Category Archives: Widgets

Widgets Suck?

I didn’t see Fred Wilson’s keynote at the Widget World Expo, but read about it on Nate Westheimer’s Silicon Alley Insider post:  Fred Wilson, Why Widgets Suck, And How to Fix Them

Nate writes:

His talk (you can see the slides at the bottom of this post) was titled “Why Widget Is the Wrong Word and Why it Matters,” but it was really about why widgets aren’t working today. …as widgets started to be used to display other web content…they became ‘relegated to the sidebar and increasingly seen as ad units and increasingly ignored.’  …But they shouldn’t be ignored, Fred argued. They should be integrated into the flow and experience of the page. Developers, he said, need to put more focus on widget user experience.

I believe Fred is more or less on point with his observations, but Nate’s point about “context” is even more essential.  In the long term widgets only make economic sense within the context of editorial experiences on websites outside the context of traditional social networking experiences.  In fact the basic building blocks of content-oriented websites will increasingly be “widgets” (e.g. blocks of modular, interactive content informed by social graph data).

As Fred points out in his blog it’s all about mashing up web services, and so the components of the widget, itself, must be modular and flow seamlessly with the page.  Therefore a new generation of “widget builders” is necessary for the task, which is something we’ve been working hard on at KickApps.  Moving forward, a single widget may draw on data from multiple web services and often won’t resemble the boxy things we now call “widgets”.

But it’s not just the definition of “widgets” that needs an overhaul to be relevant outside of the context of traditional social networking experiences.  The “social graph”, itself, needs break free from traditional social networking websites, and the reasons go well beyond “profile portability” (which industry people often make way too much of).

Widgets (and all content) increasingly need to be contextually-informed to be relevant, and that transformation of content can only happen with access to contextually relevant social graph data.  There’s no doubt that social graph data will be used to inform (socialize, personalize) editorial experiences on sites across the entire web—miles from the nearest social networking portal.  The problem for publishers is that existing uber-social graphs are simply not up to the job of serving individual websites.

Friend Connect and similar efforts may prove to be valuable for certain limited tasks as a kind of mega-phone book (e.g. portability), but the future will belong to web publishers that learn how to organize and make use of their own audience data, collected within the context of their own user experiences.

End Note:  KickApps provides the industry’s first Social Graph Engine ™ for Publishers.

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Widgets and Online Portals

By Eric Alterman
Published February 29, 2008

iMedia Connection


Widget providers increasingly are bypassing portals and distributing
content directly to user-controlled pages, requiring portals to evolve.
KickApps’ founder explains.

The universe of websites has a very long tail, and soon it will be
clear that earning real estate on those websites will be the primary
mission of every major portal. Widgets will play an ever-increasing
role in this evolution.

Prediction: Portals like AOL, MSN and Yahoo will eventually generate
more impressions and ad inventory by exporting widgets to third-party
websites than by serving retail traffic within their own domains.

Most people are still trying to figure out what widgets really are
and their importance, but few are looking at the role traditional
internet portals will play in this new ecosystem. The major content
portals like AOL and Yahoo used to define “distribution” when it came
to web content (as both creators and acquirers of original content).
Then widgets came along and increasingly “distributed” that
distribution power to individuals and their personal pages (e.g. social
networking pages, blogs).

The problem for traditional portals is that content producers and
third-party widget providers increasingly have convenient ways to
bypass portals by distributing content and other user experiences
directly to consumer-controlled pages. While the major portals often
own social network traffic (e.g. AIM Pages) and feed aggregators (e.g.
MyYahoo), that traffic increasingly is splintered by third-party
content and widget providers. In short, the entire web community is
aggressively fishing in portal waters, and there are good reasons to
expect that trend to accelerate.

The first step in recognizing that future growth lies beyond their
portal walls was expressed through a series of multi-billion dollar
acquisitions of various advertising platforms: AOL buys Tacoda, Yahoo
buys RightMedia, Google buys Doubleclick, Microsoft acquires aQuantive,
etc, etc, etc. But how will these ad networks compete for inventory
across the ever-expanding universe of independent websites?

CPM guarantees and ad intelligence are ultimately limited product
differentiators because hyper-competition can only mean commoditization
and profit erosion, and mega agencies like WPP are also entering the
advertising network game with their own acquisitions (e.g. 24/7 Real
Media). What’s a traditional portal to do?

There are several possibilities, but I believe the winning strategy
for traditional portals is to extend the reach of their advertising
platforms by offering independent web publishers something portals have
produced very well for years within their own domains: compelling
content and highly interactive user experiences. To do this, portals
must package and deliver these experiences in a highly viral,
self-serve fashion. That means widgets.

Portals can evolve into hubs that serve an essential purpose in the
evolving widget ecosystem, connecting the creators of content and
interactive user experiences with the universe of independent websites.
So in addition to inviting third-party content widgets into their own
environments, portals that wish to thrive must also become major
exporters of content and interactive user experiences. “Open-Portal” or
maybe even “Anti-Portal” may be the best way to describe this new beast.

But will marketers, web publishers and content creators willingly
submit to portal hegemony once again? The answer is yes, I believe, so
long as portals deliver what these players really need. Creating richer
media experiences and more audience interaction requires increasingly
complex technology. So the kind of portal widget platform I’m talking
about must include functions such as easy media management, profile
management and administration; consumer experiences now require more
technology than most publishers and content creators can reasonably
afford.

Portal platforms must also distribute widgets that click to deeper
user experiences (e.g. “Deep Widgets”) on landing pages that engage
users with both editorial and user-generated content. In that sense,
widgets distributed by portals become windows into richer, more
engaging user experiences that generate incremental ad inventory,
monetized by both portals and their website affiliates. These landing
pages must maintain the branding of independent websites with the help
of APIs, CSS and customizable templates, and must similarly enable
member and profile integration with the existing user base.

The idea of internet portals morphing into “wholesalers” of
programming to many thousands of “affiliates” should not be surprising.
Wholesale distribution is the driver of nearly every major industry
(from manufacturing to major media). The television and film industries
have worked that way for decades. NBC earns the right to sell
advertising across thousands of independent television stations by
providing those stations programming that is often aggregated from many
sources. Similarly, internet portals must earn the right to place
advertising across the entire internet by leveraging a sophisticated
platform to distribute both content and interactive programming.

While portals like Yahoo may capture dominant market share
relative to other websites, their audience growth is modest relative to
the aggregate audience of large and small websites across the internet.
The universe of websites has a very long tail, and soon it will be
clear that earning real estate on those websites will be the primary
mission of every major portal. Widgets will play an ever-increasing
role in this evolution, and marketers, for one, are beginning to take
notice.

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Context Is King

With KickApps 2.0 now live I figure it’s about time to post some of the blog entries that I’ve been scribbling in my notebook the past few months. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but with the final episode of Rome beckoning on our DVR my wife says I have to keep it brief and type fast…

I’ve received a lot of enthusiastic feedback following my talk at the MIT Enterprise Forum, but the question on the mind of most publishers seems to be: how can they compete effectively with the likes of YouTube and MySpace for audience and revenue? It’s my favorite question because the answer is easy–it’s not their job to compete with the big general purpose portals! Publishers have an asset more valuable than low CPM traffic, namely an identifiable audience attracted to specific editorial content. To thrive, publishers have to convert their audiences into communities, and the most effective way to do that is to encourage participation around every aspect of their content. In other words, when it comes to building community, context is king.

Publishers can transform their site experiences into something far more compelling by inviting visitors to bring their own opinions, media and friends to the party. The operative word is “party” because with that perspective publishers can begin to recognize that their role is as much party host (and door bouncer) as it is content provider. Great editorial content (e.g. videos, photos, text articles) is just the beginning of the user experience, not the end-all. As publishers embrace the concept of “openness” the purpose of editorial content increasingly will be to get the conversation started by encouraging user participation around specific topics.

But enabling user participation within the context of specific content websites requires a much more flexible and modular implementation than what you might find at general purpose portals like YouTube. User content (whether videos, photos, blogs, personal pages or forums) must live alongside editorial content, not on remote “community pages.” An editorial story about World Cup Soccer, for example, might be surrounded by UGC modules containing soccer-related blogs, forums, member lists and videos. As the distinction between editorial and UGC continues to blur, have no doubt that stand-alone “community pages” (or message boards that live apart from editorial content) will soon be tired vestiges of internet days gone by.