Archive for the ‘widgets’ category

GSP Liveblog: Widgetmania–Trend or Diagnosis?

10, June, 2008

Session: Clearspring, “Number 1 widget platform” [note to self: fact-check that claim]

1. “Widgets are the new web page.” And presumably the new widgets are. . .[my prediction: Lifestreams. But that’s another story.]

2. Widgets: “A building block, not a building.” It’s just another way to reach people on the web that complements other things you do. Duh patrol: “Focus on user”

3. Focus less long tail, more “fat tail.” Neither tiny nor huge markets. Sweet spot: ComScore 200. [Note to self: Is “fat tail” a new coinage?]

4. Do A/B testing of widgets, then keep moving fast to improve, develop, punt, etc. Watch metrics–“double down on success.”

5. “You will fail.” Don’t be afraid to fail. The more you fail the more you learn about what might work for you. Work fast, keep going. “Speed over smarts.”

“Speed over smarts” sounds good. Much better than “Slow under dumb.”


Hillary Needs a Widget

11, September, 2007

Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, does not have a widget.

I refer, of course, to those faddish interactive programettes that people put on their blogs, websites, MySpace or FaceBook pages, iGoogle pages, and (even, sometimes) Vista desktops. (Brother Google calls them Gadgets.) These programs deliver news, produce calculations, update statistics, offer games and create various types of exchanges between user and widgeteer. Anybody who wants to build audience in the 2.0 space either has them, will have them soon, or are likely to fall behind some competitor who is using widgets to distribute content, deliver ads, or draw audience. 

Hillary Clinton is the only front-of-the-pack candidate who does not have a widget. Her Web site offers plenty of ways to get involved with her campaign. But if you want to stick an interactive Hill-o-Widget on your blog to spread the good word, you’re out of luck. 

Let’s look at the other Democratic candidates’  positions on the widgetization issue, and other uses of 2.0 technotricks.

Barak Obama has news and video widgets . 2.Oh Points for. . .his Our Story interactive timeline, and invitation to make your own. I have no idea what to make of this.

John Edwards has a Mac-only widgetYeesh. Is Steve Jobs a major contributor? When the post-primary analysis is done, will Edwards’ failure to capitulate to Windows hedgemony turn out to be his key failing? 2.Oh points for. . .Technical Corner, a remarkably patient and detailed work of nerdania that explains to Edwardians how to use all sorts of viral technologies to support their guy.

Bill Richardson: No widget. 2.Oh Points for. . .”En Espanol” link on the top navigation

Mike Gravel: No widget. 2.Oh Points for. . .a Second Life campaign booth.

Dennis Kucinich: No widget. 2.Oh Points for. . .”Text Dennis” feature 

Joe Biden: No widget. 2.Oh Points for. . .um, site map at bottom of the page?  

So, Hillary: Your two most serious competitors are way ahead of you in the widget race. By not having a widget, you are keeping bad company, the folks at the back of the pack. The very people you decline to engage on the campaign trail in order to present yourself as above the fray.

Hillary: Get a widget. 

Fred Thompson’s 2.0 Platform

6, September, 2007

So Fred Thompson, the actor turned politician, announced his (skillfully delayed) campaign for the GOP nomination for President on Jay Leno’s TV show. No, wait, he didn’t. He announced it on his Web site Tuesday, before he went on Leno.

Set aside the whole political thing for now; the election is months away. But let’s take a look at Thompson’s Web site and see to what extent this late-to-the-game candidate is taking advantage of all the toys in 2.0town.

And they say Republicans don’t “get” the Web.

Mea Culpa: I Was Right

8, August, 2007

Listen, I hate to admit it as much as anyone, but I was right.

They say a stopped clock is correct twice a day, and this is far more likely to explain my apparent prescience than, well, any real prescience. One of my tics is to hammer blindly at the low value of Web video, so every once in a while I’m bound to appear correct. 

Right after the YouTube/CNN debates, the event struck me as a period piece, a captured moment when user-generated Web video is riding high as the 2.0 fad-of-the-moment. I predicted there will be no YouTube debates for the 2012 elections, that pop media culture will have lapsed into another fad.

Last week it was announced that, in an attempt to exploit the e-democratic juggernaut without appearing to simply rip off the YT/CNN event, three Web media outfits will host a kind of poli-geek Webinar with the Democratic candidates.

On Sept. 12 Slate, Yahoo and the Huffington Post will take user-submitted e-mail questions and candidates will “answer” them, live-chat style. The event will permit users to mash up the answers, picking the candidates or topics they want to see and letting them ignore the others.

So it took only a couple of weeks for user-generated video to get flydumped along the pop media highway, with a Webinar taking its (momentary) place.

New prediction, and I know I’m pushing my luck here: Every Democratic candidate’s campaign will have a widget by February.

Unless they already do, and I’ve just missed it.

New AOL: It’s Near, It’s Here, It’s. . .Actually, Pretty Good

26, July, 2007

In today’s Online Media Daily, the always astute Gavin O’Malley reports on the financial turnaround at America Online, sketching out its transformation from Time-Warner deadweight to rising star.  Most of the improvement, O’Malley reports, derives from some good acquisitions and strategic changes.

But this raises my favorite subject: What does the user experience at AOL

The short answer: Pretty much what they’ve experienced since 2005, when the service was opened up the world gratis.

But a major renovation is imminent–only “a few days” away, if such promisory notes can ever be trusted. [It may be here already: After I visited the the beta preview page and returned to, the beta site was live in my browser. I have no idea whether the new site is live to all now.]

At first pass, the updated AOL eerily resembles Yahoo–so much so that it almost looks like a re-skinning of the Yahoo home page.. [Beta testers have been vocal on this matter in AOL’s beta blog.]

That [non-] issue aside, the site seems prepared to do a few smart things well:

A high degree of customization: wide page, narrow page, red page, blue page, this module, that module, etc. Common customization features, but all good.

Snag is the AOL term of art for RSS [an excellent move. The phrase RSS has always struck me as doomed to geek jargon, a word that will only slow mainstream adoption]. Click “snag” and you get a pull-down that will one-click the feed to the usual suspects–Netvibes, Pageflakes, MyAol (duh), even Google and Windows Live.

A goosed search function. The preview page promises the ability to “search less and discover more.” Hmm. We’ll see. This sounds a bit like one of those “eat more/weigh less” diets to me. My few searches produced results that resembled Google’s as much as the site itself resembles Yahoo. 

A local-info module that appears at least state-of-the-field.

Vastly improved news, gussied up with all the proper 2.0 features: Navigation by tags; a blogged-about tagcloud; left-nav links to most read/most commented on/most recently commented on [nice touch there].; right nav to more conventional presentation of news headlines with links, plus selected blogs. I was surprised how much news I wanted to read was presented via the various entry points. Most insufferable feature: The idiot instant “polls” that sit next to major stories like “kick me” signs. [Note to project team: You have one week to remove them.]

A video service that’s more easily navigated than most, and gives signficant prominence to professional/commercial videos. There is also a promise (threat?) that the service will offer paid content. Life being what it is, like all video 2.0fferings AOL’s features way too much UGC [Ugly Goofy Crap]. My view of the video service was limited by the fact that–and I report this without bitterness–video pages crashed my allegedly-stable-as-Linux IE-on-Vista brower repeatedly.

There will be more to say. The site will inevitably evolve. It may improve.

Whether it matches the company’s rising financial fortunes. . .that’s another matter.


Ning: A Grown-Up MySpace, a New Web Platform

25, July, 2007

The main purpose of this blog is to look at emerging Web features as they move from the overheated giantism of, say, YouTube and Wikipedia, to more measured mainstream use. And so today I take up Ning.

The latest project of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, Ning lets you set up your own social network outside the teen-graffiti-ed walls of MySpace or FaceBook.

A Ning network takes less than five minutes to set up. Choose a name, template and a set of widgetized features (text box, photos, video, blog, etc.) and you’re up and running. You are now proprietor of a social network. Just add people.

What strikes me about Ning is–its likeable social-networking-without-the-idiots premise notwithstanding–how much it resembles other plug-and-play platforms that let you build, with almost alarming ease, what is essentially a free Web site under a different name.

  • lets you create a Web community using the wiki metaphor.
  • WordPress, the service upon which this blog rides, provides a growing suite of tools that help you turn a basic blog into a widgetized visitors center. [Ditto Brother Google’s Blogger tool.]
  • Netvibes started as a feedreader, but increasingly is a personalized multimedia content platform you can share with others.  
  • Freewebs lets you build a free, utterly serviceable Web site with the same five-minute drill as the others on this list.

Remember how, just two or three years ago, we all proclaimed that blogs had pushed the cost of publishing on the Web to practically zero?

These emerging products are doing the same with rich-media Web experiences. What used to be the domain of html coders and fancy Web design houses is now in the hands of just about anybody with two index fingers and a $400 computer.

I know the primitive sites these tools create will never replace the nuanced, deep and well-developed sites that major enterprises need and want. But I know this: the marketplace often rewards easy-but-servicable over complex-but-better. And certainly most folks would prefer free to paid. I would not want to be trying to sell Dreamweaver  five years from now. 

Warning: Widgets About to Explode

9, July, 2007

I first came across widgets–those mini-utility, -feed and -game modules that can be dropped onto Web pages, blogs and feed readers–about 9 months ago, when a company I was working for hand them under development. I was skeptical about their broad adoption. Neat mini-platform for developers, yes. Cool way to syndicate content, sure.  But something most Web users are about to play with? Not likely. 

Then I got Windows Vista.  

For those who haven’t entered the inevitable, and inevitably strained, domestic partnership known as the Vista OS, a transparent module called “Gadgets” rides the right rail of the desktop.

Like nearly everything our friends in Redmond launch, the 1.0 version needs much improvement. It’s full of annoynaces (when you “move” a widget from the sidebar it leaps to the left corner of the screen, from which it then appears to be immune from movement except back to the sidebar). Seems the folks at Microsoft are willing to cede a small amount of control over the family jewel, i.e., the desktop. 

But the gadgets rail on Vista nearly ensures mainstream adoption and imminent transformation of the desktop from a work surface to personalized active Web experience.

Which means that everybody on the Web seeking a mass audience, or loyal users in a competitive space, are going to be falling over themelves to get their widgets on the Vista desktop. If Netflix doesn’t beat Blockbuster to the Vista desktop, they’ll lose market share. Ditto Amazon vs. Barnesandnoble, WebMD vs. In the news space, MSNBC (surprise!) comes riding on the Vista desktop right out of the box. CNN needs a widget strategy by yesterday. Go to the New York Times home page and you cannot find an NYT headline widget to put on your blog. But you can order an ink-on-paper subscription. 

I’d keep an eye on, a widgeteer in beta whose claim to fame is debuting as a distributor of widgets via the usual Web sites, blogs, social networking pages, etc., but also via the desktop. None of the other widgethouses I could see has optimized their product yet for the desktop, but maybe I’m missing something.

Meantime, if any of you folks out there have Vista and have found widgets that are genuinely useful on the desktop–not merely cool, funny or time-sucking–drop me a line.