This is where thoughts become things.

Hi, I'm Daniela. Welcome to my personal lair on the Internet. This is where I write about storytelling, activism, technology and pop culture. Sometimes I post videos. I update my lair when the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@dcap).

WidgetCon 2007 Thoughts: Daniela Style (Pt 1)

So, WidgetCon ’07 is over.

If you are looking for a liveblog transcript, go here. As I forewarned, I didn’t liveblog and this won’t be a repeat of everything you can easily find scrolling through all the liveblogs that will inevitably be floating around in the blogosphere over the next day or so.

The following 8 trillion paragraphs are some of my initial thoughts on what widgets are and how they are currently being used. The swarm of thoughts I’ve had over the past ten hours. Tomorrow and over the next several days I will post the notes I took during the panels and case studies.

– More WidgetCon images on ze flickr

The Rise of Web 3.0, What Is A Widget, and How It Can/Will Change The Way Your Content Is Shared

Hehhehheh. This slide from the opening remarks was funny – Cuz it’s true! ^_^

Page views are no longer an accurate enough way to measure your audience’s interest in your content. Not anymore. Many corporations that could benefit from frolicking and collaborating in the world of widgets are too possessed with irrational fears.

Fear Q: What if I create a widget and it doesn’t contribute to page views?

Awesome A: Who cares?

As Nas once aptly put it – Whose world is this/The world is yours

Welcome to the Me2 Generation aka Web 3.0. It is their world, we just live in it. And as precious as your content may be to you, ultimately it means little to them if they are unable to interact with it, share it, and personalize it. As Alice Walker once said, “You sustain yourself by letting go“. Let your content go. Set it free. And watch how it can be transformed into an agent of brand evangelism, a tool for expressing identity, and perhaps something you could have never anticipated.

Have you made it possible for your content to live in the worlds that are important to your audiences?
We are not serving content to a passive generation anymore, satiated with just digesting our messages without any opportunity for interaction. We are dealing right now with an active generation, and we should be excited about that, because it opens avenues for not only boring-but-necessary things (like new methods of monetization) but for new ways of distributing truly creative content to passionate, informed, and engaged audiences. A true brand experience should be able to thrive in all sorts of environments.

I could mention Steve Rubel’s top keynote messages like “Nielson scraps web page view rankings“, “outdated metrics“, “websites will become web services“, “picture in a picture marketing“… But do I really need to?

It’s all around us – the signs that the novelty apps of web 2.0 have evolved into necessities. The Standard. The language of the digital natives. If you are a company that calls itself creative and distributes content on a regular basis, you are not innovative if you offer RSS feeds, blogs, embeddable players, podcasts, and inroads for UGC. You are simply functional, meeting the most basic requirements of a web literate 10 year old.

To be truly innovative as a purveyor of content in a Web 3.0 world is to take the most ancient and successful method of marketing and to apply it in a way that is current, relevant (to the product and the audience) and that encourages continual participation. Widgets, when effectively utilized, can be the ultimate word-of-mouth tool.

I do not believe that widgets will completely replace websites as some might believe, but I do believe they will change the way that all content is published, promoted, and shared.

Chris Jones, former CEO of JWT, said it best at WidgetCon when he recalled the marketplace behaviors of the ancient Greeks. The most successful merchants could speak the language of the people. They engaged them – directly – in conversations that led to future sales, connections, and communities built around their wares.

What does this conversation have to do with you? If you plan on staying relevant through the death of Web 2.0, everything.

A brand is a symbol of quality. It is transferred, through purchase/acquisition, into a symbol of identity. A widget, when placed on a personal web page, blog, or social media profile, is a badge of endorsement for your brand. Even more so, it can be a living hub of activity that your audience can engage with individually, with friends, and that they can share.

What use is a toy to a child if they can only use it in the store? Once a product is sold to a consumer, they are free to do with it as they see fit. I believe we must look at our content in the same way. If you do not allow your content to be engaged with and personalized, it will lose social currency and it will die.

I understand the urgency to monetize, to track, to measure, to control. But in the scramble to place a dollar value on every eyeball we just might be losing track of the real point – to strengthen the bonds between our content and our audience. Providing users with the tools to carry on the brand experience in useful and engaging ways is essential to remaining culturally relevant. A widget should not be seen as just a method of repackaging or recycling your existing content, nor as just a tool to create compelling experiences that inspire a viral sharing effect. I don’t believe there is a “super widget” that will save your company.

However, the decision to deploy widgets does signal an entirely different mode of thinking for a historically page view-centric site and, if applicable, should be part of the larger picture within a media company to change the way content production is managed.  The media company that continues to solely focus on producing for TV is doing so at the expense of a richer and more interactive user experience on the web/mobile end. By this I mean the following – To throw together an online experience at the end of a production, to not plan that in as part of your original story, is negligent and often results in a lost opportunity for longer audience engagement. There should no longer be two categories of producers: digital and on-air. That distinction will soon be dead. The new media producer is as literate in social media as they are in the field.

If you are producing content that airs on TV, you should make it your priority to understand how it is being served online, on mobile devices, through widgets, etc. What you will discover may cause you to come up with new ways of creating content that you thought wouldn’t work on air, but that may be perfect for another medium. A successful content producer is flexible, social media literate, and “eats his/her own dog food”. If you don’t understand how your audience is digesting your content, someone else will figure it out and will serve it to them better than you.

I think as a team/company/division, we must sit down and decide what kinds of creative widget functionality, paired with new and existing content, and UGC interactivity, can be blended together to create useful and engaging tools for our audience. We must do it now, not later. And within that conversation, we must decide what role and to what degree advertisers will play (if at all). Will some widgets serve as portals to our site, and why? For those built around a specific event or product launch, how do we deal with expiration? I don’t think it’s a good idea to sit on a widget concept for months and then deploy it without any relevant context or without partnering with widget distribution sites.  Find out what your audience is using online to locate and interact with content- where are they getting their widgets from? How are they using them? Reinventing the wheel is so lame.

More on widget distribution site partnerships later….

What is a widget?

I could tell you, but why don’t I just show you some examples of successful widgets? Drop by Lil Mama’s MySpace profile and become acquainted with the top widgets young people are using today to explore their identities, communicate with friends, and interact with their favorite stars.

I’ve identified three categories of widgets:

– standalone

– hybrid

– ad driven
Obviously, there can be overlap in these categories. I am just explaining the kinds of widgets that are currently being used.

The most successful widgets (so far) are simple: Snapvine provides what I would call a standalone widget, an embeddable voicemail player widget that users can place on their profiles, where friends can leave them messages and anyone can play them. There’s more involved, but that is pretty much it. Simple, but very popular. The user is given the tools to engage. Snapvine wasn’t designed with the goal of generating page views. It is counting on viral/word of mouth. It is an app specifically designed for sharing and distributing.

It should be a top priority for any content provider to identify what could be shared through widgets, as part of their overall distribution plan.

I don’t believe something like a branded headlines RSS reader widget falls under the standalone widget category. It does provide a sole function, but is a passive experience, whereas a standalone widget is an active experience. I think that the more passive your widget is, the less interested a user is going to be in sharing it with anyone. I am not dismissing the usefulness of a passive widget, I am simply stating that if there is no inroad for user participation there is less chance of a viral effect.

Obviously, some methods of distribution won’t apply to all of your content. But you don’t have to take shots in the dark. Widget platforms like clearspring and widgetbox have the services already in place to track who is using your widgets, how they are using them, for how long, and where. More on widget platforms later…

A hybrid widget serves more than one function. It may be an NFL widget that gives team and player stats and provides users the option to download NFL themes wallpapers and buddy icons. It may also allow them to interact with a fantasy football league. This particular kind of hybrid widget is being populated by the source site and by the user. It may be a Meebo rich media chatroom widget that alllows users to play and share Youtube videos from their favorite artists while they chat.

You may be a news based site that has a widget that allows users to search for your stories and video packages by keywords, and organize and display it according to their preferences in a customized “my channel” format. They may be able to post video responses to your stories and video packages through the widget, and watch the responses of others. This is an example of a hybrid widget that combines provider and user generated content to create a personalized experience for your audience.  Young people today are constantly transforming the look of their social media profiles, and your widget should have the flexibility to also be customizable within their space.

For most older audiences, desktop and start page rss reader widgets are standard.  With ever evolving mobile device functionality (the iphone lets you see the web like the actual web), it makes sense to develop widgets designed for those devices that allow users to access your content in ways that are search friendly and make sense to their lifestyle. More on SEO for widgets later….

An ad driven widget can fall in the standalone and hybrid categories. Here is an example:

Taco Bell, Gizmoz, and MTV’s VMAs – Taco Bell partners with Gizmoz to create a widget campaign that allows users to create a customized audition for the chance to be on the 2007 VMA’s.  This widget is ad driven, it’s a marketing tool for the VMA’s, and it’s a tool that is already popular with the targeted demographic. The Gizmoz widget is a recognized widget regularly used on MySpace. By leveraging an already endorsed widget brand, MTV is “speaking the language” of its audience.

How and when do you monetize an internally developed widget?

I don’t I think I am nuts when I say that not every widget should be designed specifically to earn ad revenue. Sometimes a widget is useful for simply generating interest around an event, a new product, or to bring attention to a worthy cause. A smart marketing plan/budget should factor in widget development. I am definitely more interested in the pro social applications of widgets than anything else, but I will save those thoughts for another entry.

I know I wrote a lot about what I think about widgets and very little about what actually happened at WidgetCon. There’s a lot of information to disseminate and I will do it in a way that works for me.

In closing (for now), I feel that a smart company will create all different kinds of widgets — widgets that are designed as part of a larger scale marketing plan and in partnership with advertisers, widgets that are designed strategically around events, that have short life spans, that are fun and simple and that truly increase brand credibility while providing the audience with ways to interact with your content.

If you’ve ever taken a look at the apps available on Facebook,  and then on your friends profiles, you will see that widget users can be a fickle bunch. That’s ok. Some widgets have a short lifespan. Others consistently remain on profiles. I think that the stronger the user identifies with and personalizes your content, the longer it remains relevant and therefore the longer the widget lives in their various spaces. For now, I suggest you take a look at the widgets currently offered by RockYou, think about why they are so popular and how your future widgetized content could reap that same ultra sticky user interest.

Quick Event Notes

*  Catered breakfast, lunch, and cocktail was especially delicious

* Panel discussions and case studies were very engaging.

* People were running around recording and taking pictures.

* Venue was really conducive to networking (but it was really cold and made my cough worse)

* The audience was filled with developers, content providers, and marketers

* Freewebs did an amazing job putting this together


  • Kristen

    Thanks for the summary and the categorization thoughts, Daniela–really useful.

    Glitter seems the way of the widget lately–

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