Recently, we have seen the public release of Google FriendConnect and Facebook Connect. As a result of this, there is a massive land grab on all blogs. Which widget are you installing? Some people say you should install the Facebook widget because it basically opens things up to the whole social network. Others say that Google’s is easier to use (Mike Fruchter has a good intro) and everyone uses at least one Google service.
As usual, I take a different look at things. First, I hate the widgets. I already have a MyBlogLog widget so that other bloggers can see what other bloggers are reading my blog. Does anyone remember that Yahoo owns MyBlogLog? Should we expect to see Yahoo marketing the MyBlogLog widget as their answer to the Google and Facebook offerings? If Yahoo was smart, yes, they would attack this point. The MyBlogLog widget is way cooler than anything that Google and Facebook have on the table. There is also the Blog Catalog widget which I have yet to install. Blog Catalog is another “blogger widget” in the same mold as the one from MyBlogLog.
The obvious question is “do we need all of these widgets?” No. Why? They do not do anything yet. If anything, the MyBlogLog widget attempts to create some sort of a community. You can send messages to your community using the MyBlogLog tools and it will track some statistics for you as well. Steven Hodson had an excellent perspective on the new widgets:
Uhm … now what? Really … other than letting you have the avatars of people who have joined as friends of the site what is this bringing to the table for bloggers? I’ve been hearing terms like viral and other such buzzwords about how this will help spread the word about a blog; but I’m not sure how this is suppose to happen.
The problem is that the only thing you see is a group of community members. Some may be tagged as friends, but that is all that happens. There is also no other real functionality available. Like Steven said, “Now what?” We wait. There will be a period of about a month or two where this is just an installation surge. After the new year, we should start seeing some activity on actual features for the widgets.
One major problem with all of this is the lack of interoperability. For now, I have the Google and MyBlogLog widgets installed. This is because they will be more popular with my community. Tech and SocialMedia are better served by these two widgets for now. However, long term I want one community. Bring down the walls and start talking to each other. I do not care if a member of the community is from Google or Facebook. I just want to know that they are a member of the community. This should be easy to do as well. There is the OpenSocial initiative that is a very good start. If all of these community widget makers would just support OpenSocial in addition to their proprietary API. As a member of the development and social media communities, I find it immensely frustrating that web sites do not support some of the standard protocols like RSS and Atom feeds, or even FOAF or XFN if the site has social features.
The other problem is that this is a solution in search of a problem. Bloggers do not need another widget. Bloggers need features. This is why blog plugins are so popular. If the feature is not provided by the blog platform, someone is likely going to write a plugin for the feature. This is also because the blog platforms publish APIs in order to promote their platform. What features could be provided by these community widgets? How about an easy way to contact the members? MyBlogLog does this already. But Facebook and Google do not. How about a way to create a newsletter that only goes to community members? As far as I know, none of the widget providers have this functionality. Other ideas are discussion forums for the blog, somewhat similar to how Disqus has implemented their comment system, and subscription/premium areas on the blog. Why not allow for a simple extension to the community where it could be fee-based? I think most bloggers would love this idea instead of depending on CPC/CPM advertisements. Because the community is not part of the blog platform, the widget provider could even skim some revenue from the subscriptions by hosting whatever these additional community features are.
So what do we really need? We do not only need a community plugin. That is easy. We need features and benefits of being in the community. We need the community to be open. We need the widget providers to start working together because, they really do not need the trickle of traffic they would get from a blog plugin. The widget providers need to work for us, their customer.