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….