December 05, 2008

Getting Started With Google Friend Connect

By Mike Fruchter of (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Back in May, Google announced their plans to launch Friend Connect. Friend Connect allows website owners to incorporate social aspects and elements onto their sites. It's powered by OpenSocial, which was developed by Google along with MySpace and a number of other social networks. In a nutshell, OpenSocial is basically a set of common APIs used for building and distributing social applications and their data across many websites. This data includes profile information, friends information, activities and so forth. You can find more about the OpenSocial platform here.

This post is a brief tutorial on the features and the implementation of Friend Connect.

Getting started:

Installation is very easy, and takes less then 5 minutes. First head over to the Google's Friend Connect website. Click the "Set up a new site" link to begin.

Give Google some basic info:

The next step is pretty much self explanatory. Input your site name, and the url of your website.

FTP two files to your server:

This step involves downloading two html files to your desktop. FTP those two files to your web server, and make sure they are placed in the root folder of your domain. This is important if you are going to use Friend Connect on a sub directory of your site, I.E /blog.

Test your setup

This will test to see if you uploaded the html files correctly. Now that you are almost finished, it's time to add and customize your gadgets.

Now for the social part, adding gadgets to your site:

The code you generate for the gadgets are html. It's a simple copy and paste process. There are two types of widgets available, social and members.

Members gadget: This allows visitors to join your site, sign in and out, see other members, and invite other people to join your site. A screen shot of the members gadget is shown below. You can also see and interact with the gadget live on the sidebar of my blog.

The other option is a sign in gadget pictured below. This is a lighter version of the members gadget without images. It's meant for small spaces and allows visitors to join your site, sign in and out, and invite others to become members.

Clicking a member's profile image on the member gadget will display their Google service profile. You can also add that person as a friend, and once they accept the request, you will able to see each other across all Friend Connect sites. You also have the option of blocking users.

Clicking the invite link brings up the email sharing aspect of the gadget. You can share a website with your Gmail contacts by clicking the Google tab. It's not limited to Gmail contacts, any email address will work. You can also add a quick, personalized note with the share.

The share tab takes it a step further up the social ladder by allowing you to post the website to Facebook, Myspace or You can also submit the site to Digg, Fark, Mixx, Live Spaces and StumbleUpon. In its current state it needs more social networks and services to plug into. Integrating other services, should be a top priority for Google. There are currently a dozen or so other free social sharing type services on the market that offer more of a selection than Friend Connect in its current state.

Social gadgets: This area is kind of sparse at the moment. There are only two worthy gadgets that are of any real social use and benefit. One is a wall gadget and the other is a review/rate gadget.Bwana, from has all of these gadgets integrated live on his blog. Head over to his site to see them in action. The screen shots below were captured from his blog.

Wall gadget:This allows people to post comments, and also links to (YouTube) videos on your site. It's customizable and makes for a great shout out box.

Review/Rate gadget: This gadget can be used in a variety of ways. It lets people rate your content via a simple starring system. You can use this gadget to rate any type of content, videos, photos, etc. Comments can also be posted on it. This can also be used numerous times on a single page, or on separate pages of your site. I believe this will become widely used by bloggers, once they catch onto it. This is something I will be experimenting with on future blog postings.

Games? No just lame!

Being that the service just officially launched, it would of been nice for them to include at least a variety of already developed widgets other than the two mentioned above. All we get for now is the Lame Game. Hey, they named it that, not me, but what else could you really call it? Its only purpose is to allow your friends to go click crazy. This is done by clicking as often as they can which leads to trying to increase their score vs. their friends and other site members.

Lets touch on the admin area:

There is not a lot of back end features to report. I expected to see some type of url referral reporting function, similar to that offered by MyBlogLog. Where members came from, what they viewed, what they clicked, this is what I want to see. Google are you listening?

Clicking the reports link will show you two simple graphs. The first displays total membership over time, and the second displays new members over time.

Clicking the moderate posts will allow you to delete any obscenities. You can also choose to have all posts be approved before they are posted. Wall posts are immediately visible to anyone by default.

Clicking the manage members link allows you to do the normal friending functions. View members Google service profiles, add members, block members, and you can also view their friends as well. You also have the ability to grant administrative privileges to specific members.
Wrapping it all up, and some additional thoughts:

In regards to it being a MyBlogLog killer. I would seriously consider totally removing the MyBlogLog widget off my blog in favor of Friend Connect. Of course that's under two circumstances. The first is to show me the most recent visitors to my site, as does the MyBlogLog widget. The second is to give me url referral reporting and additional stats on where readers came from, what they viewed and so forth. For now, both of these widgets compliment each other fine, and although similar in function, in some aspects are two totally different beasts.

The product is still rough around the edges, as to be expected with any beta. It's a step in the right direction for data portability, and that's a plus in my book. I'm fascinated with the direction and possibility that this could lead to in helping us better connect with members in our social graph and abroad. The fact that Google is behind it, could be a blessing or a curse. Now of course getting the other players in the space, such as Facebook, to play nice, is a whole different ball game.

Will Google's Friend Connect and Facebook Connect initiatives be a progressive step toward evolving social networking or will it be just another passing fad? I believe the former, not the latter.

Read more by Mike Fruchter at