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Social Media bars, or footer bars

What are social media bars and why would you want one? You've probably seen these things (or footer bars as they are sometimes called) when you've been wandering around the internet. They are generally located at the bottom of the screen (notice that I say screen, not page) and will provide you with links to a variety of different resources, such as chat options, Twitter, share options, links to other places and sometimes things such as polls or easy site navigation.

Some people find them very useful, as they have the potential to save a lot of time - instead of taking some sort of note of a page to send to a friend or colleague, you can simply share it there and then. Other people find them annoying because they stay where they are, even when the page is being scrolled down. To be fair however, these bars can almost always be hidden.

Social media bars - the website author view

If you author sites, these bars are going to be quite tempting. They look very cool at the moment, though give them a year or so and they'll be very old fashioned I should think. They give designers an option to cram more functionality quickly and easily onto the bottom of the page - I have a site search button up in the top right corner of my page, but a  footer bar lets me have the same functionality smaller and neater. Many people also have their tweets in a box on the page, and you can put the same information into a fly out menu - much neater!

Users of these bars can change the content quickly and easily, since the social bar information itself doesn't reside on the page, but back on the application site, so changes are made there and then relayed back to the page. Coding of a footer bar is all done on the application site; choose what you want, grab the code, paste it into the page HTML and you're done. Want to change it? Simple 10 second job.

Social media bars - the visitor viewpoint

Well, I think they're a love them or hate them resource. They can be irritating because they're always there on the page, but they do provide useful content quickly and easily. There is a concern over privacy - are these bars recording any kind of information, and if so, what. Having looked through the small print on a number of these sites I can't see anything that leads me to presume that data is being taken and used without consent, but that's not to say that this won't change in the future.

Social media bars - the players

At the moment there are very few players in this market area, so let's take a look at them, see how their offerings work and how they're used.






Skysa is the social media bar that I'm using on this page, so I'll start

by looking at this one first. The best thing to do is to actually try it out yourself, and see what it does. You'll have noticed that it delivers announcements already.  There is a search bar, for my site, a chat room option, Flickr photographs, links to important pages or sites, a link to my Twitter account, a comments option, announcements and a share option. Skysa does come with a total of 15 different applications, including video chat, links to a YouTube stream, RSS feeds and so on. Installation is quite simple - just pick the apps that you like, Skysa shows you a preview of the bar and when you're ready you get a single line of code which is then pasted into the HTML of the page. It immediately worked with Firefox and Chrome browsers, but I did have trouble with IE8. However, a quick post to their support forum and I had a solution in less than an hour - there was a problem with the DOCTYPE of the page. Don't let that all put you off - it probably won't be an issue for you, and it's very easy to solve if it does. I like Skysa - it's simple and quick to use.






Wibiya is the bar that I'm currently running on my 'I want to' home page of applications, so you'll need to flick back and forth to see it in action I'm afraid - having more than one footer bar per page causes lots of confusion apparently! Wibiya also has a lot of good functionality - a search box, but as well as a site search, this has the option of searching Google, links to recent weblog posts, the same Flickr photo option, share options, link to Twitter, chat room, site announcement or notifications. Other options are links to Facebook fan pages, real time use, inline translation and navigation links. It's also possible to rearrange the toolbar as well, which is a nice touch.

Wibiya doesn't yet have the range of footer bar applications that Skysa has, but in some ways I think it's a neater solution.








Meebo is well known for their chat room and instant messenger options, so I was keen to see how their social media bar compared to the competition. I have to say "not so good" really. It was much clunkier to set up, even down to choosing which resources to use and link to. The range of applications was tiny in comparision to the other two, and the installation process was more complicated. Rather than a single line of script code, the Meebo bar required two sets of code, one at the start of the body tag, and one at the end.  The end result does look nice though. See it in action on my Meebo bar example page.

Other Social Media bar contenders

I'm sure that it won't come as a suprise to you to realise that there are other contenders out there. After all, if there's an app for something, there will be more than one, right?

DesignMoo have a Moo Bar, which is a free and customisable javascript network bar. However, users are required to download, customise, upload and then install files. The first line of instructions starts 'Edit the variables in moobar.js to reflect your own data'. Sorry, but that's a fail right there; the other resources make this process much easier. I'm also not keen on the example on their site, which seems to be a simple black bar. I'll pass on even trying that out.

Conduit community toolbar. I was put off this one right from the start because it didn't work with Chrome. Sorry, but the other alternatives do, so why limit what my users can see? It did come with some nice options that I didn't see elsewhere - weather reports, community search and so on. However, clicking on 'install your toolbar' opened up a dialogue box with a .exe file in it. Perhaps I'm overly paranoid, but there is no way I'm simply going to allow some programme to start doing stuff on my machine when I don't know what it is.

AddThis Labs sharebar looked very simple since it provided an immedate cut and paste script that could slot anywhere in the HTML. However, in order to specify specific requirements users have to start editing the code, and while examples are given, and it's not going to be particularly complicated, it's a stage too far for me, given the ease of use of the competition.

Ow.ly social bar killed itself even before it started. I quote from the site "Interested in finding out how you can get an Ow.ly social bar of your own? Contact us using the form below to learn more." Way too far behind the game guys. It also helps if you have an example on the page that people can look at as well.

Cute Profiles are offering a free Wordpress plugin to show vertically floating social profiles. This one also required a download, which is fine if you're already a Wordpress user, but since I'm not, and it's a niche resource I'll give this one a miss.

Conclusions

In my opinion, a social media bar has to run entirely from the 3rd party site, and users need to be able to update it from there. It has to load quickly on the page (all 3 options I concentrated on did), it has disappear if not needed, and be helpful, but not obtrusive. All of the three main contenders worked well, and I think it's down to personal preference really. I'm torn between the Skysa and Wibiya options, but I'd be interested in your thoughts. Take a look at the options on my site, and then please vote in the poll provided by Skysa in the footer bar!



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