You may not have noticed, but Firefox now includes a “Social API” that allows Facebook and other social networks to integrate with your browser. Firefox is providing Facebook a way to integrate with your browser and stay with you everywhere on the web.
These features are a bit reminiscent of Flock, a Firefox-derived “social browser” that failed to gain traction a few years ago. This time, the features are baked into Firefox and are optional — you won’t see them unless you install a social provider.
What’s a Social API?
Firefox’s Social API allows websites to register as “social providers.” They’ll integrate with your Firefox browser, displaying information in a sidebar that stays with Firefox wherever you go on the web. It’s a bit like service-specific browser extensions, but it allows web services to integrate with your browser more easily than they could if they had to code their own extensions from scratch.
These services can display information and controls in the browser’s “chrome” — such as in its toolbar and sidebar. They can be installed without any browser restarts and used immediately.
How Does It Work?
Assuming you’re using Firefox 21 or newer, you just have to visit a service’s page, click the Turn On button, and the provider will be activated in your Firefox browser immediately.
You’ll get new buttons on your browser’s toolbar that allow you to use, disable, and remove the social provider.
Which Sites Are Using it Today?
The social API was introduced in Firefox 17 along with Facebook as the sole social provider. With the release of Firefox 21, more services are now available:
- Facebook Messenger: Facebook Messenger for Firefox allows you to integrate Facebook Messenger with your browser so you can chat on Facebook wherever you are on the Web.
- Mixi: The Japanese social network Mixi has a social provider for Firefox integration.
- msnNOW: Microsoft’s msnNOW shows you trending stories from across the web in a browser sidebar.
- Cliqz: Cliqz delivers a stream of personalized news stories — also in a browser sidebar.
Why Should I Care?
If you’re a Facebook user and want to integrate Facebook chatting into your browser, this could be an interesting solution for you.
At the moment, there isn’t much other reason to care — unless you’re interested in the Japanese social network Mixi, Microsoft’s obscure msnNOW, or the Cliqz news aggregator. We doubt many people want a sidebar with the latest trending articles from msnNOW or Cliqz.
What’s most interesting about the Social API is Mozilla’s long-term vision, which they laid out in their blog post:
“The Social API has endless potential for integrating social networks, e-mail, finance, music, cloud possibilities, services, to-do lists, sports, news and other applications into your Firefox experience. We designed the Social API to make it easier and more convenient to use the Web the way you want. Soon we’ll add even more ways to integrate your favorite Web services into your Firefox Web experience.” (Source)
The Social API seems to be more than a way for social networks and news services to bombard you with information — it appears to be a framework that Mozilla wants all sorts of web services to integrate with, including online email, music, and to-do list services.
Whether the Social API will take off and be embraced by more services is unclear. It’s certainly not encouraging that Firefox is highlighting obscure services like Cliqz and msnNOW in their initial release, having clearly failed to gain support from bigger names like Twitter and Google.
At the moment, the Social API is underwhelming — except perhaps for Facebook addicts. It may be a big part of Firefox’s future, or it may be a feature that ends up widely ignored, like the use of microformats for dynamic bookmark titles.
Image Credit: Sebastian Anthony on Flickr