While it comes with a question mark, Newsweek has proclaimed 2007 as the Year of the Widget. A widget is a small piece of code that allows a user to draw material from other websites onto his or her own site or application.
User-generated content was a hallmark of 2006. It’s a fair bet 2007 will be all about further customizing your online life.
This is an accurate forecast, and the article (must read, BTW) does a good job of telling the world all about widgets and personalized web pages. Any local media company that isn’t already in the widget business is late to the show.
Already, portals like Google and Yahoo! offer customizable pages. Want to see a calendar, learn a new word-of-the-day and check local windsurfing conditions all from your homepage? No problem, you have thousands of widgets to choose from. And the fact that they’re so intuitive has made the features very popular. “The Google personal homepage is the fastest-growing Google product,” says Marissa Mayer, the companyâ€™s vice president of “search products and user experience.” “This market is going to be very large.”
While some large media companies have created customizable start pages, the jury’s still out as to whether this is a smart strategy. There are two inherent problems. One, for all the content major media companies can create, it just can’t compete with the big portals. Two, even if the page allows users to import information from competing media, it still carries the brand of a 1.0 media company.
I still think that branded RSS readers are a strategic option, but widgets make even more sense for content companies.
The article notes, however, that this may not be what media companies are seeking, because they are married to old advertising mechanics. Newsweek wisely turns to Steve Rubel, because Steve has been saying that the end of the page view as the central web advertising metric is at hand, and I tend to agree with that.
If you read a local news story through the Google Reader, for example, the local paper will not register the hit. This could create skittishness among some content providers. “Media companies love to promote how many page views their properties get,” writes Rubel. “They’ve used the data to build equity. They will fight it tooth and nail to protect it, perhaps by not embracing interactive technologies as quickly as they should.”
This is not to say that you can’t measure widget traffic. It just requires attaching different types of marketing.
Purina put its name on a weather widget–to let users know if itâ€™s nice enough outside to take Spot out for walkies–that was downloaded more than 15,000 times in its first two months. This may seem like a paltry audience for two months of advertising. But consider the fact that the Purina logo now sits on every one of those 15,000 desktops, smack in the usersâ€™ line of sight. “Itâ€™s better than advertising,” says Om Malik. “Itâ€™s in front of your eyes constantly; that brand becomes your brand.”
The trick is in getting those with their own websites or mySpace pages, for example, to use the widgets that are provided. Here is where we must be smart enough to think Long Tail instead of mass marketing, and create the widest possible range of widgets for use by people in the community.
We have so much to learn from the real web.