Google Friend Connect and the Social bar

I decided to experiment with Google Friend Connect today, after seeing the “Social bar” being used on the Open Source Bridge site. I had even set aside some time to start writing some code; to my surprise, Google did all the magic for me, and it didn’t even take me longer than five minutes to setup.

It was as simple as setting up a new site, uploading two files into ~/www/, then editing my WordPress theme’s footer.php and adding the auto-generated code before the </body> tag (I did it after the <?php wp_footer(); ?> call though).

I immediately joined my own site. At first, I setup a profile, but then realised that I could import my profile from my usual Google one. Heck, I could even import a profile from Twitter! One thing I found odd, was that to edit my profile, I had to do it from the social bar itself (from the far left column).


Social bar
The social bar – click for a larger version

On the far left column, you can join the site, or edit your profile and settings. Next to that, you can see the activity stream throughout the site. Next to that, you’re given the option to add comments. And on the far right, you can see like-minded visitors who’ve joined, and even become friends with them.

What does the social bar do for me?

  1. It allows members to join my blog and be part of my community. Do you remember MyBlogLog (a Yahoo! service)? Well, Friend Connect allows me to have MyBlogLog type features, with no problem whatsoever.
  2. It allows comments from members. These can be fine grained comments – either for the particular page, or for the whole site. In my experimentation, I’m using it for the whole site naturally. On a blog, if you’re going to write a comment of substance, you’re going to do it with the commenting facility available on the blog – however, if you just want to write throwaway comments, one-liners, “me too” replies or have one of those “chatboxes” that blogs tend to have, you’ll find the Friend Connect Social Bar to be quite useful.

I’ll be the first to admit, that its probably not too useful for me, per se, but I can see its usefulness for sites that require a lot of collaboration.

Sites that I think can benefit from Friend Connect? Kenny Sia – the Chatterbox can be replaced with the comments in Friend Connect, and frankly all the one-liner comments will be better suited for the Social bar’s comments (maybe on a per-page basis?) – plus, he’ll get a “community” for free. LiewCF can also benefit – the “members” feature provided by MyBlogLog (he currently boasts 1,441 members) can probably grow with Friend Connect, and all those one-liner comments again, can go into the comments of the Social bar. Not picking on either site, but I think they can “socialise” their sites a lot better.


Colin Charles Agenda - Settings

MyBlogLog is kind of a walled garden. You need to have an account there (on Yahoo!). Friend Connect tends to be a bit more useful – you can either use a Google, AIM, Yahoo! or OpenID account to login (a lot of bloggers will already realise they have OpenID for free – wordpress.com, livejournal, et al provide this). I think it can be a bit more useful if it supported logins from Windows Live/MSN accounts too – after all, a large proportion of my non-geek friends are MSN users.

And if I join another community, that information is cross-pollinated to my other communities. As a site owner, you can even see “reports” of how social your site is, over time – this whole idea of data mining (ok, analytics) is highly useful.

What if you decided to use comments on your blog, for just that – comments. But use the Social bar to enter “blog suggestions”. Smells like Skribit, to some extent. Do I see myself keeping the Friend Connect Social bar at the bottom of my blog for long? Who’s to say. Let’s see if a community builds up around it. I think this will be most useful for sites that really want conversations amongst readers, something like the foss.my site, or other social sites.

Are you using Google Friend Connect? How? What are your thoughts on it? Don’t hesitate to share them in the comments (or via the Friend Connect Social Bar!).


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