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Applying Social Technologies – Part 2

Continued from 7/6/09

Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn grew by creating opportunities for people to recreate their offline personal networks through online tools.  Now they are making those networks more widely available to publishers – through Facebook Connect, MySpaceID, and Sign in with Twitter  –  to enable users to register, connect and socialize on sites outside of the social networks.  These social login services allow publishers to authenticate users, to promote by publishing content and activity back to the social network the user belongs to,  to use profile data to enhance the site experience, and to tap into a user’s friend list (also called the social graph) to provide a more social experience.  These services are delivered via APIs, or application programming interfaces, which are sets of routines or data structures that allow publishers to get information from, and send data to, the social networks.

Sites now can enable users to login in one-click to using existing online identities.  When users login for the first time, sites can also invite users to register.   Facebook reports that sites using social APIs to authenticate users have seen as many as 2 out of 3 new registrants use their Facebook identity, and those users have about 50% more engagement on sites.

Sites can enable users to publish site content, and even their own activity, to the newsfeed or notification systems of their social network.  These communications reach a broad audience of that user’s friends and can drive traffic back to the publisher’s site.  For example, a user who takes a quiz can choose to share their results with friends by publishing them to their social network via a status update or newsfeed item.  Friends who see these newsfeed updates can then return to the site and take the quiz themselves.

Once a user authenticates, publishers can access user data such as profile and friend information.  This information varies by provider, but includes everything from name and photo, to contact information like email address, or to deeper profile information such as interests, birthday, age, education.  Sites can use this information to customize the experience for each user.  For example, when a user authenticates, the publisher can get greet the user by name, suggest content based on interests, show ads based on age, and present content based on geography like local events or recently reviewed restaurants in their area.

Enabling users to socialize is to give them the ability to connect with friends in the context of your site’s content and activity. Publishers have found that showing what is “most popular” among a site’s community drives interaction.  Social APIs enable publishers to go one level deeper, for example displaying what is most popular on that site among a user’s friends, what those friends are saying via comments, or how those friends have voted in an online poll.

These are a few conceptual examples of the types of social implementations that are possible.  Let’s  take a look at a few case studies.

Authenticate, Customize, Promote
Flixster was one of the first sites to add social functionality and to integrate MySpaceID.  Users who visit this popular movie reviews site can create a Flixster account using their MySpace username and password.  This step saves time for users who want to participate in a recognized way, for example by adding a review, but do not want to start the registration process from scratch.  When a user authenticates with MySpaceID they also allow Flixster to access their MySpace profile information.  This information is used by Flixster to recommend movies that are unique to each user.  For example, if a user has a reference to sports in their MySpace profile, then Flixster can recommend sports movies like Rudy or Hoosiers to watch or potentially review.

Authenticate, Socialize, Promote
One of the most successful implementations of these new social technologies was the use of Facebook Connect during the recent presidential election.   CNN enabled users watching the inauguration to authenticate on via their Facebook account and update their status while watching the event.   These status updates were published to newsfeeds and other friends viewing these updates in real-time had an incentive to login to and participate in the same live event.

Authenticate, Socialize, Promote
Ustream is an example of a site using Sign in with Twitter.  This implementation allows users to authenticate using Twitter credentials, but also to tweet (send a short message) about the video they are watching in real time.  Tweets not only appear on the site, but they also appear in the user’s Twitter feed, driving traffic back to the site.  In one example, users are watching the 2009 NHL playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes and tweeting about the hockey match.

Brand Sites Go Social
Publishers are not the only content owners who can take advantage of these social APIs.  Brands can also integrate these technologies to connect users to the brand and to each other.    Red Bull is an example of a brand that has incorporated social technologies in their web site.

Red Bull integrated Facebook Connect so fans could login to their landing page and comment on extreme sports articles.  In another example , users are discussing a news brief on Shaun White.  Once the user leaves a comment, that comment is published to the user’s newsfeed.

These examples demonstrate how publishers and brands can remove barriers for users to login to their sites and interact with other users.   On each platform, publisher sites benefited from using these technologies.  The integration, for example, yielded 2 million status updates at a rate of 4,000 updates per minute for an hour long speech .

Next week: Technologies Simplified

By g-gigya

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