14 Comments

Summary:

The usual sites are buzzing with the news that Google has announced its new Friend Connect service (link won’t be turned on until tonight). Google is positioning this as “a service that helps website owners grow traffic by enabling any site on the web to easily […]

ScreenshotThe usual sites are buzzing with the news that Google has announced its new Friend Connect service (link won’t be turned on until tonight). Google is positioning this as “a service that helps website owners grow traffic by enabling any site on the web to easily provide social features for its visitors.”

Let’s start with what this is not: Google is not getting into the white label social networking space. Startups in that arena – like KickApps, who we’ve looked at before – allow you to build up your own site with social networking features like members, blogs, photo sharing, discussion, and so on. That approach lets the individual site be the center of gravity for the network, but results in needing to join multiple networks to keep up with all of your communities.Google is taking a diametrically opposite approach, keeping the center of gravity in the network. What Friend Connect does is allow members of a small set of existing social networks (Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, Orkut, and Plaxo) to interact on multiple sites across the internet. After webmasters sign up with Friend Connect (this may be difficult for a while; they’re going to meter access via a wait list), visitors to their sites can sign in to their existing network IDs and interact with their existing friends. So, for example, if WWD went with Friend Connect (which we’re not currently planning), you could log on with your Facebook ID and see and chat with your Facebook friends here.

The interaction is all going to happen through included code snippets that display in IFRAMEs – in other words, the Friend Connect functionality will be isolated islands within your site, like raisins in a cookie. Though Google is planning to use APIs like OpenID, OpenAuth, and OpenSocial in the backend plumbing of Friend Connect, there’s no front end API to allow webmasters to get information out. If you’re running a Friend Connect-enabled site, you won’t know what visitors are even doing on that part of your pages.

This idea – that users will bring existing IDs with them and insert them into other sites on the net – has been tried before. Yahoo’s MyBlogLog is in this neighborhood, as are many startups that try to enable leaving comments on any web site. Sure, Google’s approach is a tad more standards-centered, and it has the advantage of leveraging numerous already-large member communities. But what I don’t see here is any really compelling use case.

Why should I, as a webmaster, set aside part of my page for you to have a conversation in? Why should you, as a user, come to my site to talk with your Facebook friends, rather than using Facebook? Why should I have to choose which identity to share with a site, rather than just logging in with OpenID and interacting with other users of that site? What are we getting in return for pushing another stream of data through Google?

Until we see some compelling answers to those questions, Friend Connect looks to me like an attempt to make sure that Facebook and MySpace don’t grab all the mindshare with their recent data portability announcements. Right now I don’t see enough value for either users or webmasters to recommend Friend Connect over existing solutions for adding interactivity to sites.

  1. “Why should I, as a webmaster, set aside part of my page for you to have a conversation in? Why should you, as a user, come to my site to talk with your Facebook friends, rather than using Facebook?”

    So that your website can increase its stickiness and keep the user engaged for a longer time with a higher likelihood of them clicking on other paid/non-paid content and services on your website. Also the initial gadget or IFRAME container might be isolated, but with better security the interaction of this gadget can be increased to communicate with other parts of the page through signals making the whole experience more interactive.

    Share
  2. Good questions. Maybe we could meet over at PF Changs and discuss some more!

    iThink that the changes are good – it’s just another option for us to use, another tools in the trade, another feather in my cap.

    http://ThunkDifferent.com !

    Share
  3. that is again one of these social bookmarking tools oh my god…

    Share
  4. If it makes it easier for users of our business-focused social networking site to use the features of the site with contacts they have already established elsewhere then I am interested.

    Of course, there is a world of difference between talking about it and showing it working so we can all really judge the value.

    Ian Hendry
    WeCanDo.BIZ
    http://www.wecando.biz

    Share
  5. Here’s a thought, if something like this allows me to continue my facebook chat (among other things) with my friends as I move from site to site on the Internet, then it would be pretty cool.

    Share
  6. I am on the fence. Our site has one of the largest collections of Caribbean entertainment videos on the web BUT users cannot rate videos or leave comments.

    We are the only Caribbean media partner for Flux, which is great because users have a single set of login info for all Viacom sites (MTV.com, etc.) and partner sites, linking us with elite brands, but when we tried to embed their comment widget, it didn’t work.

    This Google initiative would provide those features without building out a new registration system. The increased stickiness from comments increases pageviews and ad revenue.

    The problem is the issue you raised – I want the contact info of those people so that I can contact them when we upload new content.

    With Flux I can do all that so I would rather fix my Flux issue than sign up with Friend Connect but we will probably test it when we get an invite.

    Share
  7. Mike, I think you’ve nailed it exactly from a web publisher’s point of view (interesting to me that most are taking it from the user perspective). Websites can benefit from some access to the millions of people that GMF aggregate, but as any publisher knows, the things that you need to ‘own’ & ‘control’ are your brand and relationships with your users. This can’t be substituted. But once you have that foundational core these initiatives could be act as value adds.

    Share
  8. That isolated island iframe point is very interesting. I wonder how Google will allow AdSense to access Friend Connect data to serve relevant ads on the “host” website.

    Share
  9. Now that the pieces of Google’s social network have come together I have learned that the Friend Connect widget is how you find and make friends within the network.

    How much more targeted can you get than showing the Google Reader RSS subscribers as friends of the blog the widget resides on?

    You can use the widget to send a friend request to the user behind the avatar, then when they friend you back your new friend is added to Gtalk and Gmail chat, their Google shared RSS items are added to your “Friend’s shared items” in Google Reader and in return, yours to theirs.

    This is the perfect social network, sharing what we read in real time thru Google Reader and a spam proof network to boot. Take that Digg.

    Share
  10. I think the genius of Google Friend Connect is its simplicity and ease of installation. Just to have an “add as a friend” feature – that is something that people LIKE to have on their websites! That’s mainly why I like it, as well as the internetworking social aspect of it — you can see the same people on multiple websites. When you break what makes MySpace + Facebook down to the nitty gritty: “What makes them different from a regular informational website?”
    It’s “Add friend”. To add friend is not like participating in a forum, or a chat room, or setting up a profile page (which *is* something that MySpace does in a big way) — but it is stating a relationship. “You are my friend”

    And giving that capability to millions of blogs and websites for 10 minutes of work? It’s not a bad deal.

    Here’s hoping it is embraced :-)

    Kenneth Udut
    Webmaster of a Google Friend Connect Enabled Site: http://free.naplesplus.us a Naples FL website

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post