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The World of Widgets

If you've ever checked out a page on MySpace or Facebook or one of the other customizable Internet hot spots where teenagers and college students hang out, you've likely seen "the widgets."

These are the little add-on items that litter Web pages. YouTube videos are among the most easy to spot - there's a screen built into the site that allows users to view the clip without leaving the page. Likewise, there's the music player that launches the song of the page owner's choice when the site is opened. And, of course, there's the photo widget that looks like a photo album that wants to be a gallery but incorporates in cool transitions and animations.

Max Levchin, who co-founded PayPal, stopped by for a cup of coffee the other day to talk about his new venture, Slide, which is basically a service that allows you to create photo widgets for your Web sites. He showed me some cool things you can do with photos - put cutesy little frames around them and build in fun animations such as flying hearts or falling snowflakes. But really... could this be a successful business? I mean, it's no Pay Pal, right?

Max told me that the widgets are "massively popular" and that the site gets 50 million unique visitors every day and, on average, five times a day. He also said that site visitors stare at the widget for long periods of time. (If there's 50 photos scrolling through that window, a visitor will likely take time to view as many of them as possible.)

"It can't be entirely worthless if 50 million people are seeing it every day," he told me.

Later that day, while scrolling through some blogs and other news sites, I stumbled upon an article in Advertising Age, a trade publication. "Call them widgets, gadgets, modules or even blog bling," author Beth Snyder Bulik wrote. "They're set to change the way content is delivered and consumed." Top industry pundits, she wrote, are calling 2007 the Year of the Widget.

The trend this year? Using widgets as tools for marketing and advertising. Take a look at the VW Rabbit Widget, which finds a home on your Web site and serves as a guide to events in a number of cities across the country. Nike, Target and UPS are among the other companies that have launched branded widgets. Even the NBA has gotten into the widget game.

Thinking about jumping on the Widget bandwagon? The AdAge article warns that things move quickly from early adopter to the "me too" phenomenom. The window of opportunity to have an impact will likely be open for a short amount of time. Either the market place will get flooded with copycats or the kids will move on to the next cool thing.

By Sam Diaz  |  March 22, 2007; 8:37 AM ET  | Category:  Sam Diaz
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While widgets are inherently "cool" and present a neatly-packaged way for organizations to get information out and marketers to better target their advertisements, it seems to me that their popularity is still very much on the incline instead of plateauing, as it seems to be suggested.

Take, for instance, the growing popularity among mainstream Internet users of RSS feed aggregators and the integration of RSS feeds into Vista, Microsoft's new operating system. Personalized versions of Yahoo! and Google are starting to be visible on the desktops of even the least tech-savvy of my coworkers. Add the fairly-recent introduction of netvibes (, a tightly-organized and intuitive aggregator, to the recent widget-gathering methods. Collectively, these tools are creating for companies a gold mine of interested and typically proactive consumers that may not have been reachable through the purchase of any list out there.

Organizations who want to keep feeding information to a targeted public that now gets to pick what it is that they want to read, hear and participate in would do themselves well by not falling into the notion that this may be just a passing fad. RSS, the brainchild behind most widgets, is widely embraced and powering the most recent strides in "push" content and personalized information choices. Widgets are not just games, picture frames and music, but as more people grow in their knowledge of RSS and as more adopt Microsoft Vista, widgets will become an integral part of virtually every organization's marketing strategy.

Posted by: Tim | March 22, 2007 9:49 AM

And widgets will soon hop off the computer screen and beyond... read about the Chumby, a Wi-Fi alarm clock, and imagine a day when Starbucks and McDonalds vie to be the ones to wake you up in the morning with branded music and imagery:

Posted by: Barak Kassar, Rassak Experience | March 22, 2007 11:10 PM

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