Social bookmarking widgets have really helped reduce clutter on web pages.
Not long ago, it was not uncommon to find bloggers putting a dozen different icons under their blog posts hoping that people would click these buttons to spread their content on the web. But as the number of social sites grew on the Internet, these numerous buttons were replaced with all-in-one widgets that not only offered more features but were easy to maintain as well.
The idea is that instead of confusing your site visitors with icons of 16 different social bookmarking sites, you show them a single Share icon and they can choose the social service they want to use to save, share or bookmark your content.
Which Social Bookmarking & Sharing widget is right for your site?
Before we actually compare the features of these services, take a look at the graphic above to get some idea about the appearance of these widgets. Or you may visit this dummy page and try out any of these social sharing services.
AddThis gives you complete control over the appearance and layout of the widget. You can arrange the icons in a single vertical column or put them in a horizontal strip or, if you are comfortable with CSS, you can even go for more complex hover animations.
Design your own menu with AddThis
In addition to sharing your web pages on social networks, your site visitors can also use the AddThis widget to print content or for adding the page to their browser bookmarks.
AddThis provides several analytics reports so you know what content is getting shared and what social services are most popular among your visitors. And there’s an option to add your brand name to the widget as well.
Almost every US government website (include the Whitehouse blog) uses AddThis for social sharing.
One of the unique points about the ShareThis widget is that remembers what you share. That means if you vote for a story on Digg or share a link on Twitter or stumble some page, the service will auto-save a log of all this activity into your ShareThis account. The sharing widget is available as a bookmarklet as well and this is handy for browsers like Google Chrome that don’t support add-ons.
On the publisher side, ShareThis is the only service that will allow you site visitors to share content through SMS text messages in addition to email and AIM. Though the default look of the ShareThis widget cannot be changed, you can choose which social services should be available inside the widget and their display order.
Like AddThis, ShareThis too provides detailed analytics so you can find out what people are sharing and how.
There are at least 50 different social networks and bookmarking websites on the Internet so how do you decide services that should be included in the sharing widget on your website? For instance, delicious is the most popular bookmarking service but some of your visitors could also be using Diigo or Mister-Wong so what do you do in this case? Show them both or toss a coin and pick one?
Well, the AddToAny button provides an excellent solution to this very problem. The service automatically detects social services that your visitors use and places them first in the widget. The detection mechanism is pretty good and I guess it does this by reading the browser history of visitors.
Another advantage of AddToAny is that it automatically uses your Google Analytics account for reporting. That means if you have the Google Analytics code on a page that also uses the Add To Any widget, the sharing statistics of that page will be collected just like your other Analytics data.
The layout of the Add To Any widget isn’t customizable though advanced users can hide individual tabs or even change the color scheme using CSS hacks.
With Tell-a-Friend, your site visitors can share your content with their IM buddies on Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, AOL and MSN/Windows Live Messenger. You can rearrange the tab order in the widget and also choose which social services should be part of the individual tabs. The service also offers a paid option incase you like to brand the widget and email message with a custom logo.
For some reason, the TAF widget on the dummy page isn’t working in IE 8 or Firefox 3.5 but I used the one on NDTV.com and their email sharing feature is pretty impressive.
All the services discussed above have something unique to offer. Here’s what I would suggest:
If you are looking to customize the widget heavily or plan to use your own social bookmarking icons so that the widget on your site looks a bit different from the rest, AddThis is a perfect choice.
If you want to offer readers an option to share content via text messages or need a widget that is extremely easy to setup and also looks elegant, go with ShareThis.
The Add To Any widget is again a good choice because site visitors get to see the service they frequently use right on top but the email sharing feature in this widget will open in another window.
Tell-A-Friend is the only service that offers sharing via popular instant messaging clients, the widget also includes a rich HTML email client so visitors can add notes to their shares but the free version of TAF doesn’t offer analytics and the widget UI can be a bit confusing for new users.