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May 12, 2008

Google Friend Connect -- making open social easy

Charlene_li_2008_low_resby Charlene Li

Google announced that it would be releasing Google Friend Connect this evening (link won't work until Monday evening.) The idea behind Friend Connect is to give Web masters the tools to easily add social features to their sites. This is what Google announced:

"With Google Friend Connect (see http://www.google.com/friendconnect following this evening's Campfire One), any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming -- picking and choosing from built-in functionality like user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting, and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community."

What Google is essentially doing is making it easy to tap into new, emerging standards around social features. These standards specifically deal with identity (OpenID), data access rights(OAuth), and social applications (OpenSocial). These are all standards that have emerged in the past six months and are laying the foundation for open social networks. Friend Connect is Google's way to make these new standards more accessible to Web site owners who don't have legions of developers at the ready.

Dan Farber at CNET has an excellent review of how Friend Connect works (and what it isn't).

One question I'm hearing is why Friend Connect is being announced now, especially on the heels of MySpace and Facebook announcements last week. Google is tapping into the "all things social" heat of the moment, but it's adding a different perspective -- not as a data source and social network "owner" but as an enabler. It's played this role well in the past with search and mapping APIs but make no mistake -- Google wants to spread its tentacles into the social Web.

The biggest buzz right now about social networks is not about them becoming more open, but about how they can't make money. I expect that at some point in the future, participating sites will have the option of enabling monetization engines via AdSense that tap into the deep profile and user data flowing through Friend Connect -- all done, presumably, with clear user approval and transparency.

For the readers of this blog, how interested are you in adding social features to your site? And if you are interested in doing this, what features would you want to add first? For myself, I would love to add links to identities/profiles for the people who add their comments to posts (again, assuming that they provide permission to do this). That would provide greater context for the comments and potentially stir even more discussion.


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I'd like to be able to link a shopper's profile to his/her frind network can see shopper's purchased products (obviouly with shopper's permission) and product reviews. This could be a great selling tool, when the review comes from someone you know. Any thoughts?


I'd like to get profile information on visitors, of course, but I'd like it to be focused, contextual, and relevant profile info.

I'd like to see a kind of AdSense contextual system that would match my site's content with the user's key profile data elements. Then I could deliver even more relevant content based on their profile.

I'd like to see a more dynamic exchange of data, so that I can offer my visitors a more focused, dynamic and informative experience.

That's probably a technical limit for now, but that's how I'd like to see social web develop.

I guess I'd like services like Google's Friend Connect to do away with Clockwork Orange Marketing, and open up the way to a more targeted, relevant (and interesting) osmosis of information flows.

Paul Chaney

I'm hopeful SixApart will make incorporation of Friend Connect an automated, one-click process for Typepad similar to the way other widgets are done.

I'm also wondering what effect this will have on popular social network platforms like Ning since there will now be less implied need to set up a separate site.

Mia Walczak

Wearing my corporate developer hat I feel very uncomfortable using these "lite" solutions...I would always be inclined to do the development myself, maintaining maximum control of functionality and reliability....

...with my marketing hat on, and I suspect more suitably for smaller web presences, its an inexpensive, simple way of enhancing an existing site into a social experience. It could drive site traffic up and increase user engagement once we get them there, and thats where we begin to extract value in theory...

So for me it depends on what your web development budget is and how much control you want to maintain, or indeed how comfortable you are with those tentacles wrapping around you! Yiakk!

Michael Chin

From a website owner/publisher's point of view, the core things you need to own & control are your brand and your relationships with your users. The social web opens up a world of opportunity for deepening those relationships and feeding your business (editorial, advertising & marketing). However, it's of utmost importance for publishers to own that 'Social Graph Core.' These initiatives are nice value adds to that. Who doesn't want to tap into their audiences (in the right way)?


I remember back in the portal days, there were services that allowed you to add portal tools like calendar, chat etc to your own website,
and if I remember correctly it didn't become a rave for some reason.
This kinda seems similar. Or am I missing something?

Note that I'm talking about the "concept" of doing what you could do on a big website for your niche audience on your own site.


I'd like to see other social networks being integrated into the Friend Connect platform as this will increase the options for small and medium size businesses with an interest in more business like applications


For now, the iframe structure of Friend Connect does not allow the rest of the "host" website to access data within Friend Connect. I wonder how they will solve the sharing of data to enable existing instances of AdSense to serve relevant ads. Unless of course they serve ads within Friend Connect.

Jim Deitzel

I'd love the ability to easily allow users to create profiles. Then allow the users to create mini sites within the main site. I see this being applied to cpg websites.

Additionally, I'd love to have a quick way to manage all of my social profiles in one spot and utilize them across platforms. I hate having multiple identities.

Social Marketing Journal

It will be interesting to see how this FriendConnect tool fares ultimately with web site owners. We agree with the comment above - it will make things easier for those who simply want new features on their site without knowing too much about how to do back end stuff but for true web developers - it may be frustrating to not get full control over such a tool...wonder if/how Google will ultimately edit the control features of it - if ever?


A new google friend connect directory has been started at gfcdirectory.com. If you have a google friend connect enabled website then you can submit your site for free to this directory. We have enabled some of the gadgets on the site, so you can also see at first hand what they look like.

Chris Lang

Google Friend Connect is not what any of you think it is.

It is the front end to the most interactive social application ever created.

Google Friend Connect is just the friending system, it is how you make friends on blogs that have great content.

Hence, making social networking friends thru the GFC widget is the best way to find new contacts on the Internet that will link to your post, share your blog posts in Google Reader and create fully followed backlinks to your site in Google Reader shared items.

When you friend a GFC user thru a GFC widget and they return the invitation you become mutual friends.

Their Gmail address is added to your contacts and yours to theirs in Gmail.

Gchat to if you decide to accept the contact there.

Their Google Reader shared feed is added to your Google Reader and visa versa.

50 other social marketing applications are also enabled across all the other Google properties.

You can get all the details thru my free Google Friend Connect tutorial at my site above.

Chris Lang
Googling Social

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