After many months of closed beta and keeping people waiting, Google Friend Connect has finally gone live. This is the app that seems to be Google’s answer to Facebook, their social network that finally connects everything together. If they stick to it (unlike Lively) and put a lot of work into it, they might just give Facebook a run for their money.
But before you go ahead and put Friend Connect on your blog or accept any Friend Connect invitations, you need to get your Google profile together first. So let’s take a look at that. It’s worth pointing out before we start that to use Friend Connect, you do NOT need a Google account. You can sign in also with a Yahoo account, an AIM account or an Open ID account as well. But I personally think that a Google account is the way to go here if you want to take full advantage of what Friend Connect has to offer. That’s just my personal opinion but you may think differently.
You can find your Google profile by going here and if you don’t have a Google account, you can sign up for one if you want. Then it is just a matter of deciding what information you would like to make public and what information you would like to withhold. It’s also worth pointing out that your Google profile also shows up in your Google Reader “your stuff” section if you use Reader.
I would recommend making a short bio and put in some relevant HTML weblinks as this will naturally be indexed by the Google bots. So if you are a blogger or a businessperson, make sure that your website / blog is in there and linked to. This is just good SEO common sense.
Then the next step of the profile is linking to all your web presences, a bit like Friendfeed. But to speed this part up, I just entered my Friendfeed URL and this immediately brought up dozens and dozens of other URL’s! So a bit of a shortcut there! Google can also “auto-detect” some of your web profiles and you can mark which ones you want on your profile and which ones it should ignore.
Another feature of Google profiles that I like is the picture strip. At the top of the page is a “photos” sub-tab. Click on that and you can enter the URL of your web album or photo feed. Of course being Google, they prefer Picasa but it also works for Flickr or any other photo feed with a URL. I have my Flickr feed running through it and it works perfectly (each picture linking directly to its Flickr page) :
So once you have got your page all filled out the way you want it, it’s time to start accepting all those Friend Connect invitations that people may send you. Or if you have a blog, you should find the space to install Friend Connect in a prominent place (I moved the Friendfeed widget down to have Friend Connect at the top of my sidebar).
So what is Friend Connect all about I hear you ask? Well, let’s first get the obligatory YouTube video from Google on the matter.
So as you can see, this is basically Google trying to make some inroads on the social networking scene. By having FC on your blog, you can start to build a small community of visitors who can interact with one another. What’s even better is that, as the video says, there’s no need for the person to make a new account with a new profile (who wants to go through all that again?). They can also sign in with their Yahoo account, AIM account or Open ID account.
So what are some of the benefits for you and your site visitors?
- By clicking on people’s icons, you can view their Google profile and find out more about them.
- You can contact site visitors and become friends with them.
- You can find out what other websites people are members of with their Google profiles.
- You can leave comments, ratings and reviews about a particular website and respond to other comments, ratings and reviews.
So in other words, Friend Connect personalises your site more. Gives it that human touch.
But it also branches out further than that. If you click on someone’s icon and view their Google profile, you can potentially see their Google Reader shared articles, their favourite shared photos, their Blogger comments, their YouTube videos and much more (if they choose to share that information with you by having it on their profile). This is in direct contrast to Facebook where you have to be approved first by the person before viewing any information of theirs. Facebook is also very much “walled in” where everything is inside and can’t be taken out of the site. Friend Connect, by contrast, seems more “looser” and you can click from site to site. Nothing seems to be constrained.
So I think Google is drawing a clear line here and giving users a clear choice. They aren’t offering up an identical boring Facebook clone. They are making an entirely different product where you can see the choices on offer. I like what I see so far. I just hope they don’t get bored 6 months down the line and ditch it, like a lot of other beta “Lab” products.
What about you? Have you installed Friend Connect? Do you like what you see? Or are you distinctly unimpressed? Do you think social networks like Facebook have cause to be worried?
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