Thursday, February 16, 2012

Say Goodbye to Google Friend Connect




Updated 2/23/2012: After further research and contemplation, I have removed all follower widgets from my blog's layout (although Networkedblogs and Linky Followers are available under the Subscribe page).

Updated 2/17/2012: I have added more details regarding the impact of Google Friend Connect discontinuation, as well as some useful links for further detail.

You know that little box on your blog with all the happy faces? Yes, the one reminding you to check your friends' blogs. Yes, the one reminding your visitors that you do indeed HAVE friends.

Yes, well, that happy little box with all the happy faces is going away.

Google announced late last year the discontinuation of Google Friend Connect for blogs hosted on platforms other than Google's Blogger.com (e.g. WordPress, Tumblr, etc) - effective March 1, 2012. And while Google claims blogs hosted on Blogger can continue to use Google Friend Connect, the truth is Google Friend Connect is already collapsing as bloggers rush to find replacement "follower widgets" for their blogs.

How This Affects You (and Me)

Google Friend Connect isn't just an accumulation of friends - it also has a built-in method for adding the blogs you follow directly to your Google Reader blog reading list. With one convenient click, you could become a follower of your friend's blog AND immediately add that blog to your reading list in Google Reader. Talk about easy!

But now that Google Friend Connect is going away, all of that changes.

On March 1, 2012, non-Blogger.com blogs will lose the Google Friend Connect widget and all followers who are subscribed exclusively using the Google Friend Connect service. AND if you are following any non-Blogger.com blogs using Google Friend Connect, these blogs will disappear from your Google Reader subscription list (unless you copy them to another "tag" before March 1st).

My blog is currently hosted by Blogger.com, so for the time being, Google Friend Connect will continue to work for my blog. Yay for me, right?

Actually, no. What hurts one of us in blogging community hurts us all in the end, so because non-Blogger.com friends can no longer use Google Friend Connect, we're all going to suffer. Connections all across the blogosphere will be broken: we will lose our subscriptions to non-Blogger.com friends' new posts and they will lose us as subscribers and followers. The ensuing fallout from this change will impact us all.

Let's face the grim reality: it doesn't matter what blogging platform we use, the handwriting is already on the wall - Google Friend Connect is ultimately doomed.

My best advice is to be proactive and develop a strategy for moving away from Google Friend Connect as soon as possible. And that means you will have to take action now because March 1st is rapidly approaching. I can already hear the groans and complaints from bloggers with hundreds of followers - how do you begin to convince followers to follow you AGAIN?!

The only answer is to start now. Here's my 3-step strategy for surviving a world without Google Friend Connect.

1) Protect Your Subscriptions
  • I am subscribed to over 500 blogs (and that number grows daily) and I originally followed many of these using Google Friend Connect. In the background, Google automatically added the blogs I followed using Google Friend Connect to a tag (or folder, if you will) in my Google Reader called "Blogs I'm Following". To preserve these subscriptions and ensure you never miss a post from your friends, you will need to retag all the subscriptions in "Blogs I'm Following" in your Google Reader to a new tag of your choice.
Here's How


Login to Google Reader and go to Reader Settings

Click the Subscriptions tab

Next to one of your subscriptions, click Change folders drop-down
and select New folder to create a new "tab"

Enter a name for the folder (tag)
Above is just a suggestion, but use any name that makes sense to you

The subscription will have been moved to the "tag" you created. To move all blogs you are following using
Google Friend Connect, click Unassigned to select all blogs that have not already been copied to a new
tag. Once you click Unassigned, you will see checkmarks next to all blogs that have not yet been assigned to a tag

Click the More actions drop-down and select the folder tag you wish to add assign your subscriptions to
If you are assigning all your subscriptions at once, Google Reader may "time-out" and not complete the request
If the assignment doesn't work the first time, try assigning a handful of blogs at a time

2) Provide Your Followers with a New Way to Follow You
  • Continuing to accumulate followers via Google Friend Connect is sadly short-sighted and counter-productive because ultimately you will need want to convince your subscribers to move to a thriving and supported "followers" tool rather than a limited and dying tool.

    Now maybe you're thinking, "Isn't there a way for me to move my Google Friend Connect followers automatically to a new subscription service?" Get that thought out of your mind right now! Even if there was a way to "port" your followers to a new service, it would be UNETHICAL to move your followers without their express consent. So let's just pretend we never had these thoughts and move on, ok?

    The real answer to this debacle is to convince your followers to use a different subscription service. As daunting and frightening as this challenge may sound, there is hope. 
  • Google would like you to use a Google+ page as your replacement for Google Friend Connect, but let's face it, there's a whole slew of options that allow friends to follow your blog: Atom/RSS, Feedburner, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Bloglovin, Foodbuzz (for foodies), and Networkedblogs to name a few of the more popular. A very recent addition to this list would also have to be Linky Followers.

    However, some of these services do not provide your followers with a convenient and friendly built-in subscriptions reader (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc). While most of us would like to hope our blog provides readers with a pleasant reading experience, most avid blog readers prefer to use a aggregation reader like Google Reader. I recommend you select a subscription service for your followers that includes a built-in reader.

    But wait! There's more to consider. If you are interested in WHO is following your blog, some of these services are less helpful (e.g. Bloglovin, Foodbuzz, Pinterest, Feedburner, Atom/RSS). And let's face it, if you're interested in really building relationships and connecting with your friends, it's helpful to know who these followers are! So not only should your subscription service include a built-in reader, it should tell you WHO is following you.

    I have done some research into subscription service options and I recommend you do the same. Here are the tools I suggest along with their pros and cons:


Linky Followers: Look-Alike for Google Friend Connect

Your dashboard in Linky Followers

Free Linky Followers Widget for your blog

  • Free Followers Widget? Yes. Built-in Reader? Yes.
     
  • What I like: It's FREE. It shows you who is following your blog (with Linky Followers widget). It has a subscriptions reader built-in. And it allows users to follow with "avatars" instead of using another service like Facebook or Twitter.
     
  • What I don't like: The subscriptions reader doesn't connect with Google Reader and there is currently no option to import or export OPML files (an OPML file contains all your subscriptions). That means you (and anyone following you using Linky Followers) MUST use Linky Followers built-in reader to read blogs followed using Linky Followers. And that sucks big time. I have an email in to Brent (creator of Linky Followers) asking about availability of OPML files, but no response as of yet...
     
  • Verdict: I'm using it on my blog. It's currently the best replacement for Google Friend Connect if you want to know who is following you. I recommend also providing users with a Feedburner subscription option so they can easily grab and add your feed to the subscriptions reader of their choice. In fact, even though I will be "subscribing" with the Linky Followers widget where available, I will also continue to manually add these blog feeds to my Google Reader because quite frankly, I don't like (and will not support) Linky Followers "walled-in" reader approach.

Networkedblogs: Good, Not Great (Facebook Required)

Networkedblogs Dashboard/Profile

Free Networkedblogs Followers Widget

  • Free Followers Widget? Yes. Built-in Reader? Sort-of - it lists the blogs you follow, but you must click each link and visit each site to read posts
     
  • What I like: It's FREE. It shows you who is following your blog (with the Networkedblogs widget). It's easy for people to follow your blog if they use Facebook. It also has a very convenient feature called Syndication that will automatically share (or "syndicate") your new blog posts to Facebook (pages and profiles) and Twitter.
     
  • What I don't like: There's not a true built-in reader and no option for exporting/importing subscriptions to other reader services like Google Reader. If you follow a lot of blogs (like me), Networkedblogs is not really an option for managing or reading your subscriptions. I also don't like that Networkedblogs REQUIRES you and your followers to use their Facebook profiles. That's crazy personal (I don't necessarily want to share my full name with all of my followers and potential followers and spammers) and it's crazy invasive for your followers (they may want to share their real name with you).
     
  • Verdict: I'm using it on my blog - for now. I love the Syndication feature and despite my reservations about forcing the share of Facebook information, I'm willing to test it. 

3) Promote Your Selected Tool with Followers

Let's say decide to offer your followers a bunch of options for following you. So you add the widgets to your blog, write a post asking your followers to switch to one of the new widgets, and happily sit back and wait for your followers to pick an option. And. Nothing. Happens.

Here's the problem: everyone is overworked, crazy busy, and scrambling to keep up with their own lives. When we arrive at your blog and find a slew of widgets and buttons begging for attention, our minds go into overload and rather than picking an option, we head for the exit because we don't know what to pick!

So take a personal approach instead. Following these instructions I found, you can send a message to all of your Google Friend Connect followers. Make it personal, clearly explain (with pictures if possible) how they can continue to follow you, and don't overwhelm with options (less is more). 

Here's the strategy I recommend:
  1. Provide your followers with another method for following you besides Google Friend Connect - and there are a few good FREE options to choose from like Linky Followers and Networkedblogs
  2. Sign-up for the service of your choice, grab the widget code provided by the service, and add it to your blog
  3. Encourage your followers to pick a new method for following you (read how to send a message to your Google Friend Connect followers)
  4. Discourage new followers from using Google Friend Connect (I add a text description above my widget reminding users that this widget will soon be gone)
  5. Ask your other blogger friends to do the same - regardless of the blogging platform they are using
  6. Ask blogs you are currently following or plan to follow to also provide you with a new method of following them
  7. Ultimately STOP using Google Friend Connect

As a heads-up and in keeping with my own advice:
  • I have added two new "follow widget" on the left-hand side of my blog: Linky Followers and Networkedblogs
  • I will be reaching out to my followers and asking them follow me using one of the these new methods AND to adopt a new tool that will allow me to follow them back
  • I have moved all blogs I currently follow via Google Friend Connect to a new RSS folder in Google Reader so I won't miss any of your posts
  • I have stopped following new blogs using Google Friend Connect
  • I will soon UNSUBSCRIBE from all existing blogs I follow through Google Friend Connect
  • I will soon remove the Google Friend Connect widget from my blog

If anyone needs help getting a new followers tool set up on their blog, feel free to contact me. I'm happy to help.


Rest In Peace, Google Friend Connect.
We will survive without you.


18 comments:

  1. This is a very thoughtful post. I've been a fan of GFC and I'm sad to see it go... thank you for the other options!

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    1. You're quite welcome, Ann. I agree - it is sad GFC wasn't allow to continue unchanged...

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  2. Thanks so much for posting this. I had no idea!! So does the google reader still work? If I subscribe to a blog via kinky or networked blogs where do I read it?

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    1. I will be updating this post to include more details about how this impacts Google Reader and how Linky Followers works... I realize I was a little light on specifics and I suspect most people will have similar questions...

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  3. Hi Javelin!

    II am a big fan of GFC! *sad face* but thank you so much for sharing other options, Javelin.
    Btw, I'm not a big beer person neither but I'm so hooked on this drink. Please do give it a try and let me know if you like it! Have a great weekend love.

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    1. Thanks Mai and I hope you have a wonderful weekend as well! Let me know which widget or tool you'll be using so I can follow...

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  4. Excellent post and thanks for highlighting this! For me it is a double whammy, I "lost" my 234 followers when I moved from blogger to wordpress and now I will "lose" my new 45+ followers on my new button, BUT, I do have networked blogs on my sidebar too!

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    1. Karen, that is AWFUL! It's terrible how much time is WASTED on trying to get around technology changes - even if we don't initiate them. Anyway, I'll be posting an update to this blog, so stay tuned if you're interested...

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  5. Javelin, what would low-tech types like me do without people like you who stay on top of this sort of thing?! Question: are there any privacy issues with Linky Followers? Is it definitely the way to go? I'm not really clear on Google+ at all.

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    1. Jean, I'm glad I could help. Answering your question is tough for two reasons:

      1) There are always privacy issues with every tool (including Google Friend Connect) and users generally have to agree to the terms of service when they sign-up for a tool (such as Linky Followers). In this case, users have to create an account with Linky Followers before they can follow you using the Linky Followers widget - thus they would have to agree to whatever terms Linky Followers may have.

      2) Privacy is tough to define and different for everyone - I personally value my privacy and don't like sharing personal information with any service, but others may feel differently. In the case of Linky Followers, I don't feel the service asks invasive questions or requires mure in the way of personal information, so I'm ok with using the service. I checked Linky Followers homepage for a Privacy statement (to see if user information such as email address are sold to any 3rd parties) but the privacy statement link doesn't seem to work.

      I hope this helps and great question...

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  6. So that's what Linky is!
    This post is a big help, thanks so much!

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  7. Thanks for this - very frustrating that GFC is going BUT really good of you to let us know and to have researched a few options. Big Sigh - just don't have time to deal with all this stuff!

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    1. I do understand the frustration - I've spent a whole lot of time considering my options and decided I'm thru with follower widgets! I'm sticking with basic reader and email subscription options...

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  8. Thanks for this - very helpful and informative indeed especially for technophobes like me. I am now following you on networked blogs. As I am on blogger, I will still have GFC, right? but I need to get everyone else to move and manually add my reader list? argh! No time, going off on holiday!

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    1. You're quite welcome. My opinion is, Google will ultimately kill-off GFC completely and this is just their first step. So I'm being proactive and getting rid of it now. Before I accumulate too many users that just have to be moved anyway...

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  9. So frustrating :/ I'm going to be addressing this on my blog too as March approaches. Helpful post!

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