Add-ons make Firefox a social-network powerhouse

Yoono, the Facebook Toolbar, and TwitterBar keep you tuned in to your friends' posts.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read
It's easy to fall behind the activities of your social-network connections. Before you know it, you've got dozens or even hundreds of your friends' status updates, new photo albums, and site and video suggestions stacked in your network home page. Yoono, the Facebook Toolbar, and TwitterBar are three Firefox add-ons that keep you a little bit closer to the people in your online social circles.

Integrate your social networks with Yoono
If you find yourself jumping between Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social networks, you can view all your network alerts in a single window by adding Yoono to Firefox (the program is also available as a standalone application).

After you install the add-on, a set of icons is added to the left margin of the browser window. Click the top double-chevron icon to open the Yoono sidebar. The first time you open the sidebar, you're prompted to allow Yoono to access your social-network accounts. This usually involves signing into the various accounts and clicking through a series of permission screens.

Yoono social-network sign-in window
Grant Yoono access to your accounts on popular social networks to add alerts and previews to Firefox. Yoono
Yoono supports Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, FriendFeed, AIM, Yahoo IM, Gtalk, Windows Live Messenger, and other services. You can view updates in the Yoono sidebar for all the services you sign into or just those for a specific service. Click the bottom icon on the left margin to open a browser window showing your alerts in categories of your choosing displayed in vertical panes.

Yoono screen showing five vertical panes
See all your social-network alerts in a single browser window with the Yoono Firefox add-on. Yoono

You can scroll through each vertical column of alerts and hover over an entry to see options for commenting/replying, deleting, and hiding or grouping alerts from that person. Yoono lets you update your status on multiple networks simultaneously, although I didn't test this feature. Likewise, I didn't try out Yoono's IM features.

I'm more interested in the program's ability to consolidate friend and colleague updates from many social networks. By default, Yoono displays new alerts in a small pop-up window in the bottom right of the screen. To turn off or modify alerts, click the options button to open the settings window. Click More options to open a six-tabbed dialog box that lets you control updates more precisely.

Yoono social-network update alert
Deactivate some or all Yoono updates by clicking "options" when an alert window opens. Yoono

It's difficult to trust any service with such sensitive information about you, your family, your friends, and work colleagues. Yoono's privacy policy states that the service uses a token system that prevents it from knowing your Facebook sign-in name and password. With other services, however, your login info is stored encrypted on Yoono's servers if the program can't store the sign-in data on the client.

Even more potentially troublesome is the service's Discovery widget that searches for and retrieves Web pages similar to the ones you're viewing. Your browsing is tracked by third-party ad networks, although Yoono claims not to provide any "personally identifiable information." Unfortunately, the third parties may be privy to your IP address, which many people consider personally identifiable.

Privacy concerns aside, there's no simpler way to stay up-to-date on several social networks at the same time than Yoono's Firefox sidebar and multipane browser window. (Note that Yoono is donationware; the authors request a $5 donation if you use the program.)

The Facebook-only approach
If your social networking is confined to Facebook, an integrated solution such as Yoono is overkill. The Facebook Toolbar is a more conventional Firefox addition. In addition to a Facebook search box, the toolbar has buttons for uploading photos, sharing the current page, and viewing the number of unread messages and pending friend requests.

Facebook Toolbar's various shortcuts in a horizontal Firefox toolbar
The Facebook Toolbar shows the number of pending messages and friend requests and provides a Facebook search box, among other features. Facebook
Other toolbar options let you jump to your Facebook home page and get instant access to other Facebook features. Or choose the Quick Links drop-down menu that has shortcuts to 12 Facebook pages and the Toolbar Options dialog box. Here you configure the events that trigger a notification, such as updates, event invitations, messages, friend requests, and new shares. Of course, you can also disable notifications entirely.

Configure the Facebook Toolbar dialog
The Facebook Toolbar's configuration options let you decide the actions that generate an alert or disable all alerts. Facebook

Like Yoono's sidebar, the Facebook Toolbar lets you open a window on the left side of the Firefox screen and view alerts by last update, status or profile update time, or name.

Facebook Toolbar sidebar in the main Firefox window
See your most recent Facebook-update alerts in a Firefox sidebar opened by clicking a button on the Facebook Toolbar. Facebook Toolbar

Tweet from Firefox's address bar
For fast access to your Twitter account, it's tough to beat the TwitterBar, which puts a bluebird icon on the right side of the Firefox address bar. Hover over the icon to enable a Post to Twitter link and see how many characters you have left. TwitterBar asks that you confirm the post before sending it.

Right-click the bluebird to see links for adding an account and opening the TwitterBar options dialog. By default TwitterBar displays the OneRiot search bar when you hover over its bluebird icon in the address bar. OneRiot searches the "social Web" for the text you've entered. To disable this feature, check "Hide the OneRiot search icon in the address bar." You can choose one of three URL-shortening services, change the default text that accompanies the links you post, and disable the confirmation warning that appears before posts are sent, among other options.

TwitterBar Options Dialog
TwitterBar's options include a choice of three URL shorteners and whether to show or hide alerts and specific icons. TwitterBar

TwitterBar can't match the features of either Yoono or the Facebook Toolbar, but the add-on makes tweeting about the sites you visit even easier. Please note that like Yoono, TwitterBar is donationware, so if you find yourself using the program regularly, cough up the $5 solicitation to help keep the good software coming.