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January 19, 2010

Integrating A WordPress Blog Into Facebook

Filed under: Ngeblog Yuk.......! — idjawaris @ 8:43 am

Integrating a WordPress blog into Facebook is actually quite simply achieved via the Facebook API. The Facebook API makes programming applications that can be spread via Facebook almost a piece of cake. A lot of interactive browser games are on Facebook, such as the currently popular “Mafia Wars.” This game allows users to start a mafia family with their friends, with the goal of becoming an important figure in the virtual underground crime scene. To start a clan, you invite other friends on the network to join. This is the growth strategy of any application on Facebook: the simple snowball effect.

The applications sustain themselves through earnings generated by displaying advertisements, which also makes Facebook an even more attractive platform to develop on. This symbiosis generates growth for both Facebook and its applications. Deutschsprachige Version des Artikels

Plug-In Installation and Configuration

John Eckman developed the WordPress plug-in Wordbook in early 2009. This plug-in allows WordPress blog owners to integrate their blog in Facebook. This gives a blog two lives: one as an application on Facebook (such as, for example, my private FreigeistBlog) and one at the original URL (http://freigeist.devmag.net).

To access a blog via Facebook, you need to first grant access to the application. To do this, go to the so-called “canvas” page, which is where the Facebook twin of the blog lives (my example). However, granting access to the blog’s application means that the administrator of the blog also has access to information about you as a user (this is what most applications aim for: information such as date of birth, gender and educational status allows them to display quite targeted ads).

The application we’re dealing with is a simple blog and, in this sense, quite innocent, but we should state outright that the Facebook API as it is now treats blogs and websites as applications, which may not be appropriate, given the issue mentioned above. Facebook users who authorize the blog application can now easly send comments and share posts from within Facebook. The data, however, is still stored in the original database on the server where the blog is installed.

This makes it look as though Facebook serves merely as a simple feed reader. Yet, we get some other benefits. The blog on Facebook can be used to create a community around it by taking advantage of Facebook’s snowball effect, because friends of the blog’s users will see in their activity stream that they have been participating on the blog. Furthermore, it means that Facebook users will see new posts from your blog whenever they sign in to Facebook and can easily follow comments, making your blog more accessible.

To create a Facebook twin of your blog, first you have to set up a new application. To do this, you need a Facebook account and have to register as a developer using the preceding link. All of this can be done in a few minutes.


Create a new Facebook application

Once you have agreed to the terms of use, give your application a name. Then you will receive your API key and a secret, which you will need later.


Settings for the Facebook application. Large view.

Then, you have to submit a so-called “post-authorize callback URL.” This is the address on your server to which Facebook will send a notice whenever a user authorizes access to the application. By the same logic, there is also the “post-remove callback URL,” which receives a notice when a user removes the application. Both of these events are handled by the Wordbook plug-in. You merely need to write the address of the blog’s root directory with a trailing slash.


Facebook application settings: Define callback URLs. Large view.

The third step is to claim your canvas page, which is the page through which a Facebook user accesses your blog, and a canvas callback URL, which is the page from which content is retrieved. Again, include a trailing slash, or else internal links on your blog won’t work with their Facebook twin.


Facebook application settings: Define canvas page. Large view.

Now you have some choices to make, namely, how to set up your canvas page. You have a choice between iFrame and FBML. FBML is a Facebook XML scheme with which you can use specific Facebook tags (such as tags to display user profiles). You can also use it to access certain Facebook procedures. However, the Wordbook plug-in works with iFrames, which allow Javascript and other tags, and which FBML does not support.

To distinguish between them rather crudely, you can say that iFrames give the developer more flexibility but, unlike FBML, restrict access to Facebook procedures. Another advantage of iFrames is that code that Facebook retrieves from the canvas callback URL need not be parsed by the FBML parser, which could yield a performance gain. With iFrames, only internal links on the blog need to be adjusted. And the “resizeable” option allows Facebook’s JavaScript code to adjust the size of the iFrame to Facebook’s layout.

Now the hard work is done. All that’s left is to install the Wordbook plug-in using the standard WordPress method: install and activate. Then you can change the plug-in’s settings on the settings panel, and here you will need your application ID and the secret. You also have to tell the plug-in where the canvas page is located, so that internal links can be adjusted.


Adjusting the settings of the Wordbook plug-in

And that’s it! If you want, you could activate or deactivate some other options, such as the commenting function and whether users can add your application to their profile by displaying the latest posts from your blog in their profile.


Browsing through the blog via Facebook. Large view.

The plug-in allows you to play around a little bit. But as we said, you are somewhat limited in how fully you can integrate your blog into the Facebook canvas. But the next plug-in we’ll look at integrates a bit of Facebook into your blog.

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