I recently signed up for the alpha release of former iContact CEO Ryan Allis's new venture, Connect (Disclaimer: I am a current employee of iContact and worked for the company for almost 2 years during Ryan's tenure as CEO). Although Connect.com is still in its early stages (as witnessed by the fact that it is an alpha release), I thought it would be interesting to see where the product is at so far and where it is headed in the future.
So, what is Connect? Currently, the main point of the tool is to allow you to visualize the locations of all of your Facebook friends, the idea being to quickly and easily see where your friends are located (see below screenshot for an example):
In this regard, Connect delivers, as it immediately prompts you to connect your Facebook account, and once you do so, you see a map of the world with bubbles highlighting the locations of all of your friends. From there, you can intuitively drill down by different categories or zoom in onto the map to see more easily defined geographic regions.
I am most impressed by the fact that feedback is prominently incorporated. In the lower-right corner, there is a box prompting you to enter feedback. When I first signed up for the alpha last week, I entered feedback that the Workplace and School searches weren't functioning correctly. At the time, I tried searching for iContact under Workplace, but got no results. I suggested that besides the search not working, the search would be more powerful if when I typed my query, a list of possible search matches would auto-populate. Well, just 48 hours later, not only did a list of possible search matches auto-populate when I typed in results, there was also a pre-populated list which I assume is based on the frequency of certain workplaces among my Friends list. Even better, the Groups section now included automatically created groups based on the schools and workplaces in my own profile. Perhaps it was coincidence, but I certainly would prefer to take the view that Ryan and the makers of Connect are reacting to and consistently implementing user feedback.
Overall, I feel Connect is a promising new social media application. Perhaps unsurprisingly since it is an alpha release, it still has the feel of being a work in progress, but the basic concept is a strong one. One fairly obvious improvement (and one which I strongly suspect the creators are already working to implement) would be to extend to social networks besides just Facebook. I also would like to see more new and innovative ways that the generated map of friends could be used to create social connections. Ideas that come to mind are more active participation, such as if the site had the ability to proactively make recommendations on who to visit based on your travel plans, or perhaps allow you to publish travel plans so that your friends would be aware when you're in the area. Certainly there are a lot of potential ideas to be explored and I will be eager to see how the application continues to develop.
Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter at @methvenj