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Google Friend Connect Preview Release: A Review

On May 12, 2008, Google announced it's website social networking feature, Google Friend Connect; it's now a preview release available to all. This post is a deeper review of this service.

Many professional bloggers upgraded their blogs to include their own topic-specific forums for better user interaction. Some bloggers went ahead, created their own social networks from services like Ning (here is a review of Ning), and some others incorporated the Open data access APIs provided by such social networks as Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, and blog networks like BlogCatalog, MyBlogLog, etc., to their own blogs (the BlogCatalog/Facebook widgets you see on blogs).

Google's Friend Connect is a service that builds upon all of these services.

It is a social interaction snap-in for blogs/websites using which anyone from anywhere with any kind of identity can be a member of a blog. Virtually, you can allow sign ups on your blog, without taking up much of your resources or engaging programmers for the purpose. Google provides a simple code snippet that will enable all these services in your blog. The Friend Connect will sit as a small widget on the sidebar, showing the images of all users connected to the blog, just as the 'Follow Blog' widget in Blogger/Twitter.

The Major Features

Signing Up As a Member

Anyone can sign into your blog as a member and keep themselves updated. All he requires is an OpenID. OpenID is an emerging identity standard, using which you can log on any service with a single identity. Google, Blogger, Yahoo, WordPress, or LiveJournal users already have an OpenID (more information on OpenID).

You can use your Blogger/WordPress/LiveJournal blog URL itself as your OpenID. If you have self-hosted your blog, you can sign up with any OpenID provider out there to convert your blog to be used as one (just takes adding a few lines of code). The advantage of this is that you can use your blog's URL to sign on any service that accepts OpenID. Without any registration, you will be authenticated as the owner of your blog.

You can use your Google account, Yahoo account, AIM ID, or any other third-party OpenID provider to sign up in Friend Connect. Since it is hard to find an Internet user without a Google ID, this service is virtually accessible to all.

Here are the screenshots of signing up on any blog using Friend Connect:

Friend Connect network widget showing connections on a blog
Friend connect joining a blog

Google Profile Card

If you haven't customized your Google profile card, this is the time for it. Friend Connect by default uses your Google profile to show information about you with the links you have customized (i.e., if you are signing up with your Google account). You can access and edit your profile from this link.
Google profile card view

Once you have become a member of the blog, your profile image will be shown on the widget, which will link to your Google profile.

Adding & Managing Friends

Any user can add any member of the blog as his friend. The friend requests are easy. You will find the images of all people connected to the blog on the widget. Just click on any of these images and you will see the details of the user. You can request to be his friend from this view. Here are the screenshots:

Looking at the details of a person
requesting to be his friend
sending and confirming friend request

OpenSocial Features

Google and OpenSocial API are bringing in more interaction applications to Friend Connect. Already, there is the functionality to comment and rate on various posts on the blog. There are also applications for media share and to play games with other members. More applications (social gadgets) are in the process of development. If you are a programmer and wish to associate with the development, then you should check out the Open Social Community.

OpenSocial is a network that defines a generic API (Application Programming Interface) for several social interaction programs across multiple websites. This means, a programmer can use a generic JavaScript/HTML code base to build data access applications for Hi5, MySpace, Facebook, and more. OpenSocial is already used by Friendster, Myspace, Hi5, LinkedIn, Ning, Oracle, Orkut, and more.

Here is the screenshot of commenting & rating feature:

commenting on Friend Connect

Technologies: OAuth & OpenID

Friend Connect uses these two technology standards to build higher level interaction with various service providers. Individual user websites will play a bigger role in the next generation Web. The more friends one has connected to one's site, the better. Friend Connect is one firm step toward that.

Already, social networks like Facebook are providing access to your stuff through their Open data access APIs for your blogs. This way, virtually a user needn't go to Facebook website to connect with you. In the next generation Web, the importance of this interaction will be far greater. And it will not flourish without technology standards like OpenID and OAuth.

OAuth and OpenID are different in many respects. OpenID is a way of sharing identity with multiple platforms, which means you only need one identity to use several services. On the other hand, OAuth deals with allowing access to your stuff without sharing identity at all. You can read more about each here:
OpenID.net
OAuth.net

Google Friend Connect Introduction Videos

Here are two videos published by the Google Channel and the Google Code Channel in YouTube, introducing Friend Connect:





The Advantages

  • Since new users will be able to connect with their friends, they stay on your site longer
  • New users may invite their own contacts to your site, which increases traffic
  • Since user interaction is enhanced through comments, media share, games, and more, your site will be more like an open social network
  • It's open and completely free, which means even people without Google account can use it
  • OpenSocial network is working on more interaction applications which will be available from time to time
  • It doesn't require anyone to register. Only an OpenID is enough that can even be your blog's URL
  • It obviates other social networking widgets

Conclusion

On the top of all these, there sits one obvious requirement. You are the manager of your blog social network. So you should be able to lead your community with your interaction. Also, make sure you go and network with all related sites.

Here are a few sites testing the Friend Connect:

http://www.ossamples.com/recipes/
http://www.ingridmichaelson.com/ilike
http://www.myfirstearthquake.com/

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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