First impressions matter: Ideas to improve your app’s ‘out of the box experience’

Friday, September 3, 2010 | 12:19 PM

This is the first in a series of posts looking at the varied integration options with Google Apps and the Google Apps Marketplace. With that in mind, what better place to start off than users’ first experiences with your application -- the initial setup and login process.

The more work an application requires just to get started, the more opportunities there are for administrators and users to abandon the application and try something else or give way to complacency. Yet simply thrusting users into an app with no help to get started can be equally as frustrating. Finding the right balance can be tricky, but giving users the right choices at the right times can make all the difference in converting users into productive and happy customers.

Get critical information up front

One of the first opportunities to engage users is when they’re installing your application. With a simple additional <link> in your manifest, you can easily alter the installation flow and bring the administrator to your site while you have their attention. This is the perfect time to gather whatever information your application requires before basic functionality can be enabled, particularly if that information is best handled by an administrator or business owner.

Let’s take a look at how we would build this out with our SaasyVoice demonstration application we wrote for our talk at Google I/O. Here’s a quick mockup of what an administrator would see when they click through to setup the application.

There are a few important things to point out here.
  1. We want to keep administrators focused and guide them through the setup so they complete it the first time through, so it helps to set expectations up front.
  2. We’d like to make sure our existing customers can take advantage of the integration with Google Apps and make it clear how they should proceed (we’ll leave the details behind that link for another post!)
  3. We still need to ask for some information about the company, but we want to be careful not to ask for things we can otherwise discover for ourselves. To get information like the administrators name and email address, we simply authenticate them with OpenID prior to displaying the page and ask for the attributes we need.

Make provisioning users easy

During this step of the install, its helpful to guide the administrator through properly configuring the app for the end users. For some applications, this could be assigning the appropriate roles to managers and employees or, in the case of SaasyVoice, assigning the user a phone extension. To accomplish this, Marketplace Apps can take advantage of the provisioning API to discover user and groups for a domain and learn which users are privileged administrators.

Help admins spread the word

Administrators need to do more than just install the application on their domain. Notifying and providing users with the knowledge needed to use the application effectively can be a challenge. Using the same data from the provisioning API, we can help admins get their users up to speed by sending instructions to each user. Of course we want to be good email citizens too and not email users without the administrators consent.

It’s important to remember that this is all happening within the context of the Marketplace’s installation process, and it’s important to return the admin back to Google Apps to complete the process and enable the application for their domain. Give administrators too many choices or too much freedom and there’s a good chance they’ll fall out of that process and leave the application inaccessible to users.

Don’t forget the users!

We’ve covered things well from the administrators side of things, and we were able to help them set up the application quickly by taking advantage of the integration options and data available to us. The last piece to the puzzle is making sure users have an equally positive experience.

Applications that create accounts on demand can use many of the same techniques to minimize setup time for each user. We can also take advantage of a user’s first log in to display important messages and tips to help them get started.

While the examples here are just mock ups, many apps in the Marketplace have already adopted these and other techniques. Our integration guide on has a few examples, or you can try out some apps for yourself in the marketplace. More importantly, developers have learned that investing the time and resources to craft a great first experience for their apps pays off.

Stay tuned for the next in this series on Google Apps integration best practices!

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deepak sharma said...

good information for developers