First experience with Google Friend Connect on my WordPress blog

You may have spotted an interesting new widget on the right side of the site, under the search box. And you’d probably have spotted it’s an example of Google Friend Connect, released into the wild!

If you haven’t heard about Google and Facebooks rival attempts to provide a way to carry a single identity around the internet, engaging with communities at each stopping point, then I’d be a little surprised! Facebook Connect is also now available to anyone, having been opened to anyone today, after a period of testing on a limited number of sites. The third option is all of this is OpenID which has been around a while. The idea of not being tied to a single company is appealing, but it all honesty, I’ve often found OpenID can be a bit of a pain as a user if you forget which site logins count, or have to go through a creation process. It shouldn’t be hard, and the individual steps aren’t rocket science, but for some reason I’ve always found it a pain

Installing Google Friend Connect on a WordPress Blog:

Whereas the instructions for Facebook Connect involve creating HTML files in specific locations and will take a little bit of confidence, installing Google Friend Connect on a host WordPress Blog is incredibly easy. Once you’ve been accepted to use it, you download two html files, which you then upload to the top level of your hosted blog. Then once Google has checked it can find them, you’ve given access to the limited number of widgets already available – which you can install by copying and pasting the code in the ‘Text Widget’ option in your WordPress Dashboard.

In fact, the only thing that slowed me up was adjusting the height and width to make sure it fitted the right hand column!

Initial Thoughts:

I spent the morning reading the comprehensive look at Google Friend Connect by Neville Hobson and took the chance to try it out from a pure user’s perspective – it took me a couple of seconds to work out how to use my standard Google profile – strangely it isn’t the default – and also how to add my first friend – Robin Grant from We Are Social had turned up moments before me!

All well and good, but the interaction available by the community widget is pretty limited to adding someone – there was mention of being able to see them across all sites,but having added the widget here, I can’t see any way to contact, invite or interact with Robin and get him to come and display his proud membership of TheWayoftheWeb. (He might turn up if I tag this post with his name!)

There is also a comments widget which I may have a play with shortly – the question is whether that detracts from comments on the end of each individual post, and leads to something with no context – or whether it provides a place for general comments and communication which benefits the site as a whole, and doesn’t interfere with specific responses.

There’s also a review and rate gadget, which looks quite useful, but not really applicable for this blog unless I want people to be rating the entire site, and a very simple demo game.

I know there’s going to be a lot more coming, and the fact it works so flawlessly in the current basic iteration is definitely a good thing – I’ve just got a lot of questions about what will be happening in the future, and how it will help more interaction and connectivity to benefit the site. How do I use it to make friends with people via other instances, and then suggest they might like to visit, for example?

There are widgets which do that already, such as MyBlogLog, (owned by Yahoo)  which displays any registered users in the order they visit. The main difference is that any interaction is done via the MyBlogLog site, which works OK, but it isn’t effective to ask me to leave the site I’m enjoying to go and connect, and then come back again. Whoever wins the ID war out of the three main players, I suspect services like MyBlogLog will be the first to be caught in the crossfire.

Big implications for sites with registration and data revenues

The other area of interest for me will be around data – obviously a site like mine doesn’t require membership or monetise data – but a lot of mid to large sized websites are using data capture as a significant revenue stream. If everyone is using Google Friend Connect as their preferred community, and it’s not available on a large site, it may stop them from wanting to interact – and if it is available, there’s currently no real data available that I can see in the administration area, aside from total number of members.

This could leave a lot of sites in a very tricky position – do they accept the loss of data to allow community, or do they risk isolation by trying to keep a valuable revenue stream?

And they’ll need to decide quickly, because Facebook has a large audience as an incentive, plus integration into Facebook news feeds etc. Meanwhile Google not only has a Googlopoly on search, but most smaller sites and blogs are incredibly familiar and at home with Google Adsense, meaning it’s a familiar working relationship.

If anyone has any details on the data side of things for Google or Facebook’s services, I’d be really interested to find out more.

My own convergence…

I’m slowly, but surely, taking the web 2.0 mantra of convergence on board, and finally organising and converging my many web outlets and identities.

So if you’re on Myspace, feel free to add me at:
http://www.myspace.com/thewayoftheweb

And make sure you also add:
http://www.myspace.com/motorcyclenews
and
http://www.myspace.com/disposable media.

You can also find motorcyclenews on Youtube. Go to http://www.youtube.com/motorcyclenewsdotcom

Obviously I’m also on MyBlogLog, but it’s interesting that Jason Calcanis has suffered from some alleged MyBlogLog hacking. Thank God my obscurity should keep me safe from harm!

The incredible secret of good posts

I don’t intend to turn this into a guide to blogging, as there are already plenty of sites that do a great job. I’ll admit to being an avid and fascinated reader of Problogger, and Blogging on Blogging.

But I do think there was one point missing from the recent post of great content at Problogger. The gist of the post is how to write great blog content by enriching and adding to links and articles you find, rather than regurgitating them. Plenty of great ideas in there, from which many online media companies could learn…

But the one suggestion I would add is this: “Before you write about a new social networking site or application….try using the thing.”

Some places do this well. I tend to get a lot of news from downloadsquad.com for this very reason. Every time I read about a new application, I know that someone on their team will have used the thing, and can tell me how easy it is, and how well it performs. That’s why I’ve tended to mention Myspace and LinkedIn a fair bit, because I’ve used them enough to have a reasonable idea of what is possible. Indeed, I’ve somehow fallen into the Top Ten Experts on LinkedIn Answers, which most would say is a flaw in the system!

It’s also why I haven’t mentioned The Venice Project, or the revelation that it has revealed it’s true name of Joost. I am actually registered as a beta (not better!) tester, I have the set-up.exe on my PC, and I’ve actually made a couple of beta test suggestions. But the problem is that I haven’t had the chance to set it up on my home PC, and can’t log in via the company firewall, so I don’t have anything to add to the 100 million other posts on the same subject. (Although some suggest targeting topics like Joost or the I-Phone to boost blog hits…)

It’s also an easy to way to see which sites are capable of holding attention. I keep meaning to log back into Cambrian House, but lost interest. I think it was a combination of things, including the lack of personality inherent in attempting crowdsourcing. I’m still disappointed my three-day free trail of MyBlogLog has reverted to the standard package, but I think I’m sufficiently disappointed to probably pay some cash to upgrade shortly… So you’ll know where to blame if ads start appearing here to fund it… Feedburner also gets daily clicks.

It’s a dilemma whether to blog about something new for the sake of it, or to sign up, test it, and then try to say something more valuable in the long run… so I’d welcome suggestions on what you think is the right balance…

The next step…

You might have read my last post, covering the depression currently affecting some people in media companies. You may not. Either way, I’m going to try and share some of the things that make me come back to my day job, my internet hobbies, and indeed this blog…

Last week, I was making a presentation to our advertising staff. Despite not being one of my best efforts, one of the questions at the end was about how I’d gained my knowledge about the web and what formal training I had.

The answer is no formal training at all. Here’s how I’ve learnt the little I know about the internet.

1. Have a passion for it. Actively be interested in it. Desire to find out how things work, or why something is successful.

2. Read everything you can. Use Live Bookmarks in Firefox, RSS feeds and aggregators to find out as much about the subject as you can.

3. Experiment. Don’t just talk about a social networking site like Myspace. Sign up and use the thing. That way you’ll be able to offer your own insights, and just as important, be able to spot when someone is talking rubbish. Want to learn about blogging? Start one. it doesn’t have to be about your day job, but if you try and make your blog the best it can be you’ll learn loads. This blog has a loooooong way to go, but every step pays me back with knowledge, if not cash.

4. Take an interest in marketing, search engine optimisation and particularly tracking. Finding out the best tracking systems for your blog and RSS feeds will inform you about what works best, and how to improve….

For starters, try www.downloadsquad.com, www.engadget.com, www.theregister.com for some info.

Try Firefox as your browser, or download RSSreader.

Blogger for blogs isn’t a bad place to start. For social networking, begin with Myspace, and start from there.

And for tracking Feedburner seems pretty good, and MyBlogLog offers good tracking and community aspects…

But I’m always hear to keen more suggestions, so make sure you leave a comment with a suggestion of at least one site or application for me to check out