Covering the dry technical stuff first. From everything I’ve seen over the past couple of days I’m boiling widgets down into three types:
Type 1: These are additions to web pages, most often tools over in the sidebar that provide some additional functionality, most often for a blog or (shudder) a MySpace page. A classic example would be a flickr widget, it grabs some photos from your account and makes a little slide show type thingy (technical definition, I know). See it in action, and grab your own if you want from here. Most of these are trying to enable a viral spread of the application.
Type 2: Freestanding tiny little applications. Folks over on the Mac side are very familiar with these, you activate the widget page and all these crappy little clocks and temperature gadges pop up. Like most cool features on the mac, they’ve showed up in the next edition of Windows (Vista). I’ve found these things to be of not much use since you can do most of the same stuff on web pages, but that’s probably the cranky geek in me shining through. If you have a personalized Google desktop you can run Google Gadgets, which are similar and supposedly if you have Google desktop installed you can run them in pre-Vista Windows. This is all heresay, I don’t have Google desktop installed.
I didn’t take good notes yesterday so I can’t find the name of the presenter that described Type 3, but it’s the most interesting category. He referred to them as BDAs – Branded Desktop Applications. These are full fledged apps that often reside in the tray on Windows and are running all the time allowing content to be pushed out to them. Some great examples are Southwest’s Ding, and a Disneyland’s Thing that I can’t find a link to. Both of these are full fledged apps, and in Ding’s case provide unique pricing that is available only through the app.
This category has a ton of potential as it elbows even the browser out of the picture. Thinking about it now, I realize that the best example of this is iTunes. I’ve had a mental block because I’ve always considered widgets to be small items, not apps capable of going full screen, but these are the most powerful. It’s also interesting to note that apps of this type have tried to get on to the desktop before, but were hammered down by the fear (and actual use) of spyware.
So, why would you build a widget? We can see from Ding and iTunes that if you have some exclusive content this can cement your relationship with your customer, and eliminate the allure of other web pages which is always a risk from within the browser. Another reason would be to encourage the viral spread of your application. You’ll also have to consider the impact widgets on your analytics and bandwidth. These aren’t going to be page views but will start requiring serious bandwidth (especially if you do go viral). Again, as cranky geek I don’t want to add more to my tray, but I think Joe Sixpack is looking for simple apps since he has some trouble with “the tubez on tha intranets”
Another interesting application would be using a flash widget as an alternative user interface – think of the mini player for itunes. There’s a lot of potential there to make things easier to use, and opening them up for content to be pushed to them (get a pop-up when your favorite artist has released a new tune, etc.).
All of this is pretty cool but not earth shattering, until you consider widgets for cellphones. This is an area that could explode. The fedex package tracker, or drop off box locater is not worth more as a widget vs. web page on my PC, but when I’m driving around looking for it a phone widget could be a killer app. As I think more about it – how about GPS enabled widgets? Your phone pings you when you are within 100yds of a Starbucks. Better yet, in your car the widget on your GPS starts telling you to drive there.
Ok, that’s it. Brain exploding…
Addendum: My new Arch Enemy Mike Champion took much better notes than I did. *shaking fist*
Seriously though, if you are into live music check out his Tourb.us project.