Hot Koehls

The more you know, the more you don’t know

This content is a little crusty, having been with me through 3 separate platform changes. Formatting may be rough, and I am slightly less stupid today than when I wrote it.
25 Mar 2009

Free and open source alternative to ShareThis, AddThis, AddToAny

Update: Make sure you check out the comments! My post is just a launching point for some great commentary from staff at iBegin Share and Add to Any. Every site with timely or useful content should utilize some on-site bookmark sharing tool. I’m talking about the bar of links to social networking sites like Facebook, Digg, Reddit, Twitter, etc. that you find at the end of a post. These buttons are preset to recognize the URL of the page they appear on, allowing visitors to quickly propagate your content to their digital lifestream. Wordpress specifically offers a ton of plugins that offer such functionality. The most popular tools use Javascript to display all the sites in a popup: Add to Any, AddThis, and ShareThis. Speaking in terms of pure function, these tools are great: they make sharing functionality readily available without cluttering up the display. However these JS-based bookmarkers possess some significant downsides. First and foremost are the performance concerns. These tools are all stored remotely, and get loaded on your page as a javascript include. Here’s an example of the code from ShareThis:

Pay attention specifically to `src="[...]"`. It's just a normal URL, like any page you visit. This means that each time the page is loaded, the user's browser goes off to retrieve a copy of the javascript required to display the button. Aside from the obvious bump in bandwidth usage, they can cause an obvious delay in page loading. Worse, if the service is experiencing any kind of slowdown or outage, including these services can cause your site to hang and timeout. And these services **do** hang on a regular basis. I've seen it last so long on my own blog that I've had to disable to the plugin until service returned. That the delay is not your fault does not matter; it slows **your** page down, making **you** the laggard in the eyes of users. Not good.
But while these services are not focused on reliability and uptime, they do spend an awful lot of time on data collection/aggregation, legal, and advertising. None of these are good for you, the site owner. All activity surrounding the button on your site is tracked. They can partner with ad networks, packaging in extra ad cookies when the button is served up. Aside from the privacy issues, this again increases bandwidth. Imagery &mdash; specifically the branded icons of each service &mdash; are copyrighted, making them subject to usage restrictions and leaving you open to dealing with pain-in-the-ass take-down requests. **Update:** Per conversation with Add to Any Founder Pat Driven in the comments, Add to Any actually avoids this type of language entirely, limiting all their legal jargon to a <a href="">plain-speak Privacy Policy</a>.
To be clear, there's **nothing inherently wrong** with any of this. These are businesses, they provide a service and have to make money to stay alive. However I think the vast majority of users just want the fancy javascript popup, everything else is excess baggage.
Enter <a href="">iBegin Share</a>, a free, open source alternative for javascript-powered bookmark sharing. Instead of going offsite to retrieve code at each page load, iBegin Share runs locally on your site, saving you bandwidth and decreasing load time. iBegin Share tracks usage like its corporate counterparts, but that data is stored in your database and used for your own data tracking purposes only, saving more bandwidth (since it doesn't have to communicate back) and your privacy. Finally, since its open source you can modify the code any way you want: change the look, layout, color scheme &mdash; the tool includes 4 preset color schemes, plus an option for text vs. button link &mdash; even add totally new share options. <a href="">A Wordpress plugin version is available.</a>
On the downside, external documentation is pretty thin at the moment, but the code is well-commented. <a href="">There is also a forum</a>, but activity there is rather limited right now &mdash; a <a href="">discussion on a seemingly common issue</a> started earlier this month has yet to receive any official word. So you're on your own with any heavy customizing or problems, but I suppose that's the tradeoff for eliminating any third party eyes poking around your traffic. Assuming it works as advertised, I'd argue that it's a far better deal than the other tools, even without any customization ability.
If you decide to give iBegin Share a shot, or if you're using it already, I'd love to hear how it's working for you. Please share your experiences in the comments.

comments powered by Disqus