I would first and foremost have the creator of these gadgets follow the Google gadget guidelines and recommendations. Following those guidelines will steer you clear of many of the initial problems you face with these gadgets. It is why Google provides documentation.
Let’s look at some specifics.
Presentation – Unused Space
Here is a screen shot of what these gadgets look like on my computer. They take up so much space that I have to scroll down, even to see the second row of gadgets.
The unused space is pretty irritating, and it pushes useful information below the fold. This is expressly against what Google itself recommends in the gadget guidelines.
“Vertical space on the homepage is limited, and your gadget must share it with a number of other gadgets. Nobody likes it when a single gadget hogs unnecessary space on the homepage.
Conserve whitespace wherever possible by decreasing font sizes, paddings, and margins. If the height of your gadget changes due to dynamic content, use our dynamic height library to resize your gadget appropriately.”
To resolve this problem these gadgets can either take one of two steps.
1 – Have a uniform absolute height that does not waste vertical space.
2 – Use the Dynamic height library provided by Google.
Presentation – Using Real Estate
When any company has 6 or more gadgets on a tab it is a good idea to plan the iGoogle tab you want to use in such a way that provides the user the most information in a glance.
A great way for the Google Webmaster tools team to accomplish this (instantly) would be to provide these gadgets in a four column iGoogle tab. Let’s compare the three and four column layouts with your suite of gadgets ..
Three column: (current)
Four Column: (recommended)
Since you have eight gadgets in your suite, a four column layout would really provide value, and it would also promote the lesser known iGoogle feature of editing tabs. (to change to a four column layout, you can simply go to the tab, click the little upside down triangle thing and choose “edit tab”. you will be presented with several layout options, choose the four column layout and click save.)
If even these two steps were taken, your gadget suite could really be a useful control panel that shows the user all of their information in a glance. To illustrate this, lets look at a four column version that doesn’t waste vertical space…
That looks better, provides more information to the user, and such a layout would make sense if you have eight gadgets.
Presentation – Themes
This release would have been a great opportunity to promote themes, and the use of themes adds another important element, you can control the CSS, the style and feel of an iGoogle tab using themes. Make it crisper and cleaner. This would provide your users a uniform experience, and could have played a great role in uniformly branding your gadget suite for your users. The more uniform and familiar your gadgets are, the more comfortable your users will be, and it lessens confusion.
Here is a quick idea of what it could look like… click it to see larger (sorry about the darkness, it is supposed to be white)
I would also suggest changing the name of the tab from “Google Webmaster Tools” to something shorter, it uses alot of space for users who have multiple tabs.
Functionality – Users must do alot of work just to see their different sites.
Users have to actually change something, not once, but 8 times! (one for each gadget). An innovative way to change this would be a PubSub control gadget, but the simpler, and more real way to do this is to display less gadgets.
The information you are showing could actually be shown in one gadget using tabs.
Just because it is one gadget doesn’t mean it has to be small, or not feel like a “dashboard”. In fact you don’t even need to use tabs…
A great way to promote iGoogle/gadget innovation would be to have one gadget that displays each of your “bits” of info in a one column iGoogle tab…
This would allow users to choose once the site they wish to see,and update all the info in one step….
Click to see the image bigger.
There are many many wonderful ways to use Google products, and more ways to improve these gadgets and I would love to see a Google product to really use iGoogle well.
It is such a promotional and educational opportunity, but one that they don’t seem to want to take.
I would heartily suggest that any Google product team work with the Google gadget team and the iGoogle team prior to launching gadgets, and that the Google gadget team know and understand that a release such as the Google Webmaster Tools gadgets is something that is introducing iGoogle and Google gadgets to tens of thousands of new users, and that it offers an unparalleled chance to promote and highlight features and capabilities that would be difficult to promote otherwise. Take advantage of these opportunities by using and presenting your products well.