Recently we had a good discussion of an interesting topic in Creating Infectious Action — a course I co-teach at Stanford. The conversation was about widgets and the unbundling of cool content from the url where it originated. Widgets — small, portable units that are essentially mini-windows onto an application or pieces of content — are turning out to be pretty cool ways to spread things way beyond the reach of a single site. The students have picked up on this and are building widgets instead of sites to increase the mobility and reach of their content / message. Here’s one example, powered by widgetbox (the specific project they are working on right now is for Global Giving, an online marketplace for philanthropic giving mostly focused on developing countries).
In hindsight, widgets are kind of like a fusion of ad publishing, affiliate networking, and lite application development. I really like that widget thinking is driving people to further break down the idea that high-traffic urls are the be-all-end-all and that products, services, and experiences can be unbundled, made portable and consumed in lots of places around the web. (It will be interesting to see how well the media companies adopt this idea. My hunch is that they will find it irresistable to try to control content and drive traffic back to their own urls. This would be flawed thinking to consider widgets to be ads rather than experiences unto themselves.)
There are a bunch of companies vying to power this for the masses. The one that’s impressed me the most is widgetbox.
They are taking a very open-market approach to widgets — lots of categories, user created widgets, enabling a great diversity of experiences for users, access to a marketplace and to creating widgets at the point of consumption (off their core site). I also think that Rockyou is doing a great job in the personal expression domain (although their homepage is incredibly painful to my aging ears), as is Slide. I know people at all these companies either personally or by reputation and they are a talented bunch. As always, the users are the winners when lots of smart people compete to meet their needs. That’s a good thing. So is the destruction of walled-garden thinking.