Tuesday, January 20, 2009

As iGoogle and Yahoo! Get Socialized, Will Facebook Get Portalized?

Techcrunch is writing about how iGoogle gadgets are getting social features and VentureBeat is writing about how Google's profile feature and Yahoo!'s FriendFeed feature. Clearly the two largest portals are adding social features: they already have plenty of users, tons of widgets, and are the default browser home page for millions of users — why not add these new features to keep them there even longer?

Portals built their business on the idea that there was money to be made making the web easier to manage for the average user by aggregating data and providing a defined starting point. With the growth of RSS feeds and widget technology, portals have become even more sophisticated, but the addition of social features — the ability to create a profile and start building a “social graph” — gives users one more reason to keep coming back.

But why isn’t Facebook adding portal features to its homepage? Sure, the big long friend activity feed on Facebook is interesting, but as you scroll down there is a bunch of white space to the right. It seems like and obvious competitive move for Facebook to allow people to add weather forecasts, stock quotes, movie listings, their RSS feeds, etc. Facebook already has the widget framework, the API, and the developer community that can create these widgets. This way Facebook has the opportunity to become the default home page for people, and can fight Google and Yahoo! on their turf - while it defends its own.

Friday, January 16, 2009

SpringWidgets, Flektor, Sprout Dead - The End of the Flash Widget?

I have long maintained that Flash widgets are a nonstarter on all the growth areas of the net - social networks like Facebook and MySpace which use FBML and OpenSocial, portals like iGoogle which uses Google Gadgets, and mobile platforms like the iPhone and G1 that use native APIs. In the past few days, Fox Interactive announced that it is shutting down Flektor and SpringWidgets, which is an obvious move since these properties are not compatible with MySpace's OpenSocial API, and SproutBuilder is shutting down its free service in order to target ad agencies, which focus mainly on banner ads rather than full-fledged widgets. The only area where Flash widgets are competitive is embedded in websites and blogs, and Clearspring, Widgetbox and Gigya all have excellent solutions for distributing and tracking such widgets "in the wild".

At iWidgets we are strongly committed to delivering the next generation of deeply integrated widgets for the growth destinations where content sites want to be like Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle, and iPhone. Each of these platforms provides great APIs for destination-specific features like viral channels, caching, and native components. We will definitely maintain our free widget solution, as it is very cheap for us to host via Amazon's EC2 and provides us with invaluable advertising and cross-promotion space, and our paid offering is pay-for-performance rather than hosting charges. Our customers have validated that native widgets, advertising-based free widgets, and pay-for-performance premium widgets is the way to go, and it is our job to continue to add features and refine the user experience so that more and more content sites can grow through off-domain impressions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Widget Stampede at CES - Yahoo! Connected TV + Palm Pre

The Widget Stampede Continues at CES: Yahoo! Connected TV + Palm Pre

The two top stories at CES were both about new widget platforms: Yahoo! Connected TV and the Palm Pre. The capability to distribute your content as widgets onto more and more devices is growing and as more of these devices become available, it’s only going to get more complicated.

The Palm Pre is a gorgeous new phone with multitasking applications and an actual keyboard. It looks like it is a generation ahead of the iPhone and the Android G1. What is really exciting about the Palm Pre is that its widgets — Apple calls them “apps” — are built using derivatives of standard web API's like HTML and CSS, so you don't have to learn weird API's like the iPhone or Android in order to create a widget for it. It is a much lower bar, though it is still a bit of a pain since it is not a standard web page. I predict the Pre will give the iPhone a run for its money not only in terms of numbers of people who prefer keyboards, but also the number of widgets available.

Yahoo! Connected TV is a really cool technology where integrated into the actual TV are the services people today are using set-top boxes like the AppleTV for, such as streaming video, photos, and music. With the Connected TV widget feature, a user can add widgets from a content producer right on their television’s screen, just like they add a widget to their iGoogle home page or Facebook profile. Such TV widgets include real-time stats on your fantasy league as you are watching a football game and recipe lookups as you watch Food TV. Yahoo! Connected TVs is also based on a customized HTML derivative, not an exclusive API.

I think we can make out two trends here:

(1) Widgets platforms are multiplying at a fast pace, offering huge opportunities for content producers to engage their audiences wherever they are — their iGoogle homepage, on their favorite social network, on the go with their phone, and now in front of their TV.

(2) Most of these widget platforms use a derivative of HTML with hooks into native features like newsfeed updates and multiple form factors, Facebook's FBML and Google's OpenSocial being the most pre-eminent examples. It is a huge effort to create a version for each destination, a problem iWidgets has solved with our WidgetWORA technology.

Adding more handsets and now TV's to the widget mix will make 2009 a very interesting year indeed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Management Page 2.0

When I check out a startups' website, one of my first stops is the management page so I can see who is involved with the company. Even the most innovative startups offer up staid, out-of-date photos, and there is no way to quickly figure out if you have mutual friends, since you have to search for the name at LinkedIn and Facebook and there are often multiple people with the same name. For our management page at iWidgets, we took the easy way out (why pay for photographers?) and show Facebook badges with our current pictures and status updates as well as a link to the LinkedIn profiles. The pictures are always fresh and also include live status updates, and people can clickthrough and see if they have common friends.

It would be great if LinkedIn had a little "bio" widget you could add to web pages that would show your picture, employment history with detail hovers, and even a list of common connections for the person viewing the bio if they are logged into LinkedIn.