Many site owners dream about adding deep social features allowing users to interact with their friends in external communities. However the cost and know-how required to script against various sites' APIs have traditionally been prohibitive for all but the largest publishers. Google's Friend Connect bridges the programming gap by offering standardized tools to facilitate "richer social experiences" to mid and small size publishers. But what are the benefits to the average site owner? Why does this matter?
The Friend Connect "preview release" announcement today may foreshadow, in palpable terms, the ultimate street level impact of OpenSocial platform-thinking. Though not fully aimed at data portability objectives," webmasters will download cross-site "widgets" using a wizard starting sometime later today. The "social gadget" engine will generate turnkey code which includes "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."
According to the press release any site which deploys Google Friend Connect widgets will be able to "see, invite, and interact with new friends, or, using secure authorization APIs, with existing friends from social sites on the web, including Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, orkut, Plaxo, and more."
Site Owner Benefits
These new tools will engage visitors and drive traffic by offering opportunities to interact with friends who publish their activities to other social sites, a technique many of us practice to various degrees. However Friend Connect offers all of this functionality without hiring a team of programmers...just download the widget, hook it up and rock.
Visualize your users inviting their Facebook and other social community friends (contacts) to "join" them to participate in your site. Users can them "publish back" to other social communities they're active in, making the promotion of your content truly exponential as it ripples amongst friends of friends, etc... While this type of viral propagation has long been in the vocabulary of social media publishers, in past years activity has been largely limited to closed-loop thinking. In other words, what happens in one site stays in the site absent specialized configurations and a lot of know-how.
Already cross pollination add-ons like the StumbleUpon Facebook Application mingle multiple social site experiences to where recommending a site on SU results in publishing the thumbs-up to your FB profile for all of your friends to see. There are many third party widgets which accomplish similar ends including WordPress Twitter Plugs which automates pulling tweets into your blog and creating new tweets on blog posts and from within WordPress.
It takes a lot of research to put together custom suites of such tools. The excitement surrounding Friend Connect is in regards to standardization, expanding reach and lowered cost to make a wide array of previously unavailable social integration available to mid and small size publishers
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