AOL announced the new developer site for MyAOL today to almost no fanfare, but at a time when some are declaring the Facebook platform "dead" - AOL's new platform warrants some serious attention.

The new MyAOL platform is an OpenSocial container based on the gadgets.*API, meaning developers shouldn't have to do much to get their widgets up and running on it. A fair number of MyAOL gadgets already have millions of users, so the new developer site seems like a real opportunity.

The Widget-o-sphere

The new MyAOL platform enters the game at a complicated time. Widgets, little modules of content and functionality easily embedded into websites but built by 3rd parties, were supposed to be the future of the web, according to some advocates in recent years. The Facebook Platform was heralded as the widget Holy Land, but key site design decisions treated widgets poorly from the start and subsequent Facebook redesigns have banished them to near invisibility.

Defenders of the platform argue that the redesigned site just keeps really stupid apps from proliferating, making it all the more important to build widgets for actual utility. Scott Rafer, the genuinely brilliant if cynical co-founder of widget ad company Lookery, says the new Facebook is dead to him as a widget man. As a bulk-ad sales guy, Rafer's company deals in very large part with really stupid widget apps. So it goes. If your platform isn't supportive of stupid widgets, then your platform essentially doesn't support widgets at all.

MyAOL is Big

MyAOL is a good old fashioned startpage. An increasing number of AOL properties have recently started incorporating 3rd party content and moving towards a strategy of openness. AOL has a bad rap but is doing some innovative things.

The company's new platform gives third party developers access to a large group of users. How big is the AOL platform? 10 million people have installed the AOL Weather widget, 6 million have installed the Topix.net news app and there are 1 million AOL Pandora users. Those are very respectable numbers! In fact, they are much higher than almost all of the Facebook app numbers, though Facebook only exposes "active users."

The point is, it's a strange time for the much-hyped widget but the opening of the MyAOL platform represents a good opportunity. In Firefox on my Mac the site doesn't work very well, but it works well enough for millions of people. Widgets remain a promising paradigm, if only the host sites are truly comfortable promoting widget use for the long term, instead of burying 3rd party widgets and renewing their focus on in-house links.