On widgets, social networks and the nature of existence

I haven’t written much about widgets for a while, but Ivan Pope’s Flip widgetises itself caught my eye this morning.  (And Ivan, the respelling of widgetises is deliberate – if we’re going to make up words let’s do it in  English…. lol)

Ivan wrote:

paidcontent.org reports that Conde Nast‘s teen site Flip has decided to loose these earthly bonds and become a site that exists purely on other network

As Ivan also says, I think we will see more and more of this.  I have been banging on about atomisation of content for a while now – and this is part of the same trend.  Different types of content will atomise in different ways – for pure content like blogs atomisation is coming via RSS, but for sites which offer functionality too then RSS won’t cut it and widgets are necessary to control the user experience in a window in someone else’s site.

For me this move by Flip and others is all tied up with the rising popularity and increasing open-ness of social networks.

The popularity is all about footfall – the apps and functionality need to be where the traffic and personal information is.  This last point is increasingly important for social apps – my social graph only exists in a couple of socnets so if you want to take advantage of it you need to work in the place where the data is held.  Three great examples from my Facebook profile are Blogfriends, Visual Bookshelf and Who Has the Biggest Brain?, and Flip’s first widget incarnation will be a Facebook app.

The open-ness is important from two perspectives – functionality and dependency.  Clearly you need a good API to have good apps, and Facebook has been leading the way in this regard, with Google’s OpenSocial now providing powerful support.  The dependency point talks to how much your business can ultimately be worth.  It looks like we are heading towards a world where the socnets will be sufficiently open that companies like Flip can exist only as (connected) islands in Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, the next great thing etc., etc., and therefore not be critically dependent on any one other company.  That is important if you want to sell your company for a lot of money.  Events like Myspace’s $250m acquisition of Photobucket are very much the exception rather than the rule.

So we find ourselves in a situation where internet companies might not even need their own website.  A kind of virtual, virtual company if you will….

  • Great post Nic – you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence

    Best Regards
    Fergus

  • Great post Nic – you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence

    Best Regards
    Fergus

  • Nic – Great point about English English spelling, something I insist on at Blog Friends also. Let’s start a campaign! ; )

    Your “web brand virtualisation via open social nets” point is well taken. As you say, Blog Friends within Facebook is an example of this trend.

    However, we are now building a central presence for Blog Friends beyond 3rd-party sites. To start with, we plan to deploy some key new Blog Friends features exclusively at i-together.com, over the next month or so, keeping the main feedreader service within Facebook. Then we intend to comprehensively re-architect Blog Friends around a set of APIs, which will make it relatively trivial to deploy (or for others to deploy) Blog Friends on diverse platforms and devices. (Incidentally, we didn’t start off with an API-based approach back in June 2007 because we knew we had to get Blog Friends out as soon as possible to catch the Facebook adoption wave—a decision we still regard as correct.)

    But why do we not feel that spreading across multiple social nets alone is an optimum strategy?

    Two reasons: firstly, having our own “place” on the web gives us an air of solid independence; it safeguards us against the varying fortunes of any given 3rd-party platform (witness Facebook’s fall from grace amongst the In Crowd of late). Secondly, it is *so* much quicker to implement and test features when e.g. FBML and FBJS are not involved, and those features can be a lot richer and run much faster. With our tiny development resources (three of us!), and with competition breathing down our neck, we can’t afford to waste even an ounce of effort.

    Presence distribution is immensely valuable as a strategy, but the current state of the web and the tech that powers it, along with startup resource limitations can necessitate some toughly pragmatic tactical choices.

    [This comment also blogged .]

  • Nic – Great point about English English spelling, something I insist on at Blog Friends also. Let’s start a campaign! ; )

    Your “web brand virtualisation via open social nets” point is well taken. As you say, Blog Friends within Facebook is an example of this trend.

    However, we are now building a central presence for Blog Friends beyond 3rd-party sites. To start with, we plan to deploy some key new Blog Friends features exclusively at i-together.com, over the next month or so, keeping the main feedreader service within Facebook. Then we intend to comprehensively re-architect Blog Friends around a set of APIs, which will make it relatively trivial to deploy (or for others to deploy) Blog Friends on diverse platforms and devices. (Incidentally, we didn’t start off with an API-based approach back in June 2007 because we knew we had to get Blog Friends out as soon as possible to catch the Facebook adoption wave—a decision we still regard as correct.)

    But why do we not feel that spreading across multiple social nets alone is an optimum strategy?

    Two reasons: firstly, having our own “place” on the web gives us an air of solid independence; it safeguards us against the varying fortunes of any given 3rd-party platform (witness Facebook’s fall from grace amongst the In Crowd of late). Secondly, it is *so* much quicker to implement and test features when e.g. FBML and FBJS are not involved, and those features can be a lot richer and run much faster. With our tiny development resources (three of us!), and with competition breathing down our neck, we can’t afford to waste even an ounce of effort.

    Presence distribution is immensely valuable as a strategy, but the current state of the web and the tech that powers it, along with startup resource limitations can necessitate some toughly pragmatic tactical choices.

    [This comment also blogged .]

  • Thanks for the great post. Let me add a little to it from the perspective of video games. After all, we are used to the idea of existing purely in the context of different platforms created by 3rd parties.

    Socnets make great game platforms – perhaps the best there ever was. Despite the lack of screen real estate They have so many advantages over other game platforms that they are likely to have a significant impact on the games industry as a whole over the coming years. Here’s why :

    1. Knowing who your friends are allows for entirely new types of game design centered on the emotional want to play together and express yourself rather than escape the real world. This is very difficult to do on platforms who don’t know who your friends are – be it a website, XBox360, DS or a Wii.

    2. Having access to a vocal user community, tons of player data AND the ability to tweak the game at will allows you to make better games – even if a particular player wants to play alone. You can constantly learn from your users, perfect how your game is played and distributed and communicate with your players about changes. Something that most other platforms can only dream of.

    3/ Monetisation of a game in the context of a socnet cuts out the retailer and allows for far more inventive and interesting business and distribution models than what is available on most other platforms.

    Video games have always been dependent on 3rd party APIs and socnets are no different. If anything socnets are better in that they tend to be more open and have no first party game publishing interest to worry about compared to other platforms.

    So games will for sure continue to exist on platforms outside of socnets. But socnets could well turn out to become the primary platforms for many of them – particularly at the casual end of the market.

    This turned out more as a post than a comment – but there you go. 🙂

    More on the subject here:
    http://blog.playfish.com

  • Thanks for the great post. Let me add a little to it from the perspective of video games. After all, we are used to the idea of existing purely in the context of different platforms created by 3rd parties.

    Socnets make great game platforms – perhaps the best there ever was. Despite the lack of screen real estate They have so many advantages over other game platforms that they are likely to have a significant impact on the games industry as a whole over the coming years. Here’s why :

    1. Knowing who your friends are allows for entirely new types of game design centered on the emotional want to play together and express yourself rather than escape the real world. This is very difficult to do on platforms who don’t know who your friends are – be it a website, XBox360, DS or a Wii.

    2. Having access to a vocal user community, tons of player data AND the ability to tweak the game at will allows you to make better games – even if a particular player wants to play alone. You can constantly learn from your users, perfect how your game is played and distributed and communicate with your players about changes. Something that most other platforms can only dream of.

    3/ Monetisation of a game in the context of a socnet cuts out the retailer and allows for far more inventive and interesting business and distribution models than what is available on most other platforms.

    Video games have always been dependent on 3rd party APIs and socnets are no different. If anything socnets are better in that they tend to be more open and have no first party game publishing interest to worry about compared to other platforms.

    So games will for sure continue to exist on platforms outside of socnets. But socnets could well turn out to become the primary platforms for many of them – particularly at the casual end of the market.

    This turned out more as a post than a comment – but there you go. 🙂

    More on the subject here:
    http://blog.playfish.com

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