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On Google Friend Connect

12th May 2008

After IIW today I went to the Google Camp Fire where Google Friend Connect was launched. Despite the jet lag setting in not long after I arrived, I managed to pay enough attention to the presentation to be quite impressed by this new product. At first I was skeptical, because I'm not a fan of "widgets" as an integration mechanism, but one of the speakers showed a new version of created in conjunction with which makes use of Friend Connect to create full pages of content that for all intents and purposes act as if they are part of the site they are integrated into. (though it does seem to misbehave a bit in Opera.)

Being an OpenID guy, I was especially impressed that Google has now effectively made it possible to be an OpenID relying party with only a drop of JavaScript code on your site. Of course, you're actually authenticating to Google's system rather than to the site it's integrating into, but since the target for this seems to be sites whose social functionality is also provided via Google the distinction is largely moot.

What I'd like to see now is an API that CMS and blogging software developers can use to automate the installation of these widgets. I'm imagining an API where the CMS can go off and request the widget integration code itself, thus skipping the step where the user copies and pastes the embed code. This could manifest itself as simply a link to the existing page where a site owner selects a widget with an additional argument specifying a URL to deliver the widget code to; Google would then send the code (via a redirect of the user's browser, for example) to that URL where it currently shows the code in a text field. Apps like Six Apart's TypePad could then provide a button in their sidebar widget admin UI to add a Google Friend Connect widget and get a relatively seamless integration.

It's definitely an exciting starting point though, and I'm eager to see what people do with it.