Facebook recently officially announced the release of Facebook Connect. At first, I was a little dubious as to what it would do; after all who needs to sign in to their Facebook account when surfing other websites, right?
Actually, Facebook Connect is a little deeper than that. Until now, Facebook has remained on Facebook.com, there was no way to transplant any of the social media applications to your own website (apart from a few developers). Applications for Facebook have been around since the dawn of the site, allowing users to develop and launch their own “useful” tools to connect, play, message and inform friends. Some have argued that the site was becoming cumbersome, with a vast number of user applications ballooning the platform out of all proportions. Many userpages were cluttered and overcrowded (including mine). So only a few weeks ago, Facebook underwent a huge face-lift, appearing to cut most of the chaff from userpages.
So far, so good.
But then the growing company announces it was developing its flexible platform to branch out. It would appear Facebook.com was just the beginning, over the coming months we’ll see Facebook applications appearing on other websites, expanding the scope of this social networking tool across the Internet…
This is one of the main reasons I’ve been so quiet over the Christmas holidays, I’ve been doing some website development (plus wrestling with a computer that I suspect is beginning to fail… oh dear). It’s made a change, but I’m very excited that my work is nearly done and I can commence business as usual. I’ve missed writing about space!
So what’s this Facebook Connect thingy? Last week I decided to give Google Friend Connect a whirl and it seems to be working out rather well. The ratings system also seems to be pretty useful. The key purpose of these social tools is to meet and connect with people who share common interests. Case and point is that I’ve been visiting other sites with Google Friend Connect installed and I keep seeing the same faces. Very quickly I can reconnect with friends and then subscribe to sites I enjoy.
Is it a bit of a time-waster? Possibly, but ultimately I believe it will be useful. The thing is, there is no model for this new social media technology, so it’s hard to see where it will end up. However, I’m hedging my bets with the prediction that this thing is going to be huge. And I’m not alone in thinking that.
So, once again, my good friend and social media professional, Avi, dropped me a message telling me that Facebook Connect was available. However, the thing wasn’t going to give itself up that easily.
I’m sure those of you who blog with WordPress are familiar with plugins, widgets and dynamic themes. So I made the assumption that the many WordPress developers had already churned out their first Facebook Connect plugin… not as easy as that, even the best developers in the world need time to develop and test their product!
Being a wannabe web developer (I am a web designer, but I’m finding it hard to keep up), I decided to follow the instructions for Connect installation, from scratch. Yes, it required a little coding. Yes, it was very trial-and-error (and it most certainly did not take me 8 minutes to get the thing running — try 8 hours!). And yes, I failed. Dismally.
I love a challenge, so I dug in and fought the good fight. The guys at Facebook even put together a superb video emphasising the “ease” at which Facebook can be installed… no matter how many times I smacked the “refresh” button, Astroengine.com would not talk to Facebook.
Eventually, a fraction of a second before I began deleting the application from the site, I had a breakthrough. Actually, a developer had been working on a beta version of a WordPress plugin! Hurrah! So I gladly downloaded the code and followed the steps as close as I could. This time, bits worked and others didn’t, but at least I was on the right track.
The following day I had a “eureka” moment after re-reading the instructions for the plugin. Yep, it was a solitary missing PHP tag. Hit refresh, and it worked! I could log into my Facebook account via Astroengine.com.
After spending 5 minutes relishing in the fact I could log in and out of Facebook… I thought I had better check out what it could do, and I was impressed with the platform’s potential. Basically, if you have a Facebook account (or even if you don’t, you can join instantly), you click on the “Connect with Facebook” button in the right-hand column. As you log on, your details are securely exchanged between servers. At this point, Facebook Connect automatically gives you your very own “subscriber page” on Astroengine.com (like a membership). There are one or two details that need to be ironed out, but so far you can use Facebook Connect to keep track of all your activity on Astroengine.com (that means following comments you’ve left with links to the articles – it may not sound exciting, but it is very useful in practice!), you can also opt to “post” your comment to your Facebook userpage as you go. This is a fantastic way of attracting discussions and distributing information.
Now Facebook Connect is stable, and the Facebook code is expanding (there’s even a Facebook mark-up, which I found pretty cool), more features will appear as time goes on. There may only be a handful of mini-applications on Astroengine so far, but over the coming weeks, I’ll continue to add useful stuff (not the chaff I was talking about earlier) to enhance the user’s experience. So go and explore! If you notice any bugs, let me know.
If you are interested in Facebook Connect, check out the links in the above post, and be sure to go to the social media website Sociable!, where the very helpful developers are working on the WordPress plugin (but be sure to follow their instructions perfectly!). Oh, and be sure to download the most recent Facebook Connect plugin version…