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Why publishers need widgets

ivan pope
Whether you call them apps, gadgets, widgets or snippets, the "portable content format" is becoming "the revolutionary cadre of the internet", according to Ivan Pope, CEO and founder of Snipperoo, speaking at an AOP forum on widgets on 22 November.

AdSense was the original, innovative widget - a customisable box, providing targeted ads built around anyone's site content. In this example, there are three players to be considered:

  • Maker/publisher (in this case - Google)
  • User (reader of blog/website)
  • Person who hosts widget (blog/website owner)

It is through widgetisation that YouTube has become the standard online video platform - allowing anyone to embed videos on their own sites/blogs - "people encounter these things in the raw, then go back to the source" observed Pope. According to Richard Waterworth of ITV, the Google-owned video site is now "the platform for educating people online."

Pope emphasised that we must distinguish between public and private widgets:

  • Private - homepages - iGoogle/Netvibes etc - RSS feeds / weather / games etc.
  • Public - the 'bumper stickers' people add to their blogs / personalise their social network pages etc.

Widgets are a means for publishers "to access social networks... To aggregate, you must disaggregate - breaking up your content into smaller parts - this is where the web is going."

However, Pope advised publishers: "Don't start with the thought 'I want to make a Facebook app' - make it available to as many platforms as possible, then let the hive mind decide... The idea of the internet as controlled by a single entity is over."

richard waterworth
Richard Waterworth, brand controller of ITV Consumer, gave a case study into how ITV had used a Facebook profile page, and accompanying 'sexual preference match' app, to engage readers for its racy blog adaptation The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Citing research showing that the most involved TV viewers (or 'pioneering fanatics') may also be classed as signicant influencers for marketing, ITV put widgets to work to "empower them to recommend content".

As many as 48 per cent of 12-25 year-olds in the US learn about new TV programmes via social networks and blogs, according to research cited by Waterworth. The power of personal recommendation (and by implication, the inherently personal nature of such blogs and networks) cannot be under-estimated.

The widget-based campaign built momentum for Call Girl, before press and above-the-line advertising had even begun. As Waterworth pointed out: "widgets provide a way for broadcasters to reward and engage the most involved audience members, empowering them to recomment content."

fergus burns
Fergus Burns, founder and CEO of Nooked, and recent winner of 'overall net visionary 2007' award by the Irish Internet Association, spoke of widgets, and in particular, RSS as: "the building blocks of web 2.0". Pointing out that eBay gets a significant amount of traffic from its feeds, Burns pointed to the dramatic effect RSS can have on search rankings (and added that SEO agencies are now also picking up on this.)

Providing some examples of publishers making effective commercial use of feeds, Burns showed the example of a Forbes feed, produced in conjunction with WidgetBox, and sponsored by Visa, and a branded NetVibes page from Channel 4. Burns emphasized to the AOP audience thatNetVibes is "actively looking" for more partners to offer branded pages for its 10m-odd users.

Nooked had developed a Facebook app. for Channel 4's Big Brother, which got 20 thousand sign-ups in 19 days, and provided a significant lift to Channel 4 website traffic. C4 is set to launch another app, for FilmFour, for which the "structured format of its information" is ideally suited. On Facebook (if not all social networks) said Burns, it's all about "engaging people to communicate with their friends".

rss logo
"Widgets are all about experimentation" said Burns, urging publishers: "Get an RSS strategy - don't just 'get the ugly orange button up there'."

OpenSocial will grow out of the already-established Google Gadgets, to produce a universal standard for widgets. He predicted: "Facebook will join OpenSocial - they stand to lose a lot more if don't join than if they do."

mike butcher conf07
The forum was moderated by Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch UK.

Speaker presentations from the forum are available for members todownload here.

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