Google Opens Up Social Networking

Click here to see screenshotsWhile many site providers have been intrigued by the idea of adding social networking capabilities, for the most part efforts in this area have been unsuccessful. This is mainly due to the fact that the last thing most people want to do is join yet another social network, especially one that is tied to a specific Web site. But this week may see a big change in the ability of Web sites to add social networking capabilities. Both Google and Facebook released services that make it possible for Web sites to easily add social networking features that don't require visitors to join a brand-new social network. For the last couple of days I've had the chance to test out the beta of Google Friend Connect. Google Friend Connect lets any Web site operator easily add functionality to a site that lets visitors join the site, see other users of the site, and participate in social networking activities such as commenting on and rating content.

Click here to see screenshots
friendconn1.JPG

While many site providers have been intrigued by the idea of adding social networking capabilities, for the most part efforts in this area have been unsuccessful. This is mainly due to the fact that the last thing most people want to do is join yet another social network, especially one that is tied to a specific Web site.

But this week may see a big change in the ability of Web sites to add social networking capabilities. Both Google and Facebook released services that make it possible for Web sites to easily add social networking features that don't require visitors to join a brand-new social network.

For the last couple of days I've had the chance to test out the beta of Google Friend Connect. Google Friend Connect lets any Web site operator easily add functionality to a site that lets visitors join the site, see other users of the site, and participate in social networking activities such as commenting on and rating content.

From a strict feature standpoint, there isn't much in Google Friend Connect that seems all that new. In fact, Yahoo's MyBlogLog service has been providing similar capabilities for some time now.

However, what makes the Google Friend Connect service stand out is its extreme openness and its potential for near-unlimited extensibility. That's because, rather than using proprietary technology, Google Friend Connect heavily leverages open technologies such as OpenID, OpenSocial and OAuth.

Getting up and running with Google Friend Connect was fairly quick and painless. I simply entered the site information on the Google Friend Connect site, downloaded two files that I then uploaded to my site's root directory and chose the gadgets that I wanted to add to my site. For the gadgets, Google Friend Connect generated code that I then needed to add to my Web site templates and pages.

Probably the core gadget for Google Friend Connect is the Members gadget. This gadget displays visitors who have joined the site and makes it possible for visitors to sign in, join the site and utilize other social networking gadgets (the Members gadget for this site can be found on this page at the bottom of the right navigation bar, just below the similar gadget for Yahoo's MyBlogLog).

When a user clicks on the gadget to sign in, he or she is given several options: a Google ID, a Yahoo ID, an AOL AIM ID or an OpenID account. This is many more options than are typically offered by other social networking tools.

Other social networking gadgets provided by Google include a Wall gadget that lets visitors comment on and link to a site, a ratings gadget (one of which I've added to the bottom of this review), and a couple of demonstration gadgets. There is also a code snippet provided to aid developers in creating their own custom gadgets.

There are some basic administration options provided for site owners, including a very simple reporting option to see statistics on members of the site. I could also change some of the basic settings for my site, though these options weren't as varied as those provided by Yahoo's MyBlogLog.

Still, for a beta, Google Friend Connect looks pretty good and it is instantly a very attractive option for site proprietors who want to add social networking capabilities but don't want to build their own and don't want to lock visitors into one proprietary option.

For more information on Google Friend Connect go to www.google.com/friendconnect/. And check back in a week or so for my look at the recently released Facebook Connect.