, I may go to a different site and want to interact with a different group.

So we see Facebook being a critical player in the identity realm, but I don't think they will own 90 percent. And we'll see what other networks come along.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey

Patrick salyer
Age: 31.
Job: CEO of Gigya.
Career: Ran a food-service business in his college dorm, then worked as a business consultant and launched his own software startup, Salyer Ventures, which built apps for MySpace and Facebook. He joined Gigya in 2007 and held jobs including vice president for strategy and operations before becoming CEO two years ago.
Education: Earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard in 2004.
Personal: Married with a 5-month-old daughter; grew up in Orange County, Ca.
Source: Patrick Salyer, Gigya.

Five things to know about patrick salyer:
1) He joined Gigya after it was founded by three Israelis who built software widgets for MySpace pages; now it makes software that lets websites integrate with Facebook and other platforms.
2) The 6-foot, 6-inch Salyer says he enjoys playing basketball because it's a team sport. "You can do a lot as an individual, but you'll never be great unless you play with other people really well."
3) He likes to compete; for a vacation last year, he and several friends took a jungle survival course in Guyana, taught by a former British commando.
4) He's friends with actors Channing Tatum ("21 Jump Street") and Adam Rodriguez ("CSI: Miami"), who both went along on last year's jungle trip.
5) Salyer also enjoys playing the strategy board game Settlers of Catan and is active at his church, Menlo Park Presbyterian.
Source: Patrick Salyer, Gigya.