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.
|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
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)
|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:
- 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
- Sign-up for the service of your choice, grab the widget code provided by the service, and add it to your blog
- Encourage your followers to pick a new method for following you (read how to send a message to your Google Friend Connect followers)
- 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)
- Ask your other blogger friends to do the same - regardless of the blogging platform they are using
- Ask blogs you are currently following or plan to follow to also provide you with a new method of following them
- 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.