Saturday, July 13, 2013

What is / was Google Friend Connect

This article describes Google Friend Connect, and how it can be used at the moment.

Google Friend Connect (GFC) was one of Google's earlier social-networking attempts, introduced in 2008.

Originally (you can still see the full description here), GFC promised a range of social features that website-owners, including bloggers, could include on their sites. including:
  • Add GFC features to a website by installing snippets of HTML code onto the site, or or using the  API.
  • Users sign in to your website, using GFC with an existing account (e.g. Google, Yahoo, AOL)
  • Users can create or import profiles (e.g. Twitter), discover other users, and send private messages to each other.
  • Social gadgets, eg for posting comments and links, rating and reviews, that you could add to your site, which your visitor could use once they had logged in with GFC.
  • Website owners can set up questions to be asked when a user used GFC to join their site. The idea was for them to find out their member's interests - and that the information would be on the member's GFC profile.
  • Tools to create, manage and send website newsletters, which could be personalised, based on the answers that members gave when joining the community.
  • Matching AdSense ads on shown to users looking at your website site to the interests they had listed on their GFC profile.
  • Tools to look at your user's interests and your site's membership statistics.
Effectively, Google Friend Connect was a group of tools, and some stuff in the background to make them work together:  The tools were for website owners who wanted to grow a community, and for "information consumers"  (that means people who read blogs and websites) who wanted to sign-up to their favourites sites.

You can find out more about how they were supposed to work in this video - for as long as it's still available on YouTube:

What happened

Less than four years after the launch, Google announced that Friend Connect would be "retired for all non-blogger sites in March 2012".   Their announcement was light on details about what exactly this meant, but reading various blog posts it seems that:
  • The GFC dashboard, where users could manage their profiles was turned off
  • The site where website owners could get the code to install the GFG gadget  (and do other things like send newsletter or get statistics) was turned off.
  • Blogger users could still add teh GFC gadget to their blogs   (until the widget was removed in ... not sure exactly when, but it's not available now).
  • Updates from non-blogger sites were no longer sent through GFC.
  • Updates from Blogger sites were still send through GFC, and users could continue to get them through Google Reader (until it was turned off in July 2013) or the Blogger Dashboard.

Google didn't provide give any options for moving GFC user or relationship data into any other tools.

And why?

Overall, my guess is that GFC didn't get enough users - or perhaps it just didn't give Google with enough of a platform for the social features that they wanted.  Possibly this was because:
  • The things which Google Friend Connect promised a number of privacy / security questions. I can't put my finger on exactly what worried me - but somehow it just sounds wrong to me..
  • People asked "Why would I want to share all my interests with someone just because I read their website? I can maybe understand it for a blog, but not for websites in general."

So why did anyone bother

Obviously there were problems with Google Friend Connect:   Personally, I never quite understood it, despite using Blogger long before GFC was introduced.   Even when I started Blogger-HAT in late 2009, GFC just never stood out as something that was important-enough for me to understand.

But some people did use it - and in particular enough Blogger users that Google initially decided not to turn it off for Blogger.

I noticed that other people had a GFC gadget on their blogs, so I added one to Blogger-HAT - as much as anything because I used it as a test-site to try out features to see how the might work on my other sites.

Finally, the penny dropped (ie I understood what it was used for) when I saw this a comment "some people that they used their GFC/Blogger Dashboard in place of something like Google Reader" here while I was researching this article.   What it means is that if you signed up to a blog/sites using the GFC-Follow gadget, then you can use the bottom part of the Blogger dashboard instead of an RSS reader.

When I first wrote this article, readers could still sign up for websites which have the Follow on Google Friend Connect gadget on them, but the gadget could be added to any new sites, at least not using Blogger's standard tools for adding a gadget to your blog.    But now it's not available for anyone to use.

Related Articles

How to add a gadget to your blog

Where to find the HTML code for popular gadgets

Linking your blog to the social networks

Putting a Facebook Page badge into Blogger

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  1. That's exactly how I use it! To read at the bottom of blogger. That's why I was so confused because I didn't know if this was what people meant by "google reader". Also, I started my blog in around january and the widget was gone then. However when I got a follower (I don't know how!) I was miraculously given an option to add the widget. I don't know if this was a loophole or what, but I am thankful for it. Thanks for posting this information, it's one of the features I am definitely most confused about.

  2. It's quite simple. Google wants us to use Google+ instead. Now they offer a badge that shows all the G+ people that follow YOU (not your blog). Makes no sense to me...GFC was a true audience while G+ is not. At least not for me.

    1. Indeed, there are lots of issues with Google+, including it not being anonymous and much more complicated. I'm doing some more research about the ways these issues are linked at the moment.