Open Graph, Twitter cards, and plugins... Oh My!

By Matt Layman on February 28, 2017

Facebook recently reported having 1.86 billion monthly active users. Twitter clocks in at 313 million montly active users. Like them or not, social media sites are extremely popular channels for people to learn about the world around them. This means that making your content ready for social media is a great way to improve people’s perception of your work.

To make your content social media ready, you need to include some metadata markup in your HTML that these sites can discover when scanning your pages. Facebook’s metadata format is called Open Graph and Twitter describes their metadata as cards. This post will cover Open Graph and Twitter cards and how I incorporated them into this site. My interest in this subject is as a blogger, but this metadata can capture a wide variety of content types.

Open Graph

The most relevant Open Graph type for a blog post is an article. Let’s look at the metadata for this post and break it down.

<meta property="og:type"
  content="article" />
<meta property="og:url"
  content="http://www.mattlayman.com/2017/open-graph-twitter-plugins.html" />
<meta property="og:image"
  content="http://www.mattlayman.com/2017/og.png" />
<meta property="og:title"
  content="Open Graph, Twitter cards, and plugins... Oh My!" />
<meta property="og:description"
  content="Social media is a huge part of how people share news with each
           other on the internet. This post looks into how to make your
           content appear richer on sites like Facebook and Twitter." />

All of these meta tags are added to the head portion of the HTML document. Open Graph defines tags that must be set on any type of Open Graph content. Those are og:type, og:url, og:image, and og:title. I chose to add the optional og:description because each of my posts include a summary that naturally fit in the description field. An article can include additional information, but this minimum amount will provide a full looking styling when your content shows on Facebook.

Twitter cards

Twitter cards aren’t nearly so granular as Open Graph content. For a Twitter card, the summary type is a good fit for a blog post.

<meta name="twitter:card"
  content="summary" />
<meta name="twitter:site"
  content="@mblayman" />
<meta name="twitter:image"
  content="http://www.mattlayman.com/2017/og.png" />
<meta name="twitter:title"
  content="Open Graph, Twitter cards, and plugins... Oh My!" />
<meta name="twitter:description"
  content="Social media is a huge part of how people share news with each
           other on the internet. This post looks into how to make your
           content appear richer on sites like Facebook and Twitter." />

Like its Open Graph brethren, Twitter card meta tags are placed in the head section. You can see immediately there is a striking similarity between Open Graph and Twitter cards when you have content like a blog post. The only noticable differences are the absence of a url for Twitter cards and a twitter:site property in its place.

Plugins

Neither of these types of metadata are difficult to add to a page, especially if you’re writing HTML by hand. But I’m not writing my HTML by hand. Instead, I use handroll, a static site generator that I developed because I wanted to see if I could.

handroll reads my posts from Markdown files and generates HTML with templates. I don’t have the opportunity to fiddle directly with the tags that appear in the head section.

One of my goals with handroll was to include a robust plugin system that would permit me to extend my site with functionality that I wanted while avoiding functionality that I had no need for. This system enabled me to integrate Open Graph and Twitter cards.

handroll extensions operate on well defined signals that are invoked at various stages of producing the output of the site. Knowing that these extension points exist, I was able to write two plugins. These plugins work by reacting to any blog post that changes. When a post changes, the plugin processes frontmatter, scans for attributes that can populate the meta tags, and injects the tags into context that is used during template rendering. In my base template, my only addition was the following:

  {{ open_graph_metadata }}
  {{ twitter_metadata }}

I quite enjoyed this process for a couple of reasons:

  1. It feels great to make my content richer so that it is easier to share and presents better when shared.
  2. I was very satisfied with how quickly I could develop the extensions. Having well defined interfaces that behave consistently can make quick work of a task.

You can see an example of one of the extensions by checking out the Open Graph code on GitHub.

If you want to chat about this with me, I'm @mblayman on Twitter.



Matt Layman

Matt is the lead software engineer at Storybird.

Always eager to talk about Python and other technology topics, Matt organizes Python Frederick in Frederick, Maryland (NW of Washington D.C.) and seeks to grow software skills for people in his community.