If you think a widget might be some creature from a Harry Potter novel, think again. The little portable chunk of computer code (or mini application) is the latest rage in content distribution. And, yes, it seems that I am seeing widgets everywhere—my inbox has been stuffed with press releases about the little buggers.
Actually, at the end of 2006, Newsweek predicted that 2007 might be the "Year of the Widget"—and it looks like that might be happening (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16329739/site/newsweek). "If 2006 was all about social networks, user-generated content and YouTube, then it’s a fair bet that 2007 will be about further personalizing life online." Widgets let users take control of what they see and personalize their environments. They let them pull content from some other place on the Web and put it on their pages or sites.
Early this year, The New York Times ran an article about widgets, aptly titled "Some Bling for Your Blog." BusinessWeek recently had two articles assessing the mania over widgets. Some say they are turbocharging the next phase of the Internet, some see them as the newest marketing tool, while others still struggle to understand what they can do.
The search engines offer them. Yahoo! has Yahoo! Widgets, Google offers Google Gadgets, and Microsoft has Microsoft Gadgets.
There was even a WidgetCon conference this summer, where the formation of a new widget marketing association was announced.
Here are just a few of the recent developments I’ve noticed. And I don’t expect the stream of news to slow for some time. Forbes.com announced the launch of eight widgets that let users view, engage with, and share Forbes.com content on blogs, social media sites, and personal Web sites. Forbes.com worked with Widgetbox on the production, creation, and hosting of the Forbes.com widgets, available at www.forbes.com/widgets.
PR Newswire announced the availability of a widget that lets online users integrate news and video distributed by PR Newswire into their own home page, blog, or Web site (www.prnewswire.com/rss). It is powered by technology from Clearspring.
searchCrystal (http://www.searchcrystal.com/) is a search visualization tool (in beta) that lets you search and compare multiple engines in one place and then remix and share results. You can embed searchCrystal as a widget on your site or blog to share "personalized crystals." AutoRoll offers a blogroll of your readers (http://widget.criteo.com/). It’s a widget that displays links to the blogs that your readers are visiting the most often.
Quantcast (http://www.quantcast.com/) announced that it has added free video and widget tracking to its rapidly growing Internet ratings service at www.quantcast.com. Another service, comScore, has a Widget Metrix Service as well.
ElectionVine (http://elections.newsvine.com/) is a new service launched by Newsvine that allows users to embed a U.S. presidential candidate poll on their sites. Newsvine expects to have tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of these independent polling places throughout the Web. The ElectionVine site then aggregates all the results and creates an interesting distributed view of the race.
My NewsBreak from early June covered MediaRiver’s (formerly Intellext) new ClickSurge platform (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=36352). Widgets built on the ClickSurge platform can quickly scan the contents of a Web page and search for related content, placing links to that content onto Web pages in a small box at a publisher’s site or at a partner’s site. The company recently told me it is busy closing deals with major online media companies.
NewsGator (http://www.newsgator.com/) launched its Widget Framework, which enables online content providers to create and syndicate content to Web sites, blogs, and desktops through widgets that promote their brands and their advertising.
Hoover’s, Inc. (http://www.hoovers.com/) announced a collection of new search tools—Hoover’s Business Widgets—as well as a number of additional user-driven enhancements to its free site. The new features include search plug-ins for both Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox, as well as a search gadget for iGoogle. Users can now easily and quickly search for information on a company from their browser toolbars or Google home pages—no need to leave.
Dow Jones & Co. just announced new flexible integration options for Factiva SalesWorks (www.factiva.com/salesworks), a collection of company, industry, and executive news and information. Using Web 2.0 technologies, Factiva SalesWorks can now be quickly configured to portals, intranets, or CRM platforms—or as a widget. Analyst John Blossom hailed Factiva for going to where the users are. While he admitted that Factiva and other content aggregators face increasing competition from "technology-oriented companies that know how to provide value-add functionality on top of many different types of business information content sets," he wrote that "Factiva has made a strong move to claim their place in the new widget-oriented enterprise desktop as quickly as possible."
If you’d like to read more, check out this "Guide to Widgets" at the MediaShift blog: www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/07/digging_deeperyour_guide_to_wi_1.html.