One way to keep visitors involved in what's happening with goings-on at your site is by involving them in what's happening, and one of the more interesting developments in this area is by providing them with the ability to rate your content. Until now, one of the more common ways of doing so for Movable Type was with the Ajax Rating plugin.

Mark Carey has done a great job of putting the plugin together, don't get me wrong. But installing the plugin and getting it to work right can sometimes be a bit more than most folks want to take on. The advantage is that you get complete control over what's happening. Sometimes, however, you just need a quick-and-dirty rating solution, and that's where Outbrain comes in.

Outbrain offers an easy-to-use widget, currently available for Blogger, Drupal, TypePad and Wordpress (the self-hosted version). You can also install it as FeedBurner FeedFlare and there is even a JavaScript version that you can install anywhere that is not explicitly enabled. That's where this post comes in, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The widget is built on top of the Amazon S3 service, which means it's fast. In fact, it may very well be the fastest JavaScript-based service that I've seen, so if you're used to writing off adding another widget to your blog just because it's based on JavaScript, you might want to give this one a look.

Once you do add the widget, you have an elegant star-rater, which provides an easy way for your visitors to vote on the content of your site. Then you can even email the crew at Outbrain to enable a report for your account, which allows you to easily review what's been voted on, which is a nice feature. In coming weeks, an enhancement will allow you to display top posts as well.

Now for the news for Movable Type users: I was so impressed with the widget that I threw together a plugin, creatively dubbed MT-Outbrain. You can download it here. This plugin will run under Movable Type versions 3.35 and higher (including the new MTOS and 4.1 betas), in both static and dynamic publishing modes.

Once installed, you are provided with a single template tag, <$MTOutbrain$>, and when added to your templates, you get the full JavaScript in your template, without having to add all the code yourself. This tag places the JavaScript code inside a <div> with a class of outbrain, which you can then use for styling via CSS. It couldn't be easier!

Users of MT3 should simply unzip the archive as-is into their MT directory and everything will be where it needs to go. Users of MT4 should make sure to not upload the php folder that is found outside of the plugins folder. Instead, upload only the one found inside the plugins folder. If you upload both, then dynamic publishing may not work!

Comments (9)

You should also check out Spotback, which gives a few additional features along with a way to pick a rating design from a gallery of widgets or design your own to blend with your site's look.

Hi Mike -

Thanks for the suggestion. The Spotback service does look interesting, although I didn't find it as easy to integrate with Movable Type. Their "other service" widget is just a two-line addition to the code, which is simple enough, but when I tried to do other things like add the Title or URL to the code (necessary for pages with more than one entry), I just couldn't get it to work.

I also found their rater a bit slower to load than Outbrain's. Not bad, mind you, but for a Sunday morning when things are probably a bit slow all around, I would regularly see "Loading Spotback" in the status bar. I don't think I've ever seen it for Outbrain.

One other thing I like about Outbrain is that you can review your site's ratings to see what people have been voting for. I don't think that's available at Spotback (though I could have missed it). It's nice for status junkies. Plus, I found the Spotback widget a bit intrusive - lots of "Powered by Spotback" messages and pop-up balloons and such - that you don't see on their site, either. My own preference is for the low-key approach of Outbrain - though it might hurt them in the long run since you don't see their name everywhere.

That said, Spotback does have a bunch of customization options that are pretty cool, and I really like their recommended widget for the sidebar. I'd love to see something like that from Outbrain - I hope that it comes out soon, because that's really what brings it all together. It's nice if people can rate things, but without the ability to showcase it, it's less than useful!

Chad hey -

I'm outbrain's CEO. Just wanted to say thanks for the great feedback, and of course for the MT-Outbrain plugin! We really appreciate it.

Regarding the 'powered by', balloons and other crap like this - We know that our approach might hurt us re distribution of our service in a viral way. But we plan to stick to our approach and *not* push any of our marketing messages on your blog. We wouldn't want to push via our widget a single pixel that our bloggers wouldn't, had they designed the widget themselves.

It's your blog, not ours.

I wrote about this a bit more here.

Again - thanks for taking the time both to write about us, and to create the plugin. If there's anything else we can help you with, please drop me a note to galai [at] outbrain [dot] com

Thanks!
Yaron

Hi Yaron -

Thanks for dropping in! I really do like the Outbrain widget, but unfortunately something about the way you were displaying it conflicted with the way some of my other JavaScript was working, so I couldn't use it anymore. I ended up going back to the AjaxRating plugin, which still works fine. Perhaps a future update will work for me again!

Chad hey -

I just noticed your comment re JS conflicts.

I'd love to get a shot at fixing this issue for you, and get our widget back up on the site. We have some functionality that goes way beyond the widget you're using now...

Can you drop me a note so that we can find the problem you encountered and fix it for you? We'd really appreciate the opportunity.

Thanks!
Yaron

Hi Yaron -

I exchanged several emails with Ori a little while back on this. Eventually he traced it to a problem with the innerhtml function of your widget (I think that was it!). It seems that when I used Mootools and the Outbrain widget, this caused a collision. I was never able to get the two to work. There is quite a bit of discussion on the web about the IE problem, but I wasn't able to find a resolution anywhere.

If you like, I can set up a test page again so you can check it out. There are even some specific pages that illustrate the very problem (not specific to Outbrain, but what exactly is happening, in case you'd like to look at it further). Let me know what you need and I can do it. It's nothing specific to MT or anything - this is just a standard HTML page that happens to include both pieces of JS on it - and the innerhtml piece is not a direct descendant of the body element.

Hi,

Is there a way to make the ratings and recommendations appear a bit lower down on my post? At the moment it's coming before my > link - i'd prefer it to come below where I've got the 'reactions' widget. Basically - how do i choose where it appears? I want it below the posts, not in the body of the post.

Thanks
Jude

that should read my 'READ FULL ARTICLE' link

that should read 'before my 'READ FULL ARTICLE' link'

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