Suddenly Everything's Coming up Widgets
Breaking down the Web into small, portable pieces is the smart trend that everyone from Nokia to Google is betting on.
(Business 2.0) -- Ed Anuff spent nearly eight years building portals for large corporations. But now he wants to reverse all that to become part of a movement that's exploding the Web into millions of tiny chunks and reassembling it for a new generation of Internet users.
Anuff, a software entrepreneur, has jumped on a hot trend - the widgetization of the Web. His startup, San Francisco-based PostApp, is a kind of eBay of "widgets," tiny applications that allow you to stream information to your desktop or webpage.
It's a smart play. Widgets are absolutely where the action is today. Lots of startups (including my own, so consider this full disclosure) see enormous opportunities in developing widgets - which are simply a new way to take advantage of Web services. They make the Net more fun, useful, and customizable for users. And they turn the biggest destination sites like MySpace into virtual platforms that create their own juice.
How? Consider a typical MySpace user's page, studded with widgets that pull from video goliath YouTube or photo services such as Slide. Everyone's a winner here: MySpace, because it becomes stickier; YouTube and Slide, because they get the traffic; and the user, because he or she gets it all on one page.
Reeling in eyeballs
In the early days of the Internet, most companies would create a destination website, wait for users to show up, and then make money from the advertisements. Now they use widgets to reel users in.
A Gmail widget on someone's desktop that shows "10 unread messages" will make that user click and go back to the Gmail website, where the ad-based cash register goes ka-ching! Microsoft (Charts), AOL (Charts), Yahoo (Charts), and even Nokia (Charts) are also offering widgets.
While the number of widgets has grown as more Web services have come online, the Age of Widgets actually began with an app called Konfabulator. Designed for Mac users, it would pull information from across the Web - weather, stock quotes, headlines - and place them on the desktop as tiny floating windows.
The idea was so successful that Apple decided to build widget support right into its operating system. Yahoo bought Konfabulator's creator, Pixoria, in July 2005 for an undisclosed amount that was rumored to be decent - big enough, anyway, to get a lot of developer attention. And suddenly everyone was going mad for widgets.
Of course, the main reason widgets are hot is that users love them. That's because they help to make the Web user-programmable, as if My Yahoo had spread to every corner of the Internet. Startup Netvibes takes this idea the furthest by allowing users to select from more than 250 widgets to build a wholly personalized homepage.
Where will it end? Companies like Salesforce.com (Charts) and Google (Charts) are pushing the use of widgets inside businesses. But, as with everything else, the biggest winners in the widget space won't be known for a while.
"The opportunities and business models around widgets are still emerging," says Oren Michels, who just got venture backing for his San Francisco-based startup, Mashery, a kind of widget-outsourcing service that connects companies with developers. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Om Malik is a contributing editor for Business 2.0 and runs the popular technology blog GigaOm.click here.