Now We’re a Social Network

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:

So what?
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.

Vs. Facebook
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.




  1. What is the difference of this into the friendster and to the other site? and what do you think is this really better than other site? when it was started? can I also make friends nationwide ?

  2. Google Friend Connect turns any site into a social network, so functionally, there's very little difference between large sites (Facebook, MySpace, Friendster) and a site using GFC. Maybe a few bells/whistles, here and there.

    I suppose the big difference is size and interest. Rather than millions of people, you have a handful, all of whom are interested in that particular site. On FB, you might become a fan of another site, whereas GFC lets you join that site's network.

    Both have value, choice is good. GFC was announced in the Spring (May I think) and was in beta until this week, when it went live. Anyone can join any site's network from anywhere. So you could make friends from all over the world.

  3. For the record, I wasn't trying to be snarky. I honestly believe this site had more to offer than just a blog for a long time. While I know you aren't always happy with the number of comments you draw from the world, you get more than most of the tech blogs I read and the conversations often volley back and forth quite a while. To me, that's a lot more than just a blog, but it isn't really a forum, not really a social network…so I was struggling to place it. Given my habits, I can understand your interpretation of my written words to be of a “smarty pants” vein–I deserve it :).

    Anyway, I applaud the 'lab's willingness to try something new without knowing exactly whether it will evoke the desired response…or sometimes if it will work at all. Keep it up!

  4. Kudos on succeeding at snark without effort 🙂 You're right about this blog though; interactions IRL have made it more tight-knit than most blogs I suspect.

    So far, I'm pretty impressed with GFC, especially how easy it is. I found a few new sites by looking at member profiles and other sites people have joined.

    Even aside from the open web issues I have with FB Connect, I just don't see it as useful to me, but it's definitely going to be successful. I suppose all it takes is one big content site, e.g. NYT or WSJ.

  5. This is a step in the right direction fo sho. What I don't like is that social graphs in the OpenSocial platform now seem to be segmented in two by Friend Connect and Data Availability (now MySpaceID?) I assume this has something to do with control or monetization. At a minimum, I think the social graph should be common between Friend Connect and MySpaceID. If they want to make each implementation more robust, then build upon that. But this segmentation really weakens the platform IMHO.

    I want to only manage one network of friends if possible. Additionally, I'd also like to categorize my friends into groups and/or groups of groups. This could be used to set permissions for our OpenSocial information.

    MySpace is dead. The brand is stained as everyone knows its geared toward toward kids and hormone-filled zombies. They don't seem to have a good understanding of how to appeal to the broader market. Facebook does. Google can. Yahoo is aligning themselves with a loser by joining MySpaceID. Perhaps they feel they have to because Yahoo (along with MSFT) has failed in creating a social network.

    Google needs to create a new social network that unifies iGoogle, Google Apps, and it's other Google properties (picasa, maps, etc…) I assume they're working on that now because iGoogle is looking better every day. It needs to be modeled after Facebook to have mass appeal. This is true because OpenSocial will fail if MySpace is the most successful example of a consumer OpenSocial social network.

    Yahoo should do something similar… Yahoo has played around with social networks but has done as crappy a job as Microsoft. They need to figure it out because their web 2.0 properties are fantastic and they've got a great architecture in YOS. It'd be a shame for them to not exploit it.

    Why doesn't Oracle make a kickass OpenSocial business container that ties in its enterprise software properties? It'll be the next-generation, federated, social SaaS portal. There's a lot of value in this, methinks.

    Facebook is the new Microsoft. Yuk.

    Brain dump over.

  6. A few notes:
    1) Microsoft has a social network. It's Facebook, make no mistake there.
    2) Google won't create a social network. It's a zero sum game at this point. They will socialize everything though and use gadgets as integration points. See my most recent post on GMail 🙂
    3) MySpace isn't dead just yet. They have done the right thing by jumping on the open train, just like Yahoo did. Where that train goes is the big TBD. I'm surprised by the resiliency of MySpace.
    4) Your point about network segmentation is the big question. All the Friend Connect sites should be shared to merge the social graph.

    This is an interesting time. We get to watch the identity/data landgrab.

  7. Jake, about point #2: Google already has a social network. It's called Orkut and it's very popular in India.

  8. Exactly why they won't creat a social network as David is proposing.

    Sure, I have an orkut profile, and it's also extremely popular in Brazil. Orkut was one of the first OpenSocial containers launched, and it grew out of a Googlers 20% time project.

    I know orkut 🙂

    The fact remains that it's not going to challenge Facebook (or MySpace for that matter), so rather than pump it up or go a new route, Google has chosen a different approach.

  9. 1. MSFT only owns 1.6% of Facebook. So far, they've only won the competition to advertise on Facebook. The following is what I see happening and I'd like to hear your opinion. Facebook only does so much and lacks many useful applications that could integrate with it. Pretty obviously, they will continue to integrate MSFT properties over time. Ray Ozzie and Zuckerberg are friends. I can imagine they will form strategic architectures together. After they are overly entwined, MSFT will buy them out. At that point, who else would want to? 😉 The thing is — I don't like any MSFT web 2.0 applications and I'm not sure I see that changing anytime soon.
    2. I think this boils down to how monetization works in OpenSocial world. I think it's twofold — advertising within the container and harnessing applications and app gadgets (portability/reach) to increase marketing intelligence to improve the value of advertising. Gadgets won't be used to advertise…

    But also, where is the OpenSocial news feed? I want one place to see my social news feed. One place to see my friends. Sure, I will visit specialized OpenSocial containers and see a subset there…. But I want one place to see everything. And this points to your point #4… In this consortium, how does one create one prime integration point? Perhaps the OpenSocial foundation builds that instead of Google?

  10. Did you forget Live Search integration with FB? MSFT accounts for the lion's share of FB's revenue, so I think they hold more sway than their ownership percentage dictates.

    I agree that it's only a matter of time before FB is either acquired by MSFT or MSFT manages to buy a controlling interest.

    OS is still very new, version 0.8, and it does lack big-time features like a News Feed. Advertising seems pretty straightforward; Google will channel Ad Words, which seems to work pretty well for them. I disagree that gadgets won't be used to advertise. I think that adds value for web site owners by offering advertisers more targeted ads through mining social data.

    I think the OS News Feed will come, but it'll be built by Google I think. They have the most experience and the overall vision. I want one too.

  11. My bad. OS does collect activity as part of its spec, so it's a matter of how you surface that activity.

    I was confusing OS with GFC, and actually GFC surfaces activity. It's pretty hard to find, but it's there somewhere. GFC packs a lot of functionality into tiny gadgets. I'm finding it's a discovery process to get that information.

  12. One thing I haven’t heard yet is how Ning will take this news.

    Well, now we know. They are charging:

    In July, we will roll-out three new pricing plans and begin phasing out our free service. Many of you chose the Ning Platform to build your communities because it’s the easiest to use, has the most reliable performance and easily scales to hundreds of thousands of members. Our shift to a paid service model will enable us to focus to a greater degree on enhancing the features, performance and services we offer to our paying Network Creators. You’ll immediately see greater control over your network branding, design and member experience.

    One of my high school groups is debating paying ning. I say no.

  13. Heh, surprising that it took them nearly 2 years after this to figure out their fail. There are too many other options, including hosting your own, which I'd prefer to paying Ning.

  14. Heh, surprising that it took them nearly 2 years after this to figure out their fail. There are too many other options, including hosting your own, which I'd prefer to paying Ning.

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