Mar 12, 2008

Widgets – what are they and what do they do?

The shortest definition of a widget would be a small bundle of software, using graphics and information to perform a function, frequently a mini website within another website.

This is not the greatest or most obvious definition, but widgets can be so varied that they are hard to pin down. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simple games, others may even make money for you! There are entire websites dedicated to building and distributing widgets such as widgetbox.

Widgets and social networking
Widgets took off in terms of popularity when Facebook released their development pack allowing anyone to create a widget for their users. The allure of millions of Facebook users was very attractive to online marketers and a flurry of activity ensued. Over 14 000 of these Facebook widgets are currently available. Other social networks such as MySpace have now opened themselves up to allow the public to develop widgets.

Widgets and blogs
These are those small plugins you can drag and drop into your sidebar. Sometimes you will just paste some JavaScript in. They serve a variety of functions varying from the Top Commentators list to the Recent Visitors box from various blogging communities.

What is the attraction to online marketers?
The key attraction here is the opportunity for your widget to go viral and spread very fast becoming the next big thing. This opens your brand exposure up to millions of people. The opportunity to interact like this with younger people, potentially for a low price is of significant branding value.

What is the downside?
The biggest problem with this new found technology is that it is very hard to get it right. Many never go viral. Those that do, may hit the wrong audience. If the widget does not go viral or fails to hit the correct audience, the cost of development suddenly feels very expensive.

Due to the very nature of most widgets, they are gimmicky so they have very limited shelf life. The adoption curve tends to be bell shaped, showing it’s rapid rise to fame, but just as rapid demise, with very little time spent at the top.

If it is some sort of game, or offers some functionality, people just use it for those reasons. It is difficult to convert this attention into actual sales. This could also be due to the fact many of those likely to be attracted to the widget are of a younger demographic with a considerably lower purchasing power.

As widgets have become more popular, more people have began to associate them with advertising and marketing campaigns. As a rule people dislike being sold to, and there is some objection to advertising in social networks.

Who benefits?
Well those companies who get it right, can most definitely benefit. Popular widgets reach millions of people and create a lot of buzz with the best getting mentions in mainstream press. At the end of the day marketing is about developing this exposure.

Independent developers have profited from this new industry. There are said to be around 150 000 active developers for Facebook widgets alone. Those that succeed are able to make a lot of money.

We, as users of these networks can benefit too. Many of these widgets are entertaining or useful. Our enjoyment may not last forever, but many people enjoy playing little games and interacting with their friends online.

Many widgets are used for monetization purposes. These benefit the smaller websites who typically do not do well with more traditional online advertising techniques. The targeted ads can be very successful for selling products.

Will it last?
I can see widgets being popular for a long time, but not so much novelty widgets as a form of advertising. The costs involved together with the difficulty in converting the exposure into sales make them less and less worthwhile as time goes by. They worked because they were novel and now advertisers and marketers need to work on finding the next big thing.

The more functional widgets, such as those used to showcase products for sale with affiliate links will do well. Product based blogs will do well with these assuming there are relevant products available.

Let me know what you think. Can you see a future for widgets as a form of advertising?

7 Comments

  • I think that widgets are of great importance nowdays.
    1) Widgets bring traffic;
    2) Show to the readers that you’ve build a big community around you;
    3) Make your blog to look not so boring;
    4) You can even make some money if you try;
    I think that widgets it’s a big part of the todays and future blogosphere!

  • I personally dislike all of the facebook applications that have been cropping up. As far as advertising with widgets goes I think affiliate confession is trying to do it. I haven’t tried it so I don’t have much of an opinion.

  • Widgets are of great importance. But I think we need to find a balance. They are still in a novelty stage on blogs, and too many of them can soon look untidy. Facebook has had this very problem. That sleek interface became swamped with useless widgets.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is much appreciated.

  • Making widgets viral is a concern. I wrote an article for DEMO.com about it http://www.demo.com/community/?q=node/25191 – the bottom line is that right now brands have no more power than unknown companies. Personalization and interactivity of widgets are key – people have to do some – calculate, download, view something super interesting, play a game – some activity personal to them. Making a widget viral has a lot to do with knowing your audience – widgets go viral because they are useful to the audience or humorous. The more you know what your community wants/needs the more likely they will make your widget viral. With 40,000 widgets on Widgetbox simply posting your cool widget there for takers isn’t enough you have to send it around too. Widgetbox is making a consumer (ie easy to use) version of its widget tools by end of March and Sprout has one now. We’re using Sprout at DEMO because non-programmers are making podcast widgets.
    Mary AC Fallon, editor DEMO.com

  • Hey Mary – I think you right there. Widgets are pretty new and there is a lot of buzz surrounding them. So much potential, but as of yet, no one has got it right. Something worth keeping an eye on though.

  • Great post!
    Let’s Link?

  • Sure Steven!

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