Widgets, Widgets Everywhere

Dan Magder

Dan Magder

And They’re Not Just For Simple Fun Anymore.

About a year ago most people thought of widgets as small gadgets you could use to jazz up your MySpace profile. Then Facebook opened up its platform and widgets just exploded –- from casual games like Scrabulous, to NBA team pages, to nonsense widgets like Colbert-for-President.

Now widgets are everywhere. And they’re not just for simple fun anymore. In the age of the distributed web, big-time media players are using widgets to get their programming and content out onto the web.

Consider Jim Brady, the executive editor of the Washington Post Interactive. We spoke with Jim at a conference a few months ago, and he described Washington Post widgets that can be added to social networking profiles or blogs. All this from a company that highly prizes their proprietary, branded content — and here they are virtually giving it away. But if the audience won’t come to them, they’ve realized they have to go out and meet it. They’re hoping to get enough interest to draw some of the viewers –- and their friends –- back to washingtonpost.com.

Then advertisers realized that widgets could be a way to distribute ads in a manner that is both highly targeted and cost effective. By making branded widgets fun and interactive, users who self-select as interested in the products choose to display the ads to their friends.

Companies are even coming up with cool real-world toys that bring widgets to the masses. Take, for example, the Chumby, which sort of looks like an alarm clock, and can sit on your desk or nightstand. With a 3.5 inch touch screen affixed to a bean bag body, the Chumby taps into your wireless network and displays a configuration of widgets chosen (or designed — Chumby leverages open source technology) by the user. Typical widgets include a clock, the weather, news, and stock information, but the Chumby also functions as a radio that streams music from Internet radio sites. The as-yet-untapped potential of this device is enormous and marks the early signs of the integration of the widget into people’s daily lives.

Now we’re seeing widget design companies become widget syndication and distribution companies, adding in tracking and analytics capabilities. They’re partnering with ad networks to become part of broader rich media buys by advertisers — and some of the leading widget companies are working on becoming their own ad networks.

These companies will be attractive M&A targets for the big online ad companies as well as the media companies. AOL bought Goowy back in February of this year in order to incorporate its yourminis capabilities into AOL’s Platform-A advertising amalgam –- and that’s likely just the start of it!

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