Scripps launches social login, publishing
Visitors to Scripps' newspaper websites that also have a presence on Facebook, Yahoo!, Google, Twitter or OpenID can now use those profile credentials to register and log in.
And if they've connected either Facebook or Yahoo! accounts, they can socialize their comments by posting to both a Scripps' website and their social network.
There's the obvious user benefits -- use the profile you use the most, and the ease of sharing commentary -- as well as returns to Scripps for increased user engagement, audience data and more exposure for content.
Users of Scripps' news websites that have connected their Facebook and/or Yahoo! accounts can post comments to those sites in addition to on the story itself.
Credit: Screenshot of story on knoxnews.com
We first conceptualized this effort using Facebook Connect. But after scoping a project that would likely last many weeks and only hit one of the popular social profile providers, we decided to look for other options.
JanRain presented a product called Engage that shortened our time-to-market and allowed us to include more profiles than just Facebook using one connection point. They also shield us from the inevitable API changes with profile providers (looking at you Facebook).
JanRain, if you don't know, helped pioneer use of the OpenID solution that allows you to authenticate with multiple websites using one identity.
I've used their OpenID service MyOpenID for several years only lamenting the fact that more web applications don't allow it to be used for authentication.
NPR recently launched their use of Engage to allow for similar functionality. Other media users include the LA Times, Fox News, Tribune Interactive and National Geographic.
How JanRain's Engage solution works for us
We present users five options to use for registration or login purposes:
If a user already has an account with one of our websites, they can connect the external profile by verifying the account via the e-mail they used to set up the service.
We allow for, and encourage, the connection of multiple accounts. Users can remove a connection at any time.
If a user doesn't have a native account, they can also use an external profile to create one. After verifying their account through the challenge e-mail, they're sent through our normal account-creation process.
In this way, we create a native account in the background using information from the user's external profile if it exists. This information includes:
- First name
- Last name
- E-mail address
- Date of birth
Not all of this information is used on external profiles. Users must still provide it when registering using a profile such as Facebook if they haven't opted to share or include that data.
We do not store any data without the user's permission.
Dealing with multiple websites
A time-consuming aspect of setting up Scripps' 22 newspaper websites was creating a presence for each on all of the services we used. This means creating a Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo! application for each of those 22 sites.
It was more tedious than difficult.
Another option JanRain presented was a universal login process for all Scripps' sites. This would allow a user to connect their Facebook account on knoxnews and use the same account to log in on vcstar.
Unfortunately, each site has a separate database that segments their users. Also, there aren't a lot of situations where users have a need to create accounts across Scripps' properties; these are local news websites after all.
Tracking what service is used
There are likely more Facebook users in most of the cities where Scripps has a presence than we have registered users of our sites. Keeping that in mind, we think that over time more visitors will opt to connect their Facebook (or Yahoo!, Google, OpenID, Twitter) accounts instead of a native account.
To keep track of who uses what service, JanRain provides a slick dashboard for each of our websites. Here we can see date-based reporting on the number of users that have signed in using an external profile, and what profile they used. Everything is presented visually for ease of use with an option to download reports for import into Google Docs.
The best part about integrating external profiles from social services to your website is opportunities for social publishing.
JanRain makes it easy to use social publishing with their widget. We opted for a different method for a more customized experience.
Registered users of Scripps' newspaper websites can post comments on stories, videos, photo galleries and damn near everything else. But these comments have traditionally been restricted to our sites only.
Now, if you connect your Facebook and/or Yahoo! account(s), you can chose to aggregate your comments beyond our borders to those profiles as well.
If the user hasn't connected any external profiles, we'll prompt them to connect Facebook or Yahoo! after they post a comment.
The benefit here is allowing users to broadcast their engagement with our sites to their personal streams where folks that may not visit our sites will be exposed to their message with a link to our content. It's similar to the share or recommend buttons, but with the easy opportunity for more commentary.
I think this project is one of the more exciting things we've launched at Scripps in awhile. It will allow for a deeper social integration down the road with opportunities for both more engaged visitors and relevant advertising.
I also like that we did not have to outsource our user database or commenting system to achieve this.
What future social integrations would you like to see for news websites, Scripps or otherwise?