A Few Thoughts on How to Improve Google Friend Connect

This guest post was written by Orli Yakuel, an analyst of Web 2.0 and co-founder of Go2web20, a directory of Web 2.0 applications. Previously, she was an analyst at AOL, where she was charged with finding promising startups from the United States and Israel. You can read the Go2web20 blog, which she edits, here.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be one of the first to embed Google’s friend connect gadget in my blog. It was quite overwhelming to see how fast the list of my friends grew. It was also interesting to read all the comments that people left at Google’s comment widget.

OK, so first, for all of you who’ve asked: I don’t have invitations to this one. I’m guessing that when the time is right, everyone will get access to this as part of Google services.

Since I’ve been watching this new application closely for a few days now, I do have some insights that I’d like to share with you:

What can you actually do with this gadget?

When more people add this gadget to their blogs, you’ll be able to add yourself as a member to your favorite blogs, and invite more people to read those blogs as well. This can definitely increase the traffic of those blogs. However, I’m having trouble finding something beyond just this singular benefit.

Who are those people who connected to me on friend connect? If they have not uploaded a picture to one of their accounts (i.e., plaxo, orkut, gtalk, …) then there’s a slight chance I’ll know who they really are. Why not ask people to upload pictures to Google Friend Connect to make sure people will recognize them? (and for the last time, people: cutesy screen names are so not cool anymore, use your real name if you want people to get to you faster and know you). Now lets assume that you recognize someone by his/her username, picture or both, what now? Nothing. Now… you can Google their name to search for more information about them. Where are the profiles, you guys?! I think that a profile/info page, like the one we have on Google Reader, is a must have! – Otherwise, most of the time, you’ll end up bummed out with the fact you can’t connect with a certain person in person.

I’m a little concerned about the slowness. I don’t know how many users are in on this stage, but I can only assume that many will want to use it in the future, and the truth is that right now, these two gadgets are really slow. It’s not just when refreshing the page, it is also when you click on a person’s name.

Which leads me to another issue:
When you click on a person’s name, it takes you to a box with the person’s community of friends, meaning, all the people who connected to them via this blog. I’m having trouble deciding whether this list of friends should go with you everywhere or not. Right now, it’s not. You’re going to have different friends on each blog you’ll sign-in for as a member. I actually think that if the list of your friends (same friends) shows on every one of your favorite blogs, it highly increases the chance of higher traffic to the blog. Another option is to simply add a list of all the blogs that I’m already a member in and reveal new content to new members.

I must say I do like the comment gadget. I’ve chosen the format that allows you have to receive different comments on each post. I don’t even think it’s clashing with my comment system on Blogger since it is more like a short conversation than anything else. For heavy opinions, you’ll still want to use the blog’s comment’s most convenient format. The gadget conversation is a fresh and nice bonus. However, Google has yet to add the notification ability, so when someone adds a comment on any post, they are pretty hard to find and discover. Also, submitted links to this gadget should be clickable.

The UI surprised me the most. We all fell in love when Google came up with Gmail. Back then, it was a new AJAXy technology that was different from what we knew and were accustomed to seeing and using. I think there’s a discrepancy between what Google is capable of and what they’ve actually released and I’m sorry to say neither the design nor the technology impressed me.

Yet, I definitely think Google Friend Connect maybe one of the more popular services to debut this year. No doubt the potential is there. Once people begin using it, gain the ability to add gadgets from other networks or build gadgets based on friend connect, and it catches on — then the show will begin.