From Business Week: large companies, startups and individuals have been developing and launching widgets over the last few years. Widgets are small software applications that run inside a specific environment.
Yesterday I discussed a specific example – PicLens, a web browser extension for image viewing. Back on 9 January 2008, I mentioned Zotero, a Firefox extension that helps students and academic researchers organize their literature searches. CEO Lawrence Coburn of RateItAll has an extensive blog with reviews and comments about widgets, including this article about Google’s Facebook application.
Widgets a small applications that are run and installed on the client – the computer desktop, a web browser, or another application. A widget pulls specific data from servers on the Internet, or the cloud as it is usually called in the industry. Settings are usually based on the user’s preferences. My Mac dashboard includes time and temperature widgets, a calendar, an RSS widget that displays my blog posts, and an NHL scoreboard with the latest games.
Widgets can also be deployed on an intranet or extranet, but there are additional security concerns that have to be addressed, including logins and permissions.
Mac users got their first taste of widgets in 2005, when Dashboard was first included in Mac OS X. Yahoo soon followed with its own widgets for Windows users. Windows Vista and Google each have their own gadgets. Of course, most these widgets won’t work on another system.
Facebook added support for third-party applications last year, as I noted on 28 May 2007. As i mentioned on 19 February 2008, I usually ignore invites that I receive for Facebook applications. I’m never quite sure who can see my data, profile or status, even when Facebook lets me set these preferences.
Where’s the value?
As a flood of widgets, extensions, appls and other software comes to market, it’s important to ask about the value of these features. In many cases, these are little more than features or mini-sites that get embedded into the web browser or the computer desktop. The vast majority of current widget developers are writing code for their own use. Some developers post their widgets and share them with other users.
It’s rare for a company like Slide to emerge. As I discussed on 28 January 2008, Slide recently received US$50 million in venture capital, based on the company’s successful line of Facebook applications. It’s a risky business, as Slide and other Facebook app developers are almost totally dependent upon the success of the main Facebook site itself.
So any developer who depends upon widgets for their business revenue has to diversify. Costs increase as the same widgets are duplicated for multiple platforms, because revising and recompiling each widget requires some duplication of effort for each specific operating system or web site. MySpace will soon offer widget support, and various interoperability and user privacy schemes have been proposed that may let widgets work on multiple social networking sites. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has its own proposal, as mentioned by Lorelle back in November 2006. David Berkowitz has a Widget Standards wiki.
These two issues are holding back user adoption of these tools on social networking sites. Business Week’s recent revision of its social media article is a great place to turn for more information, as I mentioned on 25 February 2008.