Widgets

Printer Friendly Version

Summary

Widgets are light weight applications meant to extend functionality of a website. They should be easy to embed and use. There are two kinds of widget websites; widget production websites and widget directory websites. Currently, the two most popular widget production websites are Slide and Rockyou with valuations of $550 million and $400 million respectively. As with any marketing tool, there are numerous considerations when using widgets to promote your brand. Widgets can be used as a way to promote more traffic to your website or to make life easier for the user.

Explanation

Widgets are mini-applications that help improve the appearance or functionality of a computer or a website. They are designed to be simple, light-weight and easily transferable. Some widgets are meant to be installed on your computer while others are meant to be embedded on a website. The widgets that are meant to be embedded on websites are known as web widgets. In most cases, when widgets are talked about in the news or in blogs, they are usually referring to the widgets that are meant to be directly embedded on websites.

There are various kinds of widgets that perform a variety of roles.
Most widgets will do one or more of the following:

  • Entertain
  • Inform
  • Organise information
  • Share information

Creating a widget does require a knowledge of programming. However, many widgets are highly customisable allowing you to change its appearance or what actually features on it. A photostream widget which displays photos that you've uploaded is a simple example of a customisable widget.

As with any internet application, good widget designers tend to follow a couple of rules when designing widgets. There are guides by websites such as Dojo Widget and Apple developer on how to design a good widget that people will adopt.

In summary, well-designed widgets need to be:

  • Easily embeddable
  • Functional
  • Small and lightweight
  • Compatible with popular websites
  • Interesting
  • Simple
  • Accessible and easy to understand
  • Personal

Hotlinks
Snippero - On ten sins of widget makers.
Vodafone Betavine - A research & develop group by Vodafone devoted to creating applications and widgets on mobiles.

Examples

There are plenty of websites that host widgets or allow you to download widgets.
Generally, speaking two kinds of widget websites have emerged on the internet.
1) Widget production websites - Where the widgets are created in-house and the website is focused on getting users to adopt their widgets. A good example of this would be Slide or Rockyou.
2) Widget directory websites - Where widgets are submitted by users and the website is focused on distributing, rating and reviewing widgets. A good example of this would be Widgetbox.

The lines between these two websites are sometimes blurred. Some companies like Yahoo! release their own widgets and also allow users to create their own.

Most of these widgets can be embedded onto blogs and social networking profiles like Facebook profiles. Unfortunately, you can only add Widgetbox widgets onto Wikidot at the moment as these are the only ones working. The rest of the examples are just screenshots and hyperlinks.

Slide

Slide specialises in creating quick embeddable slide show widgets as their name implies. Users upload their photos and images and add captions. Most of the other widgets are also based around the idea of uploading photos and editing the images. Slide is one of the most popular widget production websites and is valued by investors at around $550 million.

Slide supports:
Widgets%20Slide%20Embed.jpg

Here's an example of a news slide by Engadget on the latest technology.

Widgets%20Slide%20Engadget.jpg

When you browse through the People Directories as in the screenshot below, you will notice that many of the popular slide shows are provocative. I guess this shows us just what people really want to use slideshow widgets for.

Widgets%20Slide%20People%20Sample.jpg

Rockyou

Rockyou is considered the main competitor to Slide. Like Slide, their widgets have users upload photos and images to make their own customised widgets. Rockyou's investor valuation is around 400 million.
As shown below, you can embed Rockyou widgets into plenty of services like Blogger and iGoogle.

Widgets%20Rockyou%20Embed.jpg

Here's one good example of a music slideshow promoting Natasha Bedingfield's new song Pocket Full of Sunshine. This widget allows you to listen to the song as you watch the slides.

Widgets%20Rockyou%20Sunshine.jpg

Widget Box

Widget Box is a widget directory website. It doesn't produce it's own widgets. Instead, users upload widgets they create and widget box hosts them. There are also widget tools to assist those who can't create their own widgets. Click on the tabs below to switch between the three different widget examples shown. The widgets shown here are interactive.

Here's a business widget by SaneBull keeping track of Vodafone stock. Clicking on it brings you to SaneBull's
website with other business widgets that can be used to track the financial markets. Here, I'm keeping track of Vodafone stocks.

Business Possibilities

Background
The idea of mini-applications span all the way back to the original windows and probably further. A good example is your desktop clock. You don't need a desktop clock displayed to use Windows but it's there and serves a useful purpose. Closer to modern times, Windows 98 launched with an application called Microsoft's Active Desktop which had desktop widgets that would automatically update themselves with your internet connection.

Active Desktop was a brilliant idea but ahead of its time. It took up too much processing power and internet speeds weren't fast enough back then to make it worthwhile for users. With modern processors and broadband speed, the idea of desktop widgets that automatically update themselves is a much more viable alternative. As a result of this, we now have a resurgence of desktop widget programs like Yahoo! Widgets or Google Desktop.

On the internet we have a similar situation. We already had widgets back in the mid-90's. A good example would be the visitor counter which advised you what visitor number you were on the website. With slow internet speeds, anything too complicated on a website made the website slower rather than enhancing it. With faster broadband speed this is no longer an issue.

Currently, widgets are definitely the hot new internet trend as evidenced by recent articles in Forbes, Business Week and Foxnews. As with many other internet trends, we are already seeing the emergence of several dominant websites in the market such as Slide and Rockyou and numerous smaller widget producers.

With the $550 million valuation of Slide People and $400 million valuation of Rockyou, some industry commentators are worried that we may be seeing a tech bubble again. According to Computer World there are signs that many companies are struggling to monetise widgets.

Aside from the large widget producers, there is also a small but significant numbers of widget producers that create widgets as a hobby. They tend to use the widget directory websites to help distribute their widgets.

Opportunities
The success of widgets on websites like Facebook and Myspace and the perceived growing ineffectiveness of traditional internet advertising has created a view that widgets are superior to advertising banners. Realistically however, most widgets remain unused and only a few are adopted by a huge amount of people. Like any marketing tool, there are many things to take into consideration when using a widget to promote your company.

Here are some points to consider when making a widget for your business:
Cheap - It's much cheaper to create a widget than a full blown advertising campaign.
Better measure of attention - Adopting widget is very different from browsing. It requires the users choice as opposed to ads which are passive. Widget adoption is a potentially better measure of user interaction and attention compared to traditional banner ads. Like branded clothing, customer who adopt are happy to associate themselves with the brand.
Easy to adopt or disown - Widgets are very easy to add but also easy to remove. On one hand, it means people can easily decide on whether to adopt a widget (Do I like what it does?). On the other hand, it means once they are finished with it they can easily discard it (I don't need it anymore).
Limited functionality - Widgets are simple and serve a purpose. This is both an advantage and disadvantage.
Limited appeal - As above, widgets can have limited appeal. For example, the stock market widget will not appeal to teenagers but the pet widget appeals to everybody. Again, this is both an advantage and disadvantage depending on your target audience.
Widgets are wild - Releasing widgets on the internet is like releasing a brand. You don't really know how users will interact with it. You can't really control what websites will adopt your widget.
Compatibility - The code you use to create and run your widget should be compatible with as many browsers as possible so you can reach as many people as possible.
High Failure rate - Considering the large number of widgets out there, the success rates of widgets is extremely low. Only a few widgets have wide spread adoption while the rest are forgotten.
Success benchmarks - Like any marketing campaign, planning is essential to the success of a widget when it gets released. It may not be a runaway success, but that doesn't mean it can't still be a success according to your goals.

Widgets can be used in the following ways to promote a company:
Branding
Since it is your company's creation, it's easy enough to place your logo somewhere on the widget. Generally it should be small, unobtrusive but recognisable.

Creating portal traffic
Many widgets have an inbuilt link somewhere in them that will send you to the creator's website.

Cross-selling
The service that the widget provides for free can be used as a way to sell or promote other services.

Better customer experience
Widgets can help customers keep in touch with the latest products or information on your company. In the case of Vodafone, perhaps it could be used to keep track of contacts on your mobile?

Hotlinks
Business Week - On using widgets as business tools.
iMedia Connection - Like above, it discusses widgets for advertising.
Centernetworks - On the value of widgets.
Imedia connection- On how to break the widget ecosystem

Considerations

How secure are your widgets?
Widgets can and have been used by hackers and companies to illegally collect information about users and widget security is a growing concern. It is important to ensure that your widgets are as secure as possible for your own protection as well as the user's.

How will widgets be affected by legislation?
As widgets can be a security risk, there will eventually be laws passed to define what can and can't be done when creating a widget. How will legislation affect widget creation in a country?

How will modern technology change what widgets can do?
As computers and the internet get faster, what widgets can do will change. For example, there are now widgets that can stream video directly on your website or allow you to play games with other widget users.

How long will widgets stay 'hot' and what will remain?
The widget economy is still very 'hot' at the moment. How long will this trend last? What will remain of widgets after this ends?

Conclusion

Widgets are mini-applications that can be used to extend the functionality of your computer or your website. Widgets are used for a variety of purposes like entertainment, information and data organisation. There are two kinds of widget websites; widget production websites and widget directory websites. Currently, the top two widget makers are Slide and Rockyou valued at $550 million and $400 million respectively. With regards to using widgets for business purposes, there are a number of things to consider such as the cost and the appeal of the widget. Widgets can be used as a branding opportunity, a way of generating website traffic or increasing customer satisfaction.

Copyrighted Vodafone New Zealand 2007, 2008