I have removed the Google Friend Connect social bar from the site. It was an interesting test, but there are a few things that still need work with Friend Connect before I would really recommend it for most websites.
Internet Explorer 6 – While I have no love for Internet Explorer 6, there is still a significant number of people that still use it. The Google social bar does not play nice with Internet Explorer 6. It appears fine on the first load, but scrolling down the page the bar does not stay locked at the bottom of the screen but scrolls up making it difficult for people to read the content. If you are still using Internet Explorer 6, please consider upgrading to a better browser, like Firefox, Chrome or even Safari.
Load Time – It is slow. Page load times are significantly slower when the social gadgets are install. This is expected when you add any gadget or widget to a website, but if you are concerned about load time at all Google Friend Connect might not be for you.
Websites where Google Friend Connect is great are sites where there is not a social component built into the website already. Blogs already have a social component built into them with commenting and the Google Friend Connect social gadgets tend to take away from that social aspect instead of adding to it. On websites without a built in social component the Google Friend Connect social gadgets can be a good compliment to the website.
I can see the potential of Google Friend Connect, but at this time I do not think I want it here. I will keep my eye on Google Friend Connect, and perhaps give it another try at some point in the future.
Update: Google has released a Friend Connect API and there is now a plugin to allow people to login and comment on a blog using Friend Connect. I posted about it here: Google Friend Connect API and WordPress Plugin and currently have the comment plugin installed. (Mar 12, 2009)
I was working on a contact form for a client this last week, and while I have a PHP form processing script that I like to use there are other alternatives to add a contact and other forms to your website if you do not happen to know PHP or you just need a quick form to help collect information for a survey Google Docs Forms.
The form below is a sample form that I created for you to tell me what your favourite websites are. The form took only a few minutes to create and embed into this post using an iframe tag.
By submitting the form the data is automatically inserted into a Google Docs Spreadsheet that you can view, edit and of course share with the world if you like. Below is the spreadsheet that the information that the form above is saved into.
This is a very simple example of what you could do with a Google Doc Form and Spreadsheet. It makes it very easy for anyone with a website to add a web form to collect information, run surveys, polls etc with out needing to know PHP, PERL or any other server side scripting. I can see myself using a simple Google Form and Spreadsheet to manage entries from the Subscriber Bonus contests each month.
Thanks to a post over at TechCrunch I heard that Google Friend Connect has released a new social bar that you can add to your website. The social bar adds several of the Google Friend Connect widgets in a nice little strip that you can add to the top or bottom of your website.
Things that you can include are the:
Visitors can join your site or if they are logged in they can see their identity, and edit their profiles and settings.
There is an activity stream with the latest activity happening on the site.
You can include the wall gadget to let visitors add comments and read other comments.
The bar also allows easy access to see who else has also joined your site.
I was not really happy with the sidebar gadgets here, so I thought I would give the Google Friend Connect Social Bar a try. I like the fact that it can be placed either at the top or the bottom of the page. It actually appears to be more noticeable than the sidebar gadgets. You are welcome to join and leave a comment or leave a comment here about what you think of Google Friend Connect.
I do not get to see breaking news very often but once I awhile I am in the right place at the right time. Today was one of those days. I just happened to do a quick search this morning to see where I was ranking for “blog consulting” and noticed something odd. All of the sites listed were showing “This site may harm your computer” below them. I thought that was odd, so I did a search for LGR Internet Solutions, and again all the results were showing the same thing. Odd, as far as I know there is nothing on my website that will harm another persons computer.
I then did a search on Google for Google and can you guess was I discovered? That is right, Google says that the Google website will harm your computer. I thought I would not get to see that again so I grabbed another screenshot and posted it to my Flickr account.
The problem lasted for about 30 to 40 minutes with the entire Internet being flagged as malware by Google. Google’s blog states that is was human error and a problem with an update from StopBadWare.org. A post on their blog suggests it was not a problem on their end that was the cause. Whatever the cause Google appears to have fixed the problem.
If you are still seeing “This site may harm your computer” for results for your website, you should investigate your website in case it has been compromised. There is of course a huge question about the damage that Google can do to a company and website when errors like this occur. Google has caused problems in the past when their Google News service picked up an old story and published it as new news on Google News about an airline going bankrupt. Why did the Google team not check the update for such an error before pushing it out on to the production servers? I am sure this is not the end we have heard about this.
I use several of Google’s applications everyday and there are some things that I with they would add. So in no particular order here is my wishlist of things I would like to see added/changed in Google for 2009.
Export Data into Google Docs
I like Google Docs. It makes it easy to have the latest spreadsheets and documents that I am working on in Google Docs. The problem is I also use AdSense, AdWords, AdManager and Analytics. They all offer the ability to export data but not one of them offers me the option to export data to Google Docs? GMail will allow me to export attachments into Google Docs, but nothing else. If I had the option to export into Google Docs I would use it more, instead I download the export file and do what I need to do in my spreadsheet. Want me to use Google Docs more, make it easier for me to get the data in.
FeedBurner Stats in Google Analytics
Google bought FeedBurner long enough ago that this should be possible. Update Jan. 17, 2009 – Logged into Feedburner today and got a message that Feedburner accounts and feeds were being moved to Google.
Chrome for Linux
I heard this was coming and it would be nice to have a version that worked on Linux. I use Chrome occasionally on the Windows machine here at home. It runs well and is fast. It would be great if it has support for addons like Firefox as well. And don’t forget support for 64bit Linux!
Google Calendar Syncing
I use Google Calendar. My wife uses her Palm calendar and syncs it with an older version of Outlook. I have not found a way to sync the older version of Outlook with a Google Calendar and no way to directly sync a Palm to a Google Calendar.
Native Linux version of Picasa
The wine based version does not cut it. Make a native Linux version please and again don’t forget the 64bit version. Update: Apparently there is a native Linux version. Trying it out now.
I stand corrected. See comment below.
Google Gears on Linux 64bit
Starting to notice a trend? I use 64bit Linux on my main desktop but sadly Gears only works on 32bit Linux.
Google Search Wiki Off Button
I don’t mind the new Google Search Wiki, but I have to agree with TechCrunch, an off button would be nice.
Report Spam Button
Google Webmaster Tools has a report spam section that let’s you submit a report that there is spam in the index. The only problem is it is incredibly inconvenient to report spam this way. Move the report spam feature to the search results, where most of the data already is. You could place the button right beside the Remove button in search wiki. If they are serious about removing spam from the index they need to make it easier to report.
Video Chat in Linux.
And don’t forget the 64bit version!
Intergrate Google Reader in GMail
I realize I can do this in iGoogle, but I don’t sit with iGoogle open most of the day. Perhaps I will have to make a change and use iGoogle instead.
Allow Mulitple Logins
I use GMail for my email but several of my clients have Blogger blogs, seperate AdSense, AdWords and Analytics accounts. I can’t login into their accounts to work on their blogs etc without being logged out of mine. I have been opening two different browsers and working that way but allowing multiple logins would be nice.
OpenSocial Gadgets to Work with FriendConnect
It is great the Google announced that you can add a social playlist to FriendConnect but there needs to be an official OpenSocial gadget directory with gadgets that work with FriendConnect. Add to that a way to login to comment on blogs with the Google login similar to Facebook connect needs to be done. The fact that you can do that with Facebook already leaves FriendConnect behind.
This list has gotten longer than I thought it would be. What would you add or change with Google in 2009?
I have been visiting a few Google Friend Connect websites and have noticed an interesting trend. No one seems to want to edit the canvas.html file to display the correct site name. To be fair it does not say much on the Friend Connect website about the file just “This file can be edited to match the aesthetics of your site.” People do not even seem to make easy edits to the file. Even the largest Friend Connect website I have joined so far, Mashable, has not edited the file.
If you want to make a minor edit to the canvas.html file all you need as a text editor, like Notepad. If you routinely code HTML you can use your favorite editor. Simply open the canvas.html file that you downloaded and to make your website name display when people look at the Friend Connect gadgets in full screen. To change the site name look for the following line, in my editor it is line 87. <div class="site-header"><span class="section-title">Site Name</span></div>
Simply edit the Site Name to be what ever you want, your website name would probably be the best, but you could be creative I suppose. When you are done, upload the file to your web server per Google instructions. Here is a screenshot of my canvas when you enlarge the members gadget.
There is a lot more that is possible, but that is the bare minimum that you can do to at least have the canvas page display your proper website name instead of “Site Name”. You could go and skin the whole canvas page to have your website look if you are feeling more ambitious, but I don’t have the time to do that today.
Google Friend Connect was opened up to the world in early December and I have finally gotten a chance to take a look at what it offers. According to the Google Friend Connect website Friend Connect has three advantages to offer website owners.
Enrich your site
Choose engaging social features from a catalog of gadgets by Google and the OpenSocial developer community.
Attract more visitors
Your users can easily invite friends from social networks and contact lists to visit and join your site.
No programming whatsoever
Just copy and paste a few snippets of code into your site, and Friend Connect does the rest.
Enrich Your Site
The first statement on the Friend Connect website is that the gadgets will enrich your website. You will be able to add social gadgets from the Friend Connect website as well as choose from many of the OpenSocial gadgets. In a perfect world this could give you hundreds of social gadgets to choose from to add to your website. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world. Of the number of gadgets I have tried from the OpenSocial directory I was only able to get the Twitter one to work and that was after I did some editing to the XML code that was on the OpenSocial website. What that means is until the developers create gadgets that work with Friend Connect, the gadgets that work best are the gadgets available from Google.
The gadgets from Google include a members and sign in gadget, and two social gadgets, a wall and a rate and review gadget. This has created a number of comparisons of Friend Connect to services like MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog, because the members gadget is similar to the widgets offered by those services. Overtime the gadgets available from Friend Connect and OpenSocial will be more advanced and offer more interaction. It is possible that at some point in the future the gadgets could allow a website owner to create their own social network similar to Facebook and MySpace, except on your own domain name. At the moment we really only have a couple of choices. Do the gadgets enhance a website already is still up for debate.
I personally have added the Google Friend Connect Members gadget here, but I held off on adding the Wall and Rate and Review gadget. I would prefer to have people comment on the posts themselves. It wold be nice to see a way to tie the Google Friend Connect login in with the comment form, similar to Facebook Connect, so people could login and comment with that. That will probably be on the list of things to do in the near future.
Attract more visitors
I have only been noticing the Friend Connect members box on a few websites and blogs so far. As more websites install it there is a possibility of gaining more visitors. There needs to be more widespread acceptance of the platform and you will need to be active in other websites before you gain a significant amount of new visitors. There is a possibility that your current visitors could find more value in your website with the social gadgets installed making them visit more often and stay longer. As more social gadgets are created this could certainly be the case.
No Programming Whatsoever
This is something Google does well. The success of Adsense is partly based on how easy it is to add to a website, copy and paste the code and you are up and running. Friend Connect is similar. Copy and paste and you can easily have the gadgets provided on the Friend Connect website installed and running on your website. Compare it to Facebook Connect, that I have also looked at, and Friend Connect wins easily. No programming is only true for the default Google gadgets though. If you are thinking of adding any OpenSocial gadgets be prepared for playing with code and things not working properly.
Should You Use It?
This is probably the question most people want to know, should you use it on your website. If you like to live on the edge and try new technologies on your website I would say go for it. The Google gadgets seem to work well, but I would stay away from any of the OpenSocial gadgets unless you like pulling out your hair in frustration. I am surprised that Google launched it with such few gadgets working. Did any of the Google Friend Connect engineers try any of the OpenSocial gadgets with it? If they did they could create a list of ones that work and ones that don’t.
Another reason to look at adding Friend Connect early would be to add some social media components to your website if you don’t have any already. For example if you don’t have a commenting system on your website you could quickly add the Wall gadget and allow people to start commenting on your site with very little work. The Rate and Review gadget could also be a great addition to an ecommerce website to allow people to rate and comment on the different products you have available.
Here is a video from Google about Google Friend Connect if you want some more information.
I will be keeping the members gadget here on LGR Internet Solutions for a little while and seeing how it goes. Feel free to join, I always enjoy getting to know more about the people that visit. If you are interested in having Google Friend Connect installed on your website and don’t want to do it yourself, I would be happy to give you a hand, just drop me a note and I can arrange to have that done for you.
One of the things I have had on my to do list was to replace the WordPress search with the Google Custom search. The WordPress search gives decent search results, but it is hard to compete with the accuracy of Google website search. I was reminded about that today when I was searching for a post I knew I had written about url canonicalization but I could not find it with the WordPress search quickly. I have written about Google custom search in the past and decided that this was the time to add it to the site.
Adding a Google Custom Search to your website or blog is a very easy thing to do. The first step is to visit the Google custom search to create your new custom search. Click the nice big button that says “Create a Custom Search Engine” to get started.
You will then be presented with a screen similar to the one below. Follow the simple instructions to setup you website search engine by giving your search engine a name and description. You probably want to skip the keywords box for a website search engine. It is important to select “Only sites I select.” under what sites you want to search, unless you have network of websites that you want to including in your results. In the select some sites input box make sure you take a look at the “Tips for Formatting URLs. You need to enter the URL correctly or your search engine might not search your entire website. For example to search all of a website you need to enter it like this:
Entire sites: Specifying www.mysite.com/* will include all the pages on www.mysite.com.
Once you agree to the terms of service you can then try out your new website search engine and manage many if the smaller details about it. Some of the sections you might want to pay attention to to manage your website search include the look and feel tab and the code sections. The look and feel options allow you to customize the search box, colors and add your custom logo to the Google hosted results pages. Whether you choose to host the results on your website or let Google host the results it is always nice to blend the results with your colors and logo.
You will also need to include the search box on your site somewhere. An easy place it to copy it into a sidebar text widget or place it directly into your theme like I have. Once this is all done you can use your new search engine to search your website.blog and make it easy for people to find what they are looking for all with them not leaving your website. The added bonus is that the the Google Custom Search can also be linked to your Adsense account, making you money every time someone clicks on an ad on the search results.
I took me roughly 20 minutes to add a Google custom search to the LGR Internet Solutions website and blog but it has already been a benefit to my users. I have noticed people doing searches in my statistics and reading more pages on the website. As a result my overall bounce rate has gone down and my page views have increased. While that is not just because of the search box, it has helped to keep people here and reading. Take a look at adding a Google custom search to your website/blog. It could help them find exactly what they are looking for.
If you use Google Analytics for you web statistics you might have noticed a slight change in the look of the site recently. While that change is nice take a look at these videos about some of the major changes that are coming! I can’t wait to see the Adsense integration with the reports. That will be so nice to have.
I talked a little while ago about how link building is dead. The whole point of the post was that the method some people and businesses go about building links is, to be blunt, stupid. Shortly after I created that post there was a great post over at SearchEngineLand entitled “Conversation With An Idiot Link Broker“. In that post Danny Sullivan exposes the way some people go about creating links to their website. That is exactly the kind of stupidity I was talking about.
One of the best ways I have found to create quality links back to a site is to participate in the conversations on people’s blogs the hardest part is finding blogs to take part in. This is where Google Alerts comes in handy. You can create an alert for a topic you are interested in and Google Alerts will send you an email when it discovers a blog that has created a post on that topic. All you need to do then is visit the blog post and leave a comment.
It is important to not leave spammy comments otherwise your comment will probably not be approved and your work will be for not. Take the time to actually read the post, and contribute to the conversation that is taking place on the blog. There have been several blogs that I have found using Google Alerts that I now regularly participate on and I also get regular visitors from as well.
Some of you might be saying to yourself “but Lee most blogs use nofollow on comments so I don’t get any Google juice by doing this.” If your sole purpose on building links to your website is to get some magical Google PageRank juice then don’t even bother. Creating quality links that will bring real people to come and visit your website or blog is of much higher value than some magical Google PageRank juice. Remember you should be building your website or blog for your users not for search engines, so work on getting links and visitors.
This is just one of the tools I use regularly to keep in touch with what others are saying on topics I am interested in on the web. What are some tools you use to help your commenting and building links back to your website or blog?