Thursday, August 21, 2008

Are Widgets So Yesterday?

This article about widgets—and the wonderful quote from Charlene Li—in CNET news caught my attention. I use widgets on my various blogs and I think they’re great. As a user, I see a lot of potential applications for them, so when CNET suggested they are losing favor, I read with interest.

The gist of the argument is that widgets haven’t been the silver bullet for reaching target audiences on social networks. Some makers are adopting the term “social applications” in an effort to suggest a broader, more profitable scope for development activity.

I’m always interested in what Google finds on these subjects, so I searched both terms. Both on the web search and the news search, there’s lots of current activity under both terms. Interestingly enough, Google’s Open Social is a major feature on the social applications searches. I did find a post on O’Reilly’s Radar blog that talks about domain-specific social applications that is thought provoking, especially to those interested in branded content. The results on widgets are much more diverse in terms of companies mentioned and types of subject matter. Here are the definitions offered by CNET:

Technically, industry executives differentiate between widgets as a piece of self-contained code that can be embedded to a page and contain content, for example, photo slideshows. Applications are also embeddable software but they're inherently social and interactive, e.g., embedded videos forwarded from friends, executives say.

Does that help tell them apart? It doesn’t do much for me.

Without the search, I wouldn’t have quickly seen today’s announcement on Yahoo’s TV “widget channel.” They are partnering with Intel to distribute widgets through Intel’s set-top boxes. According to the Yahoo page they are going to “bring your favorite Yahoo! Services to TV.” This includes sports, news, weather and finance channels as well as the ability to display your Flickr® photos, as shown on the graphic. I’ve superimposed a section from their Connected TV page that defines the concept.
That’s an interesting development, but I’ve strayed from my original question: is it widgets or is it social applications?

Let me give a cynical take on this semantic issue. If there’s a clear way to monetize it—and there’s an obvious opportunity for Yahoo to sell advertising on these new channels—then it’s fine to call it a widget. If it’s a cool app in search of a revenue stream, maybe it needs a more impressive appellation.

It’s not the name that makes a difference. It’s what the application can accomplish; take Facebook’s Super Wall (developed by RockYou but being taken over by Facebook) or Circle of Friends (Bantr) apps, for example. They are great apps with millions of users. But monetization is an issue for the developers (as spam was apparently a major issue with RockYou’s version of Super Wall) and marketers don’t have an obvious way to take advantage of all these users.

Don’t let the semantics issues obscure the strategic ones!


Johnny Mulder said...

Hi Dr. Roberts,
Just checking in to get the latest.
Thanks for having a place where I can get to the kernal of what's happening in our part of the marketing web.

Mary Lou Roberts said...

Thanks, Johnny; it's always nice to have you drop by!