Yesterday afternoon the Web 2.0 Expo included two sessions on widgets. The first was a presentation by Dion Hinchcliffe, which provided an Overview of Badges and Widgets. Immediately following that session, two widget syndication companies provided back to back presentations in a session called Using Widget Syndication for Online Marketing and Measurement. While officially these sessions were part of two separate conference tracks, by a show of hands approximately half of the attendees in the sessions attended both of them. Graeme Thickins wrote a very good overview of the second session for Read/WriteWeb. What follows are some of the key points from Dion's presentation.

Why are Widgets Popular

Dion opened by unpacking the fact that the web is becoming much more of what he characterizes as a DIY Phenomenon. This cultural change is what he credits as the driver for the popularity of widgets. Specifically the DIY ethos on the web has four components:

  • Building open platforms instead of stand-alone apps (self-distribution is key);
  • Spreading your product beyond the boundaries of your site;
  • Building on the shoulder of giants (leveraging APIs from Yahoo!, Amazon, etc ...);
  • The automated mass servicing of markets of low demand content and functionality (Long Tail).

Key Aspects of Widgets

Based on this change on the web, there are three key aspects that every widget should include, according to Dion:

  • Supreme ease of consumption and distribution;
  • Connect to their underlying sites to provide value and control;
  • Have business model baked deeply into it (Driving site traffic, content consumption, advertising, etc...).

Business Case

Finally Dion got to the cornerstone of his talk, touching on three components that should be included when making a business case for building widgets. He then pointed to two examples of very successful widgets. The components of your business case should include:

  • Getting your content on millions of other pages instead of just your own site;
  • Letting users broaden your distribution globally 24X365 for virtually no cost;
  • Turning your applications into open platforms and foundation of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other products.

While these all seem valuable in theory, it is important to look at widget examples that have actually contributed to an organization's goals. The first example, not surprisingly, was the YouTube Video Badge. This is an interesting example, because as readers of R/WW know, the viral popularity of a YouTube badge on MySpace and other social networks was a key component of YouTube's growth. This has resulted in YouTube becoming one of the most popular sites on the web.

Based on this popularity, Dion examined the social nature of the YouTube widget. There were two components which made this widget so easy to share and ultimately led to it being so popular:

  • At the end of every video, there is one-click interaction to share the widget:
  • Additionally, on the YouTube website itself, the code is shown on the site; allowing users to copy and paste the html code required to put the YouTube widget on whatever other site they want.

I would add that the widget was something that users of MySpace and other social networking sites wanted badly. However, once you have built a widget that satisfies a need for your users, it certainly is interesting to reflect on YouTube for ways you can make that widget more social.

Dion's next example was interesting because I wouldn't have thought of it as a widget. He actually pointed at the Google AdWords Widget for Publishers (AdSense) as "probably the most successful widget in history." While certainly not a widget for self-expression, it certainly has created value for Google and the publishers using that widget. Specifically, this has made pages across the web a platform for Google to sell ads on.

Conclusion

As the Internet has evolved into a 'DIY Web', it is important for every site to evaluate how widgets fit into their strategy. They clearly have been critical in the successes of many web services and hopefully panels like the two covered above will help others figure out how widgets can help them.

I'm sure that many of you have additional observations and success stories from your experiences. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.