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10:02 PM

The Best Firefox Extensions: Social Networking

Want to put social networking sites to work for your small business? These Firefox extensions will help you get started.

Want to put social networking sites to work for your small business? These Firefox extensions will help you get started.Let's face it: As business tools, social networking sites represent a double-edged sword. On one hand, they give companies of every size more methods to communicate with customers. On the other, they can turn all too easily into a time-wasting virtual morass.

Here at bMighty, we already offer plenty of news and advice that can help your small business make the most out of social networking. Today, I'll pick up where I left off in my last post on useful small-biz Firefox extensions and look at some extensions designed specifically for use with social networking sites.

- Shareaholic. There's a reason why this extension took the grand prize in Mozilla's Extend Firefox contest: It offers an elegant, highly functional solution to a nagging problem.

Shareaholic allows users to share, bookmark, and email Web links with a vast assortment of social networking sites. In fact, the current version supports more than 60 sites, all of which are listed in the extension's setup options. Other user-configured options make it easy to tailor Shareaholic to the way you work; users can, for example, place share buttons in the Firefox URL bar, navigation menu, or right-click context menus.

If you work with multiple social-networking sites, the time-saving benefits are obvious. Also, don't overlook the fact that Shareaholic makes it much easier to focus on work, rather than risk getting sucked into an all-too-tempting social-networking sidetrip. After all, you're only human...

- TwitterFox. I have to come clean here: I personally find Twitter immensely annoying. Still, I understand how Twitter can serve a legitimate business use. Keeping that in mind, I think TwitterFox does the best job at making Twitter both as useful and as unobtrusive as possible.

The idea is simple: An icon on the Firefox status bar notifies you when a Twitter friend updates her status. Recent tweets are listed in a pop-up window that also includes a text input box for your own entries.

The add-on looks great (see the shot above, using the new black theme), and it's possible to resize both the pop-up window and the font size. The current major release adds a time-stamp and other useful metadata to incoming tweets, and the latest update (1.8.3) fixes some significant bugs. If you want to use Twitter as efficiently as possible, this extension is probably the way to go.

(Note: As of this writing, the latest version of TwitterFox is NOT the one listed on the extension's main page. Click through to the "older versions" page, and you will find version 1.8.3, which just appeared yesterday. I'm sure Mozilla will fix this issue soon.)

- Facebook Toolbar. I'm a bit reluctant to use Firefox extensions that work as toolbars, since I'm very protective of my browser-screen real estate. There is no denying, however, that the ability to work with Facebook without actually visiting Facebook offers some real advantages.

The toolbar itself includes search and status boxes, along with a set of quick links to access key FB functions. Users can also view messages and friend requests, and a share button opens a pop-up box where users can post a message or share links/photos. The extension can also alert users with pop-up notifications; while these can get annoying, it's easy enough to turn them off in the configuration settings.

Some users are reporting various issues with the current version of the Facebook Toolbar. After working with it in Firefox 3.5, however, I haven't encountered any problems at all. If your company uses Facebook as a de facto intranet, you just might wonder how you managed to get any work done without this extension.

Honorable Mentions

Inevitably, a roundup like this one barely scratches the surface. So I'll throw in a few extra extensions that are worth checking out if you use various other popular social-networking sites:

- LinkedIn. If you use this business-oriented networking site, give LinkedIn Companion a try.(Unfortunately, a version that is formally compatible with Firefox 3.5 isn't yet available.)

- Hooked on social bookmarking? Try the eponymous Firefox extension, which makes it easy to bookmark and tag shared links.

- Digg. The handy Digg Firefox extension will show the number of Diggs and reader comments for a given Web page. If you're looking for more basic functionality, sticking with Shareaholic (which supports sharing links via Digg) may be a better option. And if you want an extension that focuses more on providing high-ranked Digg pages for you to read, the Digg Toolbar might be worth the price of giving up yet another chunk of your Firefox screen.

Stay tuned! In a few days, I'll be back with yet another list of Firefox extensions that can help your small business compete more effectively.

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