Will Google Friend Connect deliver the promise?

I’m doing a little experiment on this site with Google Friend Connect, a new service in beta from Google that was announced in May.

Some sites are receiving invitations to sign up; this site is one of those.

According to Google, this service is all about building website traffic and what they call ‘user engagement’:

  • Anyone can join your site with one click by using their existing Google, Yahoo and other accounts.
  • Visitors can evangelize for your site by inviting their friends and publishing their activities to their social networks.
  • Social gadgets will keep these visitors more deeply engaged with your site, and with each other.

It all sounds terribly simple including how it works.

[…] [With Google Friend Connect] any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming — picking and choosing from 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.

Visitors to any site using Google Friend Connect 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.

It even seems a bit like Facebook Connect which was widely regarded as a response to MySpace ‘Data Availability.’

So these social features would include things like a member community where people can sign in to a blog and then be able to do things there like invite their friends to join them at your place, write on a wall (just like in Facebook), and more.

I like Patrick Altoft’s big-picture view:

[…] The service is pretty big news for bloggers and anybody who has a fair amount of traffic and wants to make their site more social. […] Giving Google access to ratings, comments and reviews of my posts could be pretty helpful in terms of [search engine optimization] if Google starts to integrate this into the algorithm. If they know that 50 trusted Google users have recommended a post on my blog then it will rank better than another post that has received very poor ratings. This is the biggest step yet towards social data being included in search.

I wonder how compelling people will find the overall promise of Google Friend Connect. I’ve never been compelled by similar tools (as I perceive them) from a user perspective: for instance a community or member gallery tool like MyBlogLog.

That’s mainly because I’ve never been entirely convinced that I can really trust any of them with my data, nor that by giving them information about me, I wouldn’t get email spam forevermore.

community-neville
As I’m willing to give Google some trust with Friend Connect, that’s where I’m starting this experiment: a community or gallery tool embedded in the sidebar on the right of your screen a click or two down on the scrollbar. (RSS and email subscribers, you’ll have to come to the website to see it.)

The screenshot here of that tool shows an aspect that I think could make it appealing to people who sign up to be a community member.

Here you see my profile info that shows some of the other places on the web where I have a presence. That info is pulled from the details I’ve already added into my Google account.

Convenient – a one-stop place to connect with other members of your community in all the places where they are.

Looking at this example, it makes me aware of the kind of information that is in your profile data on various different services, and how that information is displayed when pulled by another service.

It doesn’t include a link to my Facebook profile, for instance. Nor LinkedIn. So if such services were important to me, I’d ensure that I keep my profile data accurate and up to date, wherever that data is located. Having it in one place – such as in a Google account – is easier for updating if there’s just one place to update.

This requires a great deal of trust, though. As I mentioned, I’m comfortable with the level of overall trust I have in Google, yet I’m aware of others who see Google as an evil empire. Horses for courses.

What do you think of Google Friend Connect? Would you sign up? If so, do you think it would give you some or any of the promise Google offers in its description (and see the explanatory video on YouTube)? Does it offer you something you can’t get anywhere else, or get in a way that’s different/better/more useful/easier than elsewhere?

From the perspective of Google (and the social networks you connect with via the community aspects of Friend Connect), is this service really more about the beginning transition to a Google economy which includes much greater and more seamless data linking?

And what do you think of the overall concept of Google Friend Connect as an example of Open Social implementation?

I really would like to know how you see it.

I’ll run this experiment until the end of the year at least, depending on how much interest it attracts.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. David

    I've been waiting for a decent distributed social network since before I knew they were called distributed social networks…unfortunately I am still waiting for an invite from Google Friend Connect, but it look like a step in the right direction

  2. Robert Safuto

    I'm not sure what to make of Friend Connect at this point. I've added the site to my Google profile which I have been cultivating for the last few months via Google Reader. The community widget that you have in the sidebar looks very similar to the ones that MyBlogLog users have on their sites. I will be interested to hear how the use of this feature impacts your site traffic and engagement.

  3. Robin Grant

    Neville – noticed you've just dumped the "Community" widget in the sidebar with no call to action or explanation. You also talk about this mostly from a publisher's perspective – and without access to the different widgets, it's hard to work out the benefits (if any) from a reader's perspective – can you shed any light?

  4. Chris_Dowsett

    Not sure. Not sure. It sounds like a good idea but I'm always suspicious of add-on after add-on. I can see some benefit for high traffic sites but what about us 'little guys'? Like you say though, aside from this – I'm also concerned about who has all my information. If a recent tool I used is anything to go by … I have way too much information out there already just by being an active internet user for things like banking, buying goods, blogging, facebooking and emailing. So I'm a little apprehensive even if it is part of the Google empire.

  5. neville

    They'll need to read this post to get a sense of what the widget is for (one reason why I wrote it). Or click on the link in the widget to get general info direct from Friend Connect.

    As for benefits to readers, I'm still thinking about that. Don't have anything more to add yet other than what I said in this post.

    I'm pretty certain that everyone's comments here will lead to to everyone's broad understanding of those reader benefits.

  6. Robert Safuto

    After a bit of thought on the matter it seems to me that this offering from Google will cause heart palpations amongst the operators of services like those at JS Kit and MyBlogLog. These services allow publishers who have limited interactive functionality on their sites to add social features like members, comments and ratings. Membership, comments and ratings seem to form the backbone of the Google Friend Connect service. In that sense this new offering could very well make future growth prospects much harder for the companies I mentioned above. Most people familiar with blogging know MyBlogLog which was acquired by Yahoo. JS Kit is a much smaller, independent company. http://js-kit.com/

  7. neville

    It does look similar, my thought exactly., But I have a better feeling about it than the other one. Maybe it's because it's Google, not sure.

  8. Dan Thornton

    Well, interestingly enough, I got accepted to add Friend Connect to my blog a couple of hours ago… It's very easy to implement, but I was a bit disapointed to discover that the friend I listed via this site is on the manage friends tab, but there's no way to interact to suggest he visits my site etc
    At least MyBlogLog has a central communication backend behind it

  9. neville

    Thanks, Robert, thoughtful commentary.I agree, this is all about trust. Multiple trust, in fact: each of our individual trust in each other, and in Google as a guardian of our data and provider of something useful. We should expect to 'pay' for that usefulness, which will probably be in allowing Google to do things with our data.

    You've raised a good point in your last para. Like you, I'm not at all clear on precisely what is the perceived value of the overall service offering from the user viewpoint. Yes, I've read Google's description, and included a quote from it in my post. But I'm still unclear and hoping this experiment may help make it all clear.

    Well, clearer at least.

  10. neville

    I guess you saw the sidebar widget before I published this post, Robin. I had the widget up last night. But things clearer from the post?

    Thanks for being the first to join, btw :)

  11. Adrian_Melrose

    Let's try and sanitise our analysis: I think its easier to judge the value of this offering from Google on a site with high members other than Social Media junkies who are both fatigued by the existing offerings as well as sated. For argument's sake let's assume I have a charity website where there are several classes of stakeholders: volunteers, donors, service users and political lobbyists. They all convene on the website to read news and to donate etc. Now think how useful Google Friend Connect can be. Firstly, the stakeholders don't know each-other so Facebook and Twitter wouldn't help. I think we're the wrong group of people to analyse the wider proposition that Google is making.

  12. neville

    It's disruptive, that seems clear. My thought, too, re what it might mean for MyBlogLog and similar services.

    One thing I really am in the dark about is how do I add other Friend Connect functions (widgets) here – ratings, for instance – that everyone in the community can use. Or is it that anyone can use them, in which case what's the point of the community?

    Need to investigate a bit on the Friend Connect site!

  13. neville

    Yes it is easy to set up and add to your blog. Asd you say, though, some things are not easy to figure out. hopefully we'll manage to get an idea here :)

  14. neville

    You may be right, Adrian. Think outside the bubble, etc. Ok, but I think some common principles apply here and not social media focused necessarily. In yiur example, Facebook and Twitter would help if some or many of the group who connect with each other use those services. So their presence together in Friend Connect purely facilitates their use of those other networks.

    At least, I think that's how it works…

  15. Robert_Banghart

    You make a good point about stakeholder discoverability, Adrian. By joining here I can see who has universal stakeholder interests in this community. (I also think this would apply regardless of the size of the community).
    A question that immediately comes up is how does Google Friend Connect filter multiple classes of stakeholders so that, for example, volunteers aren’t inundated with information from other stakeholders which is not relevant to them. Are we going to have the ability to set up rooms like we do in Friendfeed?
    And once we’ve joined this community, why not simply harvest the data about the relevant members and use it in our Twitter and other social network accounts?
    On the other hand, I just got done reading Don't cross the streams in online communities (http://evolvingwe.com/design/don-t-cross-the-stre…that argues that the things like Google Friend Connection are the “correct” way to create viable communities and that Twitter and Friendfeed are not.
    I am still up in the air on this one because both my Friendfeed and Twitter communities seem to be vibrant and growing whereas some of my less chaotic communities seem to be dying on the vine.

  16. Robin Grant

    Hey Neville – nope, what I meant was:

    1. You put the friends widget in your sidebar with no explanation to people who haven't seen it before (unless of course, they've read this post)

    2. You talked about the benefits to publishers, but I'm keen to understand what you think the benefits to readers are?

  17. Dan Thornton

    Hmmm….I've read about it a lot, but seeing it in action is always educational. Seems strange I had to manually add my main Google profile. And even though I'm happy to be Google friends with Robin, I'm not exactly sure how it's going to help either of us yet. But I'm definitely interested in seeing how it develops…

  18. Jason

    I have received the invite myself, but as yet am not sure about anyone being able to leave a comment on my websites without any sort of moderation. Do you know if you are able to moderate comments?

  19. Andrew

    You're right, very easy to sign-up. Now, however, I have to go back and get my Google profile up-to-speed. I absolutely see this as part of the future of the Web with the ability to port contacts and info across all sites and leave annotations wherever. Whether or not this particular solution is the one that will survive (at least temporarily) not sure. Perhaps a more neutral, third-party identity solution (a la the new .tel domains) will be another option.

    On an unrelated topic, wondering if you have been following the use of IntenseDebate on change.gov?

  20. Robert_Banghart

    Thanks for sharing your perceptions of Google Friend Connect. Like you and several of the other commenters, I have trust issues. I joined the community on this site based upon my trust relationship with you more than anything else.
    Like everyone I am already drowning in Twitter, Friendfeed, Google Reader and email rivers of data. I have all but eliminated any partial feeds that I subscribe to and click though to other sites from Google Reader only occasionally. It seems to me that Google Friend Connect is going to try to get us to add more visits to individual sites in addition to maintaining those “centralized” rivers. That imposes increased time costs on each of us.
    I can see a value add from the publisher’s point of view if the site is advertising supported or items are sold. Since that isn’t the case with this site, I am still questioning the value add we will derive from this over what is already available via the other tools we already use.
    I guess time will tell.

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