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.

  • I can see an opportunity for data providers with valuable data to charge for the delivery of data via a widget for inclusion in websites.

    Something along the lines of realtime share price graph delivered from NASDAQ to a companies homepage as a widget. For the right price I could see people paying for these “premium” widgets. But I agree with you a pure play widget company is unsustainable.

  • I can see an opportunity for data providers with valuable data to charge for the delivery of data via a widget for inclusion in websites.

    Something along the lines of realtime share price graph delivered from NASDAQ to a companies homepage as a widget. For the right price I could see people paying for these “premium” widgets. But I agree with you a pure play widget company is unsustainable.

  • nic

    Good point Simon. I could see myself paying a small amount for the MyBlogLog widget for example.

  • nic

    Good point Simon. I could see myself paying a small amount for the MyBlogLog widget for example.

  • I think that you are missing at least one model. Simply gathering profile data, either for sale or for use elsewhere, is worth money. As one example, per Seth’s post last night http://majestic.typepad.com/seth/2007/01/valleywag_is_in.html , behavioral ad networks are going to need to revenue share back to their targets consumers. A network consisting of “only” ads and profile widgets might work quite well. It’s reasonable to note that most ad networks require javascript installation, putting all the ad networks in the widget business already.

    Ivan’s predictions do cover this point:
    A Widgetized social network or blog will be launched and become hugely successful

    * Some smart kid will write a blog and/or social network platform that consists entirely of widgets. You create an interface by choosing which parts to put where. Suddenly you are in total control of your platform.

  • I think that you are missing at least one model. Simply gathering profile data, either for sale or for use elsewhere, is worth money. As one example, per Seth’s post last night http://majestic.typepad.com/seth/2007/01/valleywag_is_in.html , behavioral ad networks are going to need to revenue share back to their targets consumers. A network consisting of “only” ads and profile widgets might work quite well. It’s reasonable to note that most ad networks require javascript installation, putting all the ad networks in the widget business already.

    Ivan’s predictions do cover this point:
    A Widgetized social network or blog will be launched and become hugely successful

    * Some smart kid will write a blog and/or social network platform that consists entirely of widgets. You create an interface by choosing which parts to put where. Suddenly you are in total control of your platform.

  • nic

    Thanks Scott, and congrats on the Yahoo! deal.

    The idea of “widget as data gatherer” is a good one.

  • nic

    Thanks Scott, and congrats on the Yahoo! deal.

    The idea of “widget as data gatherer” is a good one.

  • I think that widgets will become increasingly sophisticated and that customized widget developers will emerge to serve the needs for big media marketing widgets. Say for example a widget promoting the upcoming film “Transformers” that when clicked on transformed/morphed from a poll widget into a full fledged media player showing the movie trailer. The New York Times article entitled “Bling for your Blog” is an insightful title because I think there will be a new phenomenon of “must have” widgets that will create incredible online buzz.

    Speaking of poll widgets, CBS Marketwatch mentioned that site owners can share revenue on poll widgets on their sites. This is important for sites that are highly specialized with high traffic that pollsters would covet.

    On a side note, the increasing movement of the us population to drop their land lines and use their cell only could lead more polling services to the web rather than the traditional phone surveys.

    Lastly, there will be room for more narrowly focused widget warehouses as thousands of widgets will be created and filtering them all will require topic specific widget category websites.

    Ex: PlaylistWidgets.com, etc

  • I think that widgets will become increasingly sophisticated and that customized widget developers will emerge to serve the needs for big media marketing widgets. Say for example a widget promoting the upcoming film “Transformers” that when clicked on transformed/morphed from a poll widget into a full fledged media player showing the movie trailer. The New York Times article entitled “Bling for your Blog” is an insightful title because I think there will be a new phenomenon of “must have” widgets that will create incredible online buzz.

    Speaking of poll widgets, CBS Marketwatch mentioned that site owners can share revenue on poll widgets on their sites. This is important for sites that are highly specialized with high traffic that pollsters would covet.

    On a side note, the increasing movement of the us population to drop their land lines and use their cell only could lead more polling services to the web rather than the traditional phone surveys.

    Lastly, there will be room for more narrowly focused widget warehouses as thousands of widgets will be created and filtering them all will require topic specific widget category websites.

    Ex: PlaylistWidgets.com, etc

  • Scott, when you say ‘Some smart kid will write a blog and/or social network platform that consists entirely of widgets.”

    You mean something like http://www.yourminis.com or for an crude example of how this can look http://yourminis.com/mc1

    You mean like that? I think this area has a lot of potential. Kids will use these things like badges of honour if the right content is available.

  • Scott, when you say ‘Some smart kid will write a blog and/or social network platform that consists entirely of widgets.”

    You mean something like http://www.yourminis.com or for an crude example of how this can look http://yourminis.com/mc1

    You mean like that? I think this area has a lot of potential. Kids will use these things like badges of honour if the right content is available.

  • Widgets remind me of web 1.0 shareware and freeware.

  • Widgets remind me of web 1.0 shareware and freeware.