Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google (Widgets) Gadgets

Google announced Google Gadget Ventures to fund the development of Wadgets (Widget+Gadget) for iGoogle. They offer two types of funding:

  • A grant of 5k for those that have an existing gadget with at least 250k page views per week, in their gadget directory.
  • Seed financing of 100k, in return for an equity stake, for companies that have already received the 5k grant.
A quick read will provide all of the details (really, the description site is only two pages):
- Google Gadget Ventures
- Google press release
- TechCrunch (where I first saw it) coverage

This is a quirky validation of webtop and desktop wadgets. Quirky because Google is using an incentive as blunt as brass knuckles to encourage developers; yet they need to have already established a somewhat popular wadget. Validating because they see that there is a wadget platform war brewing with Yahoo!, Apple, Microsoft et al and they are making an aggressive move.

It appears that the Wadget Economy still revolves almost entirely around the development of wadgets by internal teams or developers for hire. Clearspring has taken this to a new level, offering cross platform support and reporting, but nobody has stepped up with a pure wadget play based on the inherent value of a given wadget or set of wadgets.

Google cannot make this happen single handedly but they have raised the ante. Fuel for the fire. Looking forward to the next steps from competitive platforms.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Windorphins: when widgets lack a spine

I nearly collided with a colorful sign announcing Windorphins today. It looked like a cross between Tomaguchi and Spore. Friendly amoeba like creatures stared back at me as I tried to make sense of their name. In fact, they are an eBay marketing campaign.

The landing page is a fun tongue in cheek look at Windorphins: 'real' video footage of their discovery, an anatomical look at where they can be found in your body, and of course a lot of links back to eBay.

The fun begins when you make your own. Here is the embeddable widget you end up with:

Make your own Windorph
Make your own Windorph

Windorphins are pure widget silliness. What I like about them is that the Windorphin itself is pure widget. Simple HTML makes it portable to any web page. What I don't like is that they are also pure silliness. A little silliness goes a long way when combined with at least a dash of functionality. Pure silliness remains just that, silly.

I believe most people will have an experience similar to mine. Check out the site, laugh a little at the corny, sort of classic, marketing jokes , make a Windorphin, and move on.

What if...
  • There was some functional backbone behind my Windorphin?
  • It started to look a little lean if I hadn't been back to eBay in a while?
  • I could add more kooky items to it if I bought or sold something on eBay?

That would add another dimension to the Windorphins and amplify the impact of the campaign. I would be more engaged with the technology and hopefully follow an inherent 'call to action' to use eBay. As it stands I had a few minutes of silly fun, spent more time on than eBay, and am left uncertain as to what the grand auctioneer was trying to accomplish.

As we are more thoroughly inundated with these 'viral' campaigns based on lightweight widget technology the payoff needs to be greater. Widgets need a spine. While silliness abounds and is fun, Windorphins have not met their potential.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Random Widgets?

Alex Iskold of Read/Write Web has a great post in which he dissects the Random House book widget. What I like about his post is that he looks at the whole picture: the widget, back-end service, and the strategy. My short attention span summary is that a widget is only as good as the service behind it. Random House has an outstanding service.

Other points of note:
- Provides full search and thumbnail browsing of book contents
- Service behind it offers even more including full-size page views
- Branding widget delivering useful end user functionality
- Instance of the widget is on his post

This left me thinking... If I can have a widget on my web page that lets me promote and preview a book, why not a widget accessible from any of my devices that lets me read book and keeps track of my place? Or, as Alex mentions at the end of his post, it would be great to see aggregated comments from people that have interacted with the widget. Combine them and you have an instant and portable book club.

Read his post at read/write web.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

widget, widget, widget

Widgets have been making a lot of noise recently. Impressive for a word that traditionally was used in reference to a hypothetical product. Only in the last twenty years or so did widgets graduate slightly in meaning when used to refer to software user interface controls. In the last several years their meaning has suddenly solidified. At least in the world of software, and particularly the web. Widgets can be found everywhere from desktops to websites. They are developed by hobbyists for fun as well as professional developers in support of well orchestrated advertising and brand campaigns. Today’s widget is no longer hypothetical.

The widget still enjoys a broad definition even as it has become more grounded. In the last six months widgets have been caught in the act of counting page visits, displaying RSS feeds, keeping track of to-do lists, playing Sudoku, reading email, and even placing a phone call or two. The widget appears to be defined more by its form factor, small, and location, a widget environment, than its' specific functionality.

Given this broad functionality, however, there seem to be three primary types of widgets:

Embedded Widgets
The most popular widgets are embedded on an existing web page. Whether it is a personal page a la myspace/facebook (myspacebook?) or a corporate site, there appears to be an endless array of widgets from varying sources that can be embedded on a web page by cut and pasting some HTML. Heavy on the fun and branding, light on the back-end functionality.

Webtop Widgets
These are web based widgets found on a page that contains a personal collection of widgets. Netvibes is one example of a "personal home page" based on widgets. Users place selected widgets on a page and then configure them. The widgets are provided by the website or developers that have worked with the specific website widget API.More functionality than their embedded counterparts, less media play.

Desktop Widgets
Finally, there is the desktop widget provided by Yahoo! Konfabulator, Google Gadgets, Apple Dashboard, and now Microsoft. These widgets are nearly identical in terms of the functionality you would find on webtop widgets, although they are generally much easier on the eyes. In some cases they enjoy a little more functionality, like integrating with desktop applications, because they are operating on the desktop. I find these to be on the extreme end of offering the most functionality while being right in the middle in terms of branding interjection.

There is a lot of energy pouring into the widget world across the different types of widgets. This is creating opportunity as our interaction with widgets takes on new meaning. Here are some of the questions I have encountered while trying to navigate these widget waters.

- Where are widgets going in the long term? Trendy branding tool or a new form factor for computing?

- How will widget functionality evolve? Information couriers or de facto multi homed interactive front end to applications we use every day?

- What types of businesses will start around widgets? There are already some businesses that appear to have legs, like Clearspring.

- Where else will we see widgets? cell phones, cars, smart homes, airplanes?…

- Where are we headed in the widget platform wars? Yahoo!, Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all lined up? And those are just the noisiest players.

- Will they ever have a more descriptive name?

I don’t have the answers but I am looking for them… and promise to share what I find on the trail of the evolving widget. This should be fun.