I went to a testy legal debate today and a discussion about the social graph almost broke out.

Okay, as usual I’m being a bit facetiuos, but at the Supernova 2008 conference today things got tense between Facebook and Google.

During the “Whose Social Graph?” panel, Facebook’s Dave Morin, Google’s Kevin Marks and Plaxo’s Joseph Smarr were discussing some of the broader ideas for how user data on social networks currently is — and more importantly, how it should be shared.

Despite everyone agreeing that they all need to do a better job at “opening” this data, a rift that has been forming between Google and Facebook became apparent.

Last month, Facebook cut off access to Google’s Friend Connect. The social network claimed Google’s service was pulling Facebook user data without the knowledge of that user. When this topic came up, Morin and Marks started to get into a back and forth over the issue before Morin tightened up and said he would not discuss legal matters on such a panel.

You could cut the tension with a knife.

Facebook and Google are seen as two of the key players in shaping the social graph going forward. Social graph is the buzzword for the idea of how all sites with social components will interact with each other. The problem, as illustrated by the legal situation, is that the two don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on how this graph should be laid out right now.

Both sides want their way, but the space is evolving quickly and the standards are still fluid. This Google vs. Facebook social rift could evolve into a major Internet battleground going forward — especially when you consider that Google rival Microsoft owns a share of Facebook (and almost certainly would like to buy more given what has happened with Yahoo striking a deal with Google.)

The panel moved on, but those watching around me didn’t.

“Apparently Google and Facebook need ‘Legal Connect’,” Chris Messina, who was in the audience, wrote on Twitter.

Messina has been involved with OAuth and OpenID, both of which are central components of the open data debate. OAuth allows secure API authentication between services so as to share data. OpenID allows users to log on to various sites with a single identity.

In a probably unrelated piece of news, multiple users were reporting that Facebook went down around this time…

[photo: flickr/massless]