You may have noticed yesterday that Rich embedded Google Friend Connect gadgets here on the ‘Lab.
So now, we’re a social network. Thanks to Dan for the snarky, “what was it before it became a social network?” comment, erm wall post. More on that later.
I wrote yesterday about the ongoing battle for a single identity and credentials, and coincidentally, Rich added the gadgets right before I finished. Google Friend Connect officially launched yesterday, and already several sites I visit now have creamy social network goodness, e.g. OraNA, Eddie’s blog, The Feature, Mashable. There will be more to come.
What is Google Friend Connect?
Friend Connect allows webmasters to add “a dash of social” to any site with a few lines of code. The gadgets are OpenSocial apps, and sites that use Friend Connect become OpenSocial containers and therefore, can also run any OpenSocial app, technically speaking.
That last bit is kind of a big deal, and I’m excited to try it out here.
If you look to the right, you’ll see the gadgets. You can:
- Join our little network.
- See all the members and there profiles.
- Friend other members, once you’ve joined.
- Invite other people to our little network.
- Write on our wall.
So, all the standard social functionality, which is nice, but to Dan’s point, we’re we already a social network, discussing the content here? He’s right; blogs are inherently social networks, focused around the posts and comments. The only additional value-add for us is facilitating communication separate from the content.
For sites that aren’t blogs or forums, i.e. not inherently social by design, Google Friend Connect adds bigger value. So, say you have a web site, and you’ve been contemplating how to build a community around your brand. However, you don’t have the skills or desire to deploy your own social network, and you don’t want another site to own your brand’s network (e.g. by creating a Facebook group or a network on Ning).
Google Friend Connect is the tool for you. Here’s the video to prove it:
Beyond the value of adding social to your site, I see the biggest win here as creating your site as an OpenSocial container. So, you can add other gadgets to your site; maybe a shared calendar from GCal or Upcoming, or a GTalk widget to talk to your new network of peeps.
Sure, you could do this stuff before, but Google Friend Connect makes it easier, at least, in theory. I’m very curious to see how well (or poorly) this works, and I may tackle it here in the near future for my own edification.
Expect the number of Google Friend Connect sites to spike quickly because the gadgets are pretty easy to install, and as a user, you don’t need a Google account (or don’t have to use one) to join. Friend Connect also supports Yahoo, AIM and OpenID accounts, which is very nice.
Once you’ve joined a few sites, you can manage the various sites you’ve joined and friends you have for each site in an easy manner. All-in-all, I’m impressed with the ease of use, but again, it’s debatable how useful this will be in the long run.
One bummer thing for me is that I now have three logins for this blog: one for WordPress, one for Disqus and now one for Google Friend Connect. This is where OpenID could really help me, but it won’t.
Another big winner here is OpenSocial.
Every deployment of Google Friend Connect adds another OpenSocial container, more users and more developers.
Again, I’m assuming that container means you can add pretty much any OpenSocial app. This creates a problem of real estate, but if you can leverage canvas view or pop-out, that might not be a huge problem.
I wonder if we’ll see more iGoogle type sites show up as developers go the easy route and deploy Friend Connect with some additional gadgets.
Anyway, not by accident, Facebook Connect went live yesterday too. I like Mashable’s characterization of it as “OpenID for Dummies“, which is a big addressable market. One failing of OpenID thus far has been resolving the confusion around what it is and why anyone would care.
Mashable has a nice review of the differences and similarities between Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, worth a read if you care. Google’s easier to implement, but Facebook has more social goodness and integration with your Facebook network, natch.
There is no mention of the OpenSocial container aspect, which as I’ve said, is the biggest and most important piece of Friend Connect.
It’s clear that Google’s strategy for competing with Facebook hasn’t changed, i.e. change the game to an open one and create strength in numbers. They did it with OpenSocial (vs. F8 Platform), and now they’ve extended with Friend Connect.
Facebook says we’re the biggest social network (at 130 million users), so why no consolidate your online life into our site? We’ve got all your friends, your status, apps you like, even web search with Microsoft Live Search. No need to leave us, but if you do, you can use your Facebook credentials and link your activity back here, telling your friends about other places you like (and that like Facebook).
The latter is key, since sites integrating Facebook Connect become ecosystem partners.
Google’s open web strategy says the web is big, so why not make every site a social network, complete with gadgets and OpenSocial apps. One thing I haven’t heard yet is how Ning will take this news. What happens to their value proposition when rather than creating an OracleCommunity social network, Eddie can do this around his blog?
My sense is that most people out there don’t care about the whys. They just want easy. Right now, Facebook’s plan looks the easiest, if only because Google hasn’t put on the full court press about how to use Friend Connect and OpenSocial.
This is shaping up to be an interesting battle, at least to some of us.
What do you think? Find the comments.