17 Nov Widgets – Web components for plug, play, and pay
Widgets are transforming the worldwide web through the power of consumer driven re-distribution of content and mini applications on desktops, blogs, social networks, web sites, and personal homepages. Widgets haven’t quite achieved general awareness among Internet users, but are gaining recognition according to Jupiter Research that reports “some 39 percent of online users are familiar with widgets and 26 percent have used them.”
If you aren’t one of the 39 percent that are familiar with widgets, never fear, you probably have been using them and didn’t even know it. So what are they? In a Business Week article this summer (The Next Small Thing), widgets were defined as “modules of software that people can drag and drop onto personal pages of their social network or onto a blog.” For example on my blog, the Web Chef’s e-Bytes, I use several widgets, including “subscribe via e-mail” provided by Feedblitz and “Quotables” provided by Opinmind.
At the WidgetCon 2007 website, (a conference for widget developers) widgets were described as “small applications that provide functionality and content online, distributed through a vast number of websites.” Widgipedia defines them as “a small application that runs on your desktop or in a web page.”
Facebook got the ball rolling in late May when they opened up their platform to outside developers, who quickly jumped on the opportunity creating over 7,000 Facebook specific web applications or widgets, to date. More recently, Google ignited the widget world with the announced launch of Open Social, a consortium of almost 30 social networking sites and technology companies, including business-to-business powerhouses Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, and Oracle, that will allow developers to use open standards for cross-platform sharing of widgets.
Widgets are gaining credibility among marketers due to the increased consumer interest and sharing of these mini-applications. Marketers see an opportunity to widely communicate about their brand with custom or syndicated widgets that are downloaded and shared far and wide. For example, AnchorBank has added a desktop mortgage calculator widget that can be downloaded from their website using the Yahoo! widget engine. Inc. Magazine reports that the “widget is ideal for real estate agents, who can post it on their desktops or websites and help their customers find rate information.”
Beyond branded widgets, marketers are exploring the advertising opportunities in what Seth Goldstein founder of Social Media Networks is calling social advertising (for more information see his Slideshare slideshow). Developers see an opportunity for monetary rewards through the creation and dissemination of cool new applications.
How are widgets discovered and distributed?
Widgets can be found at the major blog publishing platforms, through widget directories or through directories at Google, Apple, or Yahoo! The most important way that they are distributed is through consumer sharing, where consumers see a functionality or content in a widget that they like and add it to their personalized home page, blog, desktop or other relevant site. Once a widget is discovered, they want to share it with others, so they clip the code and add it to their content streams.
If you’re looking for widgets to add to your site or for tools for creating widgets, you can take a look at the many sites that are focusing on aggregating multiple widgets and supporting the evolution of these mini-applications. Among the sites to check out are the following:
• Widget Gallery
Beyond these sites the major web developers have joined in the widget mania with Google Gadgets, having 25,777 gadgets or widgets when this article was written, including World Weather, Stock charts, Games, Sports Scores, Horoscopes, etc. Yahoo! Widgets has over 4,000 widgets and Mac Dashboard Widgets providing access to hundreds of MAC OS X dashboard widgets.
What are some examples of widgets?
Widget examples include Cbox – chat or tagboard for blogs, Daily Puppy – showcases a featured puppy of the day, Gizmoz – animated avatars, Lastfm and iLike – share your favorite music, NBA widgets – track your favorite players, teams, stats, scores, etc. and Slide – share your slide shows.
Beyond embeddable widgets, we’ve seen the development of personalized start pages, desktops or dashboards that aggregate multiple widgets and content streams to create a view of the world that is unique to you. Among the players in this space are iGoogle, FreeWebs, KlipFolio, NetVibes, and Pageflakes.
Widget mania has created an opening for widget developers. A number of development companies have launched or evolved to serve this niche. Among the companies are Fuel Industries, HungryMachine, MetaBlocks, Publishing Dynamics, and RockYou.
What should you do next?
As part of learning about widgets, you might want to identify and start using widgets that provide content or functionality that personally appeals to you. This could help you begin to think how your business and market position might expand through the use of widgets in disseminating your message, building your brand, connecting with customer, or building applications for others.
Previous articles by Paul Gibler
• Paul Gibler: The expanding world of social networking
• Paul Gibler: Business would be wise to note the resurrection of online ads
• Paul Gibler: 583 reasons to wonder: Is e-mail dead or alive?
• Paul Gibler: Online retailing “tango” is adding some steps
• Outflanking the Google, Yahoo, MSN juggernaut
• Paul Gibler: On the case: Web lessons for connecting with customers
• Paul Gibler: Brand protection in the age of customer engagement
• Wireless wizardry coming to the small screen
• Paul Gibler: Podcasts – time, place, and player shifted media
• Paul Gibler: Virtual communities make online connections
• Paul Gibler: Lights, cameras, action: The state of online video
• Paul Gibler: Joining the wiki wacki world
• Paul Gibler: Would you like your music (and data) mashed?
• Paul Gibler: Cutting through the blog fog
• Paul Gibler: No RSS feed? You’re fired!
• Paul Gibler: Social computing in the Web 2.0 era
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