Widgets – some straight talking

I’ve been thinking a lot about widgets recently and the recent Valleywag and Fred Wilson posts made me want to get my thoughts down in writing.  I started with the hype but I think there is something important going on here, so don’t give up in disgust if the Valleywag stuff offends you.

In his Valleywag post Nick Denton lets off a bit of steam because he thinks widgets are over-hyped.  True enough.  As he points out the definition of widget is:

A small device, esp. one whose name is not known or cannot be recalled.

Yet there are businesses out there trying to hit the big time with plans to do nothing more than provide widgets for MySpace, and Newsweek has asked if 2007 will be The Year of the Widget?

All of this despite the fact that business models for widget companies are unclear at best.  I have got to agree that right now, widgets are over-hyped.

On the other hand, as Fred points out:

You can’t build a business on widgets alone. But if you have a business; YouTube, Flickr, Delicious, MyBlogLog, Digg, etc, etc, you can get distribution on other’s pages with widgets. It’s a content and brand distribution strategy.

I think this cuts to the heart of the matter – widgets are a very important part of the online mix because they are a great, possibly the best, form of distribution, and as I’ve written before distribution is everything

Where does this leave me?

I am a big fan of widgets – I love being able to see who has been on my site via MyBlogLog – but you can have too much of a good thing.  Slow page load times suck and sites that are too cluttered don’t appeal.

I also don’t think that you can have pure play widget business.  The lack of business model is the killer here.  I have posted on this before in Widgets and business models – where the conclusion (which came via the comments) was that rotating adverts in and out was the only business model we could see.  On reflection I think that will be hard too – it will slow sites down even more, and will alienate site owners who might not be prepared to put your widget on their page if you are making ad dollars from it (and the revenue share will be too small to go down that route).

There might be space for widget platform companies though.  Ivan Pope’s Snipperoo is doing this in the UK – their play takes the hassle out of using widgets by displaying them through a Snipperoo meta-widget, and there are others.

Taking this further, as Ivan pointed out in Widget Predictions – we may even see widgets becoming building blocks for sites – as snap together content units – either for personal home page units (like Netvibes, but more flexible) or for blogs and social networks.  This is a logical next step in the progressive atomisation of content.

This leaves me very interested in widgets – but not in pure play widget companies.  The interesting companies will those that facilitate the use of widgets (like Snipperoo) or use the growth in widgets to do something new.