Archive for the ‘Webware’ Category

What is a widget and how can it be used in marketing?

February 11, 2008

What the heck is a widget, or what is sometimes called a gadget, badge, module, capsule, snippet, plug-in, mini or flake?

Widgets are basically embedded code in an HTML page. And whatever you call them, they are popping up all over the Internet.

Since Facebook opened up to third-party applications in May 2007, nearly 15,000 applications have been developed. Overall, some 100,000 developers are working on widgets and applications worldwide.

All the excitement aside, eMarketer estimates that US companies will spend only $40 million in 2008 to create, promote and distribute widgets, up from $15 million in 2007.

The figures do not include desktop widgets, which are downloaded and used by a single user.

”Despite the level of activity, questions about the future of widgets and applications persist,” says Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer Senior Analyst and author of the new report, Web Widget and Applications: Destination Unknown, “Are they a fad or are they the future of Internet marketing?”

Concerns related to Web widgets and applications include “application burnout,” measurement difficulties, distribution challenges and deceptive techniques used by some widget developers to increase their installation rate.

But for every nay-sayer, widgets also have many proponents.

In a sign of how much widgets have intrigued the marketing community, 58% of attendees at last December’s iMedia Agency Summit said they thought widgets would play a bigger role in their strategy than mobile.

”The online landscape continues to evolve,” says Ms. Williamson. “Even as the audience is fragmenting, young people are spending more and more time within social networks, leaving less time for other Web activities.”

According to a Dynamic Logic survey, 51% of Internet users ages 18 to 34 reported visiting a social network site at least once every few days.

”Some people believe that social networks are becoming ‘walled gardens,’” says Ms. Williamson. “So many advertisers are experimenting with widgets as a way to penetrate them.”

Widgets would seem to be a natural fit in a world where consumers time-shift television, check user reviews before they buy, mash up Web content from various sources and spend hours customizing their social network profile pages.

“One of the hallmarks of Web marketing and media over the past year has been decentralization and syndication,” says Ms. Williamson. “The general idea is to reach consumers where they spend their time, rather than force them to come to a destination.”

The widget industry supports this idea wholesale.

“The days of digital ad sales where you buy a banner and [consumers] click on it and go to a Web site, that’s dead,” says Chris Cunningham, founder of a the widget and application marketing company AppsSavvy. “The idea that media companies or brands need to make a destination of their own is completely flawed. Rather than drag people to a destination, [companies can] take some content they want to showcase and bring it to people.”

”Given the grand ambitions of the widget and application market, and the social networks that support them,” says Ms. Williamson, “the business still has a lot of growing up to do before it can attract significant dollars from major marketers.”

Find out where widgets are headed, download the new eMarketer report, Web Widget and Applications: Destination Unknown, today.


ConceptShare and Thinkature: Two Approaches to Visual Collaboration

November 9, 2006

Collaboration between distributed users online is widely recognized as one of the key next steps in software development. The products available for collaboration are becoming increasingly light weight, powerful and easy to use. Two companies that we’ve found entering into this market with compelling, but markedly different, products are ConceptShare and Thinkature.

Both products let users create shared visual workspaces that can be marked up and chatted in. If you are a visual designer, someone planning events or otherwise looking to stop emailing or faxing visual objects back and forth – one of these two services might be just what you are looking for. Thinkature is simpler, free and available now. ConceptShare is more powerful, subscription based and due to come to market in a few weeks.

Adobe, Microsoft and other large companies offer collaboration tools, but these two small companies provide something faster, simpler and less expensive. Tools like Conceptshare and Thinkature serve a different purpose than systems like WebEx because they allow for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Since they are entirely browser based, they should also work cross platform.


ConceptShare did a demo at TechCrunch Party #7 and is now nearly ready for launch. People who have requested beta accounts will be given access next week and the product will be available commercially in about two weeks. It’s a very impressive tool aimed primarily at visual designers.

The product is built in Flash and the three person company has taken about half a million dollars from a local angel investor.

Conceptshare workspaces can include multiple concept pages, comments appear in individual threads that can be clicked through one at a time so they don’t become overwhelming, images can be drawn on and zoomed into. Screen captures can be imported by simply providing a URL. All the modules of the workspace can be resized by dragging their borders; so if I want to see the last 15 lines of chat instead of having the image being discussed taking up the bulk of my screen I can easily make that change.

Prices haven’t been absolutely determined yet, but a single workspace with up to 5MB of storage will likely be free, there will be a number of intermediary offerings and enterprise subscriptions will start at $200 per month. High end subscriptions will include the ability to fully brand your workspaces.

Another feature that Conceptshare is offering is an expert directory. In time the company hopes that topical experts will offer their design consulting services for a fee inside the system. I’m a little skeptical of how viable this will be, but visual designers may be among the most viable markets for online one time paid consulting.

Conceptshare is very pleasing to use, but it’s usefulness is largely limited to visual design. It’s clearly the most powerful of these two services, but if you’re looking for something free, fast and simple then Conceptshare may not be what you’re looking for. The following is a demonstration video from the Conceptshare team.


Thinkature is a YCombinator startup started by two recent Olin College graduates. They’ve probably taken 10% as much funding as Conceptshare. The Thinkature product is free and available now. The company formally launched in October.

Rather than Conceptshare’s Flash interface, Thinkature is built entirely of HTML and Javascript and uses a persistent http connection for synchronous communication. You can place images and text in the workspaces, connect boxes and chat in real time. Only the most recent chat messages are visible unless you click a tab to pop up a box with the full chat history.

Thinkature works best for communicating thought processes visually. You can resize images but you cannot zoom as you can in Conceptshare. The company’s business model wasn’t something they were willing to discuss with me, but they said that they were looking beyond the subscription and storage model. Thinkature’s target users are anyone who appreciates wikis, the company told me. Education and product design are among the different uses they have seen so far.

If you’re looking for a fast and free way to collaborate around a design proccess, Thinkature may serve you well.

I think it’s interesting that the market for collaboration software is large enough that both of these companies will probably be able to find more than enough users. They’ve taken very different approaches to building similar products; but those products will likely appeal to very different users.

Other products to look at in this space include GE’s Imagination Cubed and Vyew.

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0


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Coghead Goes Live: Build Applications Visually

October 11, 2006

cogheadlogo.jpgThe online application building space is one that is getting more interesting by the week. We have previously reviewed a number of apps in this space (sometimes referred to as the ‘online access’ space, a reference to Microsoft Access) including Dabble DB, Zoho Creator and WyaWorks. The premise of these web applications is that they allow non-programmers to easily build record-driven web-based applications.

Today a new entrant has entered the space as Coghead announced the public launch of their visual app building service. Coghead promises many of the things that the other applications do – the ability to easily create, access and share applications. The primary use of these products is to create business applications that deal with everything from task tracking through to purchase orders. CogHead comes loaded with a set of ’starter applications’ such as a simple CRM, an issue tracker and recruitment management. These starter templates can then be edited and further refined by the user to suit their particular needs.

What is special about CogHead is that users building applications with the product require less technical skills because the process is all drag-and-drop and visual. CogHead is unique because of just how easy it is to create forms, views and apps – the design view allows users to create fields by dragging and dropping them onto a form. The user can lay the fields out and place them on the page, making the application they build more user friendly and easier on the eyes. Building the logic behind the forms is also a graphical process, the user takes objects and actions and drags them into a flow chart that is similar to a data-flow or logic diagram (see their screenshots). CogHead has a large set of user actions and events available meaning that a very broad range of custom apps can be built. Data can also be processed without a user making a direct action as there are events such as when data is imported etc.

Coghead has a unique and very visual user interface which lets tech-savvy, yet non-coders, easily add business logic to create or modify applications. Coghead says the sweet spot for their product is between packaged software solutions and custom programming, a market that is very large and one that has not yet been fully addressed.

What is confusing amongst all these apps is the terminology that is used. For instance, what developers know as a table or a view CogHead refers to as a ‘collection’ (referring to a collection of fields), all the other apps also have their own unique terminology and some are more confusing than others. Since this space is so competitive the players within it might want to think about standardizing the terminology used if they plan on attracting users away from one of their competitors (this has happened in the online CRM space which you can see if you put Salesforce and ZohoCRM side-by-side.)

Both Visual Basic and Microsoft Access were very popular application development environments, and if you look inside most businesses today you are likely to find some form of custom application developed with one of these Microsoft products. Currently there is no web equivalent of either of these apps, but as the trend towards web-based apps grows there will also be a growing demand to do for web apps what Visual Basic and Access did for desktop apps. To get to this point though the crop of products in the web-based space will need to improve a lot – for instance the applications can not be customized far enough in terms of look and feel and none of them produce apps that are as easy to use, learn and navigate as their custom built brethren are. This space is developing rapidly and I am sure that we will see these apps evolve further very quickly. CogHead is a great product that is pushing this market further forward making it very interesting, certainly a space to keep an eye on and a set of products that will one day be used by almost all businesses.

For more reviews of Coghead, see these early posts (while Coghead was still in beta) by Om Malik and Erick Schonfeld.


Scrapblog brings powerful media layout to the web

October 2, 2006

Scrapblog is presenting at DEMO this week and their new software is a great example of just how much can be done by web based applications. It’s a Flash application that lets users drag and drop photos, video, text and audio onto a background image to build scrapbooks that can be printed as a photo-book, burned to DVD, exported as a photoset to Flickr and soon will be exportable to YouTube and other video sites as a narrated slide show.

The amount of smooth control over layout that Scrapblog allows is really impressive. It’s a tool that will appeal beyond the usual scrapbooking demographic and could be of great use in making things like artist portfolios and online graphic presentations. Even scrapbooking, though, is one of the leading folk arts in the US today. Don’t let that dissuade you if you’re an art snob; Scrapbook is lots of fun to use just for its web interface.

The company was started by Carlos Garcia and is currently self funded. It will be monetized through printing photobooks, burning DVDs and selling pro-accounts. Some advertising may appear on the site as well. There’s a less sophisticated beta version available for free on the Scrapblog site today, but the site I previewed here will be launched before the end of this year.

Scrapblog allows users to move and change the directional orientation of a long list of graphic elements, add effects like shadows, text and audio narration. It’s like having Photoshop Elements on the web, but with drag and drop image adding, multimedia support and bidirectional syncing with your account at Flickr, Webshots and Photobucket.

Tabblo offers a similar service, but OneTrueMedia is a more direct competitor. OneTrueMedia has a far more locked-down corporate feel to it, but that company does also have a number of high profile distribution partners.

New Look For Netvibes

October 1, 2006

Netvibes quietly released an updated look and feel this evening. Read about the release on the Netvibes blog.

Netvibes says in their blog entry that the new release “will change the way you use and view the web” and includes user interface enhancements as well as a bunch of new modules. Putting the question of whether or not this update is as significant as the blog post suggests aside, Netvibes has certainly had a big impact on its users. They have collected over 5 million passionate users and $15 million in venture capital during its brief year of existence.

Netvibes is one of the sites that has stuck with me as others come and go, and I visit it at least daily. I’ve created Netvibes modules for most of the web services I use and it has become the gateway to those services and sites. Like Google search, the best thing about Netvibes is that it has no problem with me quickly leaving the site to take care of other business. And that’s why it’s earned my loyalty as a user.