Archive for the ‘Widgets’ Category

How To: A Beginner’s Guide to Building Web Widgets

July 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

Marketers are expected to spend about $40 million on web widgets this year. This guide will teach you how to build and embed simple web widgets at no cost (besides an investment of time).

It’s free, easy and takes about five minutes to roll out your first creation.

One of the best things about widgets is that you can enable sharing. Sharing widgets means more mashing of your ideas and content. More mashing means more community and more buzz around your brainchildren. For those who love to play and live in the WWW sandbox, this article is for you.

Getting Started with Web Widgets

The first widget we will build is embedded below. It is basically your blog or website in a condensed format, showing the links to the latest 20 articles in a custom, branded, linked and optimized format. In the first short video we show you how to build this widget, which we then embed to a Facebook profile.

The second widget we build is a custom news feed using Google News. This widget adds value by providing visitors with targeted, niche-specific news without leaving your site. This widget can also drive traffic to your destination, because you can brand it with your own logo and link, and add it to a public gallery where others can access and embed it to their own sites. We embed this widget in a private website which runs off WordPress.

Keep in mind that you can choose to make your widgets publicly available to anyone who wants them, or to keep them private for your own use.

Finally, in this guide we will briefly cover other technologies you can use to build widgets, and we will resources for how to embed widgets to platforms not listed above.

Here’s one of the widgets we are going to build:

Get the <a href=”http://www.widgetbox.com/widget/content-management-cms-news-reviews-re-cmsdemo-2″>Content Management (CMS) News, Reviews, Resources</a> widget and many other <a href=”http://www.widgetbox.com/galleryhome/”>great free widgets</a> at <a href=”http://www.widgetbox.com”>Widgetbox</a&gt;!And here’s the process we cover in the vids.

Building Widgets

* Go to WidgetBox.com, create an account and sign in.
* Click on “Create Widget,” top-right of the screen.
* Choose “Create from Blog/Feed.”
* Get the path to your RSS or ATOM feed, if you have one. Right-click on the RSS icon on your page, the XML icon, or the “Subscribe” link, and choose “Copy Target Location.” More on finding the path to your RSS or ATOM feed here, and we also discuss this in the first video. The feed url will often end in something like: http://www.yoursite.com/rss.xml. You can grab any feed you want, from a different blog or a Google News search result, etc. When you’ve done this, hit Continue.
* Change defaults/cosmetics as you see fit. Choose a logo/pic to brand the widget with.
* Hit ‘Publish Blidget’ when we’re happy.

Embedding Your Widget

* At the next screen, click on “Get Widget.”
* Choose where you want to embed it. If you want to embed to your Facebook or Blogger account, sign into that account in a seperate screen, click on the relevant icon, and you will be brought through a brief, one-screen installer.
* If you want to embed to a regular website, select “Copy” to grab the default embed code for the website. You can get this in Flash or Javascript.
* Embedding to a WordPress website: From the Admin Dashboard, select Design, Widgets, Add Text Widget. Click Edit. Paste the embed code you copied earlier. Save and exit. Resources for embedding to other platforms at the bottom of the page.

Part One: Turning your blog or Website into a Widget and Embedding it on your Facebook page

(Apologies for a few spots of audio static)

Part Two: Building a Custom News Widget and Embedding to a Website (WordPress)

Some of the Best Widget Building Websites

Widgetbox.com
Widgetbox is the technology used in these videos, simply because it is the best and easiest for the type of feed-driven widgets we’ve built here.

Simplicity and development speed are the primary attractions of building with Widgetbox, and there is one other compelling reason to go with these guys. As the most popular online widget-maker (apart from Google Gadgets, which is slightly different), its public gallery is the best place to list your widget for maximum exposure.

Although we stuck with building simple widgets in the examples above, you can build high-capability, highly customized widgets using Widgetbox technology.

Dapper.net
Dapper can’t match Widgetbox for sheer simplicity, but the range of things you can do with just a bit more effort is stunning. Dapper lets you build a widget which manipulates a field like a search field, effectively building a feed from that field. This is done from a virtual browser. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. Have a look at Dapper’s own brief tutorial video to see how this is done.

So what’s so great about that? Remember in the second video above where we got the RSS field from a Google News query? That worked great, but what about the other 99% of sites which don’t enable RSS from a query string, like YouTube for instance? Dapper will build the feed for you, so you can make extremely useful mashup widgets from the full gamut of Web 2.0 websites.

One mark against Dapper: its virtual browser can be a bit of a headache. We had compatibility problems with FireFox, and had to switch to IE to get Dapper working correctly. On the plus side, there’s a fantastic array of import and export capabilities. On the whole, a superb resource.

When we come to building intermediate level widgets in a future article, we’ll be using Dapper. Stay tuned.

Google Gadgets
Do you want your website widget listed in Google’s gallery? Of course you do. Get started with this video, which shows you how to build some very cool Gadgets. Then go to Google Gadgets to get busy.

Sprout.com
We like to keep tabs on what the early-adopter crowd is using. In the widgets space, it’s Sprout.com. The hip cats like Duncan Riley use Sprout, so it’s got to have something going for it.

Sprout allows you to “build, publish and manage rich media web content including widgets, mini-sites, banners, mashups and more.” We haven’t tried it yet, so if you think this is the front-runner in the widget-building stakes — as many seem to, then enlighten us below.

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9 widget myths debunked

July 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

The truth about widgets

Ever since Facebook launched its f8 platform for application developers in May 2007, the tech industry has agreed that widgets are big business. Trouble is, for a long time venture capitalists and entrepreneurs couldn’t seem to agree on what the business actually was.

First, there’s the tricky job of defining a widget. Some use the term to describe bits of code that can be copied and pasted into a social network profile page or blog; others use it to refer to all embeddable Flash-based tools, and still others refer to widgets as entire applications built around site-specific application programming interfaces (API).

Regardless of your preferred definition, VCs were initially hesitant to invest in developers of widgets, reasoning that the growth of widget companies could only be secondary compared to the growth of the third-party sites on which their tools were hosted. At the same time, entrepreneurs were cranking out thousands of wacky new programs by the day in the hope that something — anything — might stick with consumers.

As the industry has grown over the past year, both investors and developers have gained a better grasp of what to do with widgets. But many misconceptions still remain, preventing marketers from taking full advantage of these tools. Let’s take a look, and separate the fact from fiction.

Myths 1-3: Trinkets, importance and social networks

Myth #1: Widgets are trinkets
Many consumers still see widgets as tools for “buying each other drinks and throwing sheep at each other,” according to Eric Alterman, founder and CEO of KickApps, a white label producer and tracker of widgets and other social media tools. Users also often view widgets as simply accessories for a site — to make it pretty or add features with limited functionality but lots of visual appeal.

Alterman admits that early on in widget development those were some of the main ways consumers used the tools, but he says widgets have evolved exponentially since their Jurassic days.

In fact, U.S. companies will spend $40 million in 2008 — up from $15 million in 2007 — to create, promote and distribute widgets, according to eMarketer.

Which leads us to our second myth…

Myth #2: Widgets aren’t important
Originally, widgets may not have been important, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) Alterman sees widgets as the future of the web. Many of today’s most popular websites, such as ESPN.com, were initially hand-coded, built one page at a time. Content management systems soon replaced such arduous coding of websites, but many industry experts predict widgets, which can easily be plugged into any site, will soon be the new model for the construction of whole websites. Soon, Alterman says, many major websites will be composed almost entirely of widgets.

That’s because not only can site developers use widgets to easily swap content in and out of a page, but users can do the same, tailoring major media sites to their personal preferences. In the process of constructing their dream pages, consumers provide publishers with key information about their media and information consumption preferences.

“Widgets will be the basic building blocks for pages that make up every network site,” Alterman says. “We’re already seeing widgets appearing on sites like CNN.com, but soon it’s going to be the lion’s share that’s going to be like that.”

Myth #3: Widgets are only about social networking
To date, the majority of widget-based activity has centered on sites such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as around personal blogs. Alterman attributes this trend to the fact that the main focus of these sites is on personalization.

However, as more traditional media companies and web portals become more comfortable with user-generated and user-mediated content, the industry is likely to see the widget world expand far beyond the realm of social networking.

Myths 4-6: Applications, no room, no ROI

Myth #4: Widgets are social applications unto themselves
Ro Choy, vice president of business development at leading widget developer RockYou, says this is not so. Although widgets have grown increasingly sophisticated over the last several years, they are still fairly small components of larger pages — not distinct microsites. Widgets must still compete with other widgets and other content on a page.

Choy says this distinction between widgets and social applications is key to advertisers because each tool — an embeddable widget and a microsite — offers its own value.

While a lot of advertisers may be uncomfortable with widgets because publishers can’t promise control over what’s happening in the next widget over, those same advertisers can comfortably monetize social applications (see Scrabulous on Facebook, for one popular example) that offer much more containable environments.

Choy points out that advertisers can use widgets to drive users to these social applications where they can employ all of the standard web business models, from advertising to subscriptions to the sale of virtual goods.

Myth #5: There’s no room for ads on widgets
When web widgets made their debut, traditional advertisers still struggling to overcome their discomfort with newfangled web banner ads certainly weren’t about to invest their web budgets on such uncharted territory. But, as Alterman points out, widgets are ads. At least, they can be. With the ability to insert dynamically changing feeds and run video within widgets, advertisers can take advantage of the medium to develop much more dynamic, richer campaigns. Alterman describes such tools as “widgeads.”

Myth #6: You can’t make money on widgets
According to Choy, another key misconception of advertisers about widgets is that there’s a dramatic difference between banner ad CPMs and widget CPMs. But Choy says CPMs on widgets are “the same, if not better,” than those of banner ads.

That’s because, unlike banner ads, which simply hover at fixed points on a page, widgets can be the source of interaction between millions of users. When consumers use widgets to exchange notes or send messages, the widget itself becomes a product or a conversation. And for the successful advertisers who can use widgets to build a user base and generate clickthroughs, “The value of that conversation is ridiculously high,” Choy says.

Myths 7-9: Uninformed, no traffic, not viral

Myth #7: Widgets are blind
Another widget myth is that widgets aren’t informed by the pages on which they appear. Sure, you can add a widget to a social network, a blog or myriad other sites, but the widget (and its owner) can’t possibly know what else is going on a web page.

Think again.

Like Facebook and MySpace, widgets are informed by social data. Each widget can be used to construct a unique social graph that tracks both user demographics and time spent with that widget across the web. In this way, publishers can collect data valuable to advertisers about entire communities of web users.

As of now, many publishers aren’t making use of this data. They may allow widgets, but they’re not yet collecting the data about their users. “In a sense these widgets are now untethered,” Alterman says. Publishers need to collect data, organize it and use the data to feed ads. Every website needs to find a way to feed its own widgets.

Myth #8: Widgets don’t bring traffic
Another common complaint about widgets is that they don’t drive traffic to a widget publisher’s website. According to Choy, if that’s the case, the publisher isn’t using the widget correctly. As an easy example, Choy says he has spent exactly zero dollars marketing his website but sees 11 million unique visitors via widgets.

Perhaps one reason this myth has persisted is that many of the main web metrics companies still struggle to track how widgets affect the flow of web traffic. Last year comScore launched a widget-specific metrics service to help determine exactly how and where widgets are being used.

Myth #9: Widgets aren’t viral
If a widget isn’t viral, then the advertiser or publisher behind the widget hasn’t done his or her job well. Advertisers still getting comfortable with the medium tend to rely on old tools such as lots of text presented in a less-than-thrilling way.

To make widgets viral they have to contain video, photos or music, as well as some content that offers genuine value to users. Another key to virality is the ability to generate clickthrough traffic to an advertiser’s own site.

An added bonus, Choy says, would be some sort of user-generated component that consumers can share with their friends.

4 winning widget strategies

July 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

Beyond the platform considerations, brands and marketers need to clearly understand their widget goals and the ROI potential for public and private widget networks.

Marketers are talking about widgets; a search of just iMedia Connection turns up 244 results, and comScore reports that during November 2007, nearly 148 million U.S. internet users viewed a widget, representing more than 80 percent of the total audience. There are a number of well-funded companies focusing on widget marketing implementations.

Marketers seem mostly to be looking at widgets as a new form of advertising media with a potentially large viral component, and  indeed there have been some highly successful viral widget campaigns. The Cloverfield movie widget was viewed more than 17 million times, with more than 25,000 consumer embeds.

Certainly placing a widget on a public blog or social media site can lead to a large number of viewers, depending on popularity. However, users are also placing widgets on their personal start pages and desktops. Many users are using social media platforms such as Facebook as personal information spaces, without a large “audience” of watchers.

While these sorts of users are not going to contribute significantly to the viral reach of a widget media campaign, they are highly valuable to brands as part of their relationship marketing strategy. As customers continue to shift their attention online, and as online customers shift their attention away from banner ads and monolithic websites, branded widget networks are becoming the new ground to engage customers in an ongoing dialogue.

Beyond acquisition: relationship marketing engagement
The retention and nurturing of existing customers has become increasingly important to brands and marketing agencies as the costs and difficulty of acquiring new customers continues to rise. The reasons for the rise of acquisition costs are various: declining clickthrough rates on banner ads, the difficulty of getting people to return to websites, and most of all the increasing costs of search marketing terms, particularly for highly competitive terms.

Given the costs of acquisition, brand marketers are shifting some resources to managing the lifetime value of their existing customers. By developing an ongoing relationship with their audience, brands can learn more about their customers both individually and as a group. This enables better targeting of content and offers and lowers the cost of conversion. By increasing the relevancy of ongoing brand interaction, more and longer-term relationships emerge, which keeps the brand top-of-mind and can even help drive desired behaviors. By progressively building a profile of their customers, brand marketers enable new opportunities for efficiently cross-selling and up-selling products to their existing audience.

A valuable side effect of establishing a deeper, richer relationship with your customers is that you enable them to share their brand enthusiasm within their social circle. While high-percentage viral campaigns are a wonderful jackpot to achieve, an ongoing 5-10 percent viral boost to your audience can add significant numbers over time.

Private and public facing widget platforms
There has been a tendency in the discussion of the evolving field of widget marketing to think of widgets as a single technology, and from a technical standpoint that is mostly true — with light modification a widget can be made to run on a large number of different platforms. However, despite the technical similarities, there are different classes of widgets that are used in quite divergent ways.

These classes are:

  1. Public widget platforms
  2. Private widget platforms
  3. Public/private social media platforms
  4. Branded desktop applications.

Understanding the differences will enable you to reach your audience in the best way.

Public widget platforms are blogs and personal websites, generally running on platforms such as WordPress, TypePad, Blogger and others. Each of these platforms has its own particular technical quirks and policies. For example, the current WordPress.com policy is that absolutely no commercial widgets are allowed to be installed on their platform. These public widget platforms tend to be the focus of the “write once run anywhere” business model used by providers such as ClearSpring.

Private widget platforms cover a wider variety of technologies and are used by consumers as elements of their own personal build-it-yourself information/entertainment spaces. Technologies include: personalized start pages such as Netvibes, iGoogle, Live.com and My Yahoo; desktop widgets such as Yahoo Widgets, Mac Dashboard, Vista Sidebar and Google Gadgets; and mobile widget applications such as Yahoo Mobile, Nokia Widsets, Zumobi and iPhone applications.

Public/private social media platforms are used as both a personal information/entertainment space and as a public-facing display platform with deeply embedded viral capabilities. The two most prominent of these are Facebook and MySpace, with others such as LinkedIn focusing on more defined niche audiences. Social media platforms support not only the same style of widget found in pubic and private platforms, but also a broader range of social media applications.

Branded desktop applications (BDAs) are a technology that pre-dates the widget era but partakes of many of the same features as other widget platforms. The chief differentiator is that since BDAs are stand-alone applications, they are much more powerful and can directly access system resources so they can support features like slide-up alerts, complex data management, desktop document delivery and windowless interactive animation.

Managing widget networks and widget meta-applications
The build-once-run-anywhere model is very attractive for media-style campaigns that are looking for a significant viral take-up of naturally attractive content such as movie campaigns. When developing a widget strategy for long-term relationship engagement, the goals and techniques are quite different and require more nuanced widget implementations tailored to the strengths, features and audience of each constituent platform.

A branded widget network is a suite of related widgets, desktop applications and Web 2.0 social media applications deployed as a focused, brand-centric relationship engagement strategy. It differs from a syndicated set of widgets in that its constituent widget elements and the content channels that feed them are managed separately depending on the technical nature of each platform and that platform’s audience.

A widget meta-application is a branded widget network that is being driven by an over-arching application that manages the interaction between content channels, content management, user management and meta-application functionality. A user of a widget meta-application might use a desktop application to set parameters for their personal start pages, or remember purchase options selected on their mobile application when they order from their social media applications.

Beyond the platform considerations, brands and marketers need to clearly understand their business goals, and which parameters of a relationship marketing strategy will attain them. For example, a branded widget network may include authentication to enable more personalized content delivery and product ordering.

Private widget networks in the real world
While branded syndicated widgets have been in play for a while now, true branded widget networks and widget meta-applications are only now beginning to come on line.

One application that has recently launched is for a national retail quick-serve food chain. They developed a branded widget network driven by a widget meta-application that makes it easy for the customer to order their favorite take-out meal from any node of their branded widget network. The network is authenticated and principally private-facing and displays offer content to the user based on their preferences and geographic location. For users who view the widget on someone’s page, such as their Facebook page, they can access their own account or download the application to their own page.

A multi-location resort that we work with has been at the forefront of the widget revolution, and has expanded its original desktop application into a multi-node widget network that includes a screenmate, Mac communicator, Mac Dashboard Widget, IE toolbar, Zumobi application, Facebook application, MySpace widget and web widget. This widget network has generated 18:1 positive ROI, with 85 percent of that revenue coming not from the offers, but from other widget network engagement tactics.

Outlook and conclusions
It is clear that the way consumers are interacting with news, entertainment and brands is rapidly changing. The rush to digital by traditional print media is accelerating, and the boundaries between radio, television, cable and mobile are becoming harder to find. For the time being, the only constant will be more change, with new media platforms continuing to debut, and formerly robust platforms collapsing in on themselves. It is imperative for brands to establish communication channels within these platforms just to keep up with their customers.

A key aspect to nearly all of these new technologies is the enablement of user control and communication, which means all marketing is going to become more like a dialogue and less like an eyeball hunt.

Understanding and leveraging the difference between pubic and private widgets is one way marketers and brands can maintain an ongoing dialogue with their audience. You must engage with your audience where they are.

Slide-ing into the Big Apple

July 2, 2008

Everything Digital

In its ongoing bid to prove there is a robust and sustainable advertising business in the social-networking space, widget-maker Slide opened a New York City office and hired a big-deal online ad exec.

Of course, because it has to be hip, the office is in the always trendy West Village, instead of uptown in Manhattan on Madison Avenue.

The new director of ad sales is Jason Bitensky, who comes to Slide from his post as director of national sales at AOL (TWX) Media Networks/Platform-A. Previous to that, he worked at Comcast (CMCSA).

Until this hire, Slide had only four salespeople, all located at its San Francisco HQ, who sold campaigns and sponsorships for its third-party apps that are hugely popular on sites like Facebook and MySpace (NWS).

Advertisers are most definitely intrigued, experimenting all over the place and interested in different ways of engaging with consumers.

Nonetheless, they are still using tiny “innovation” budgets to test the space and have still not unlocked the treasure chests of big bucks that go to television.

In fact, here is an interesting story on the ad issues apps-makers face in The Wall Street Journal tomorrow.

The not-so-much-money quote: “The push by application companies means more players are competing over what is a relatively small pie. In 2007, U.S. marketers spent $600 million advertising on social media, a sliver of the $18 billion spent on interactive advertising that year, according to Forrester Research. The number is forecast to spike to $6.9 billion by 2012.”

Still, said Max Levchin, CEO of Slide, about the move in a statement: “The success of campaigns on our popular products, such as SuperPoke!, Top Friends and FunWall, has attracted the attention of not only top brands, but also top talent like Jason.”

BoomTown shall agree to disagree with our favorite widget king about SuperPoke’s potential as an ad vehicle.

But it is entirely true that Slide and other apps-makers have to convince big brands that the social-networking phenomenon is here to stay and is effective, well beyond its viral popularity and huge valuations given to companies in the space.

Earlier this year, Slide–founded in 2005–got a $50 million round of funding that valued the company at $550 million.

And here’s a disturbing, but very funny, spoof video about where all this SuperPoking eventually ends up:

Your guide to working with widgets

May 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/19022.asp

What the heck is a widget?

Over the past couple of years, yet another new term has entered the marketer’s vocabulary; that term of course is “widget.” And while many people are already talking about widgets 2.0, many others are just starting to pay attention. Whether you think widgets are the most annoying fad ever or the most innovative trend in interactive, there is no denying they are part of our industry dialogue. These days, I can’t have a conversation with a publisher, salesman or colleague, read an article or attend a conference where the word and topic is not being debated. Often the debate centers on the mere definition of a widget — not how or when they should be used, or who is leading the way.

Beyond the definition of a widget, what qualifies as a widget is being debated in marketing conference rooms around the world. Depending on the size and focus of your company, and your role within it, you may have debated whether this new “thing” should be called a widget, a gadget, a desktop application, a downloadable application, or some cool new name native to your company.

With that said, let’s take a deeper look at the what, why, when, who and how of widgets. Beyond the definitions I’ve heard, I thought I would first see what Dictionary.com had to say. As I expected, the results were as varied as the debate:

1. Widget [wij-it] — noun — a small mechanical device, as a knob or switch, esp. one whose name is not known or cannot be recalled; gadget: a row of widgets on the instrument panel. 2. In graphical user interfaces, a combination of a graphic symbol and some program code to perform a specific function (e.g. a scroll-bar or button). 3. A device or control that is very useful for a particular job usually provides widget libraries containing commonly used widgets drawn in a certain style and with consistent behavior.

Or what about this simple and more industry-specific definition found at FreeWebs.com — “Widgets are small content features that help make your site personal and unique.”

Some of these definitions are relevant to our everyday businesses, some are not. For the purposes of moving forward, let’s assume that widgets in this article’s context mean everything from Facebook widgets to unique on-site widgets that brands develop to drive engagement, sales and/or ad revenue to more complex downloadable widgets/desktop apps that have multiple functions. In the end, the common thread across all of these widgets is that they all aim to drive some type of customer action (purchase/revenue, brand awareness/engagement, pass-along, etc.).

Why and when should I care about widgets?

Many brands have harnessed the power of widgets over the years. As the use and marketing of these tools become more commonplace, it’s only natural that more marketers are asking if widgets are right for them. Whether you are a publisher looking to gain traction and loyalty on the crowded web, a retailer attempting to make it easier for customers to interact with you while building your brand, or an aspiring developer anxious to create the next great widget, there are many reasons why more people are listening when it comes to widgets. But should you care? And if so, why?

The industry is still working to develop standards when it comes to measuring the success of a widget (beyond how many people “grabbed” your widget) and the growth forecast for the industry. Part of the challenge may be that there are many different types of widgets with many different types of goals. Some aim to simply build brands while others are part of a sophisticated content distribution strategy. Others are viral tools to support a new product, service, movie, etc. And then, of course, you can sponsor or serve a banner ad in someone else’s widget, or you can build your own. However, if we were to just use anecdotal stories as a way to determine why one should care about widgets, there would most likely be enough to convince most marketers that there is a sea of opportunity. At the same time, there are as many failed ventures to scare off those still new to the world of widgets before they even get started.

Despite all of the buzz and headlines that a few of the big breakthroughs have garnered, widget success is not guaranteed. With that said, companies should consider the following points before embarking on the journey of creating their own widget:

1. Creating the widget is not enough. Before you even go down the path of building your own widget, do your homework and decide if a widget is right for you. Understand what your customers want from your site/brand and how your widget will make it easier, more fun, more memorable or worth talking about. If you feel you have a homerun on your hands and widgets are indeed right for you based on your priorities and customer needs, it’s time to decide how you will market your widget to break through the clutter and be sustainable.

2. Does my widget idea already exist? In today’s competitive environment many ideas may already exist. This doesn’t mean you can’t improve on an existing concept, just that you should be aware of it and determine how you can best improve on it to get people to interact with your widget.

3. Define your goals and set clear success metrics. Although industry standards are still being developed, most companies know what is important to them. Whether you are a publisher fighting for eyeballs to monetize, a branded site looking to get customers to download your app, or you have distribution partners use and market your widget/sales engine to their audiences, you can’t achieve success if you haven’t defined it. This process should also help you decide who you should partner with and how much you can spend on your venture.

When should I develop a widget?
Whenever I am asked this question by colleagues, my boss or friends in the industry, I revert back to my previous points about first understanding if you should even be talking about widgets. It really does depend on your goals, your budget and your customer base. Do your customers care about widgets, does this help support your higher level goals as a brand/company, and do you have the budget to take a swing and a miss?

Before you decide if the time is right for your team to develop the next great widget, you might want to consider following the advice of a fellow iMediaConnection.com writer, Evan Gerber, whose thoughtful article “Avoid these Facebook faux pas” offered these words of wisdom. “Do some serious soul searching. Are you embarking on a social networking (widget initiative in this case) campaign because someone thinks it’s cool, or because it fits in with a larger approach? Think of it like any other marketing channel — if it’s not part of a larger holistic strategy, it’s likely to fail.”

Although his comments were specific to a social media campaign, they are relevant to the widget decision as well. I couldn’t think of a better way to put it, so thanks for the words here, Evan!

Who is using widgets?

Although there are new widgets popping up every day, there are some clear leaders who are setting the bar in terms of development, innovation and success. Here are a few from the many that I think are doing it well.

Tripadvisor
When you go to the tripadvisor site, the directions and value proposition to downloading its “cities I’ve visited” widget are simple, but the functionality and buzz factor of this widget is off the charts. “Where have YOU traveled?” asks the widget. Create an interactive travel map to share with your friends and help them plan their trips. Nearly everyone I know is using this widget — from my teenage cousin to my 60-year-old father-in-law. I can’t wait to plan my next trip… nice job!

iLike
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve heard probably heard of iLike. In its words, “iLike lets you add music and videos to your profile, dedicate songs to your friends, and see who’s going to what concerts. Bonus: get free MP3s matching your tastes, and beat your friends at the Music Challenge.”


The bottom line is that this popular widget makes it even easier for people to do what they already like to do anyway — talk about what music and videos they like most, learn what favorites they share with their friends, test their music knowledge, and, of course, share content and dedicate songs. It’s easy to get started, the value is clear, and it’s completely relevant to the target audience. No wonder it’s been a huge success.

More great examples

This last one might only be for weather nerds like me, but I’m guessing not. Weather.com continues to add new features to this tool every month/quarter, which tells me they either like to waste money or people are downloading the app and staying engaged. Gauging by the advertisers you see within it and the constant innovation, I’m going with the latter scenario.

Again, here we have a simple tool, which by its very nature will be filled with fresh content. People like to know what the weather is going to be like for their morning commute, their weekend picnic, or their upcoming vacation to Spain. Or sometimes, especially in the middle of a cold Chicago winter, it’s just fun to check the weather of all the hot spots around the world wishing you were there. I would be hooked just by that, but the fact is that the tool also serves up real-time weather alerts, local traffic reports, and allows you to customize your view to make staying in the weather loop even easier. The forecast for this widget is continued success.

SnowMate Desktop Application for your PC (v5)
Download here.

Check out the latest snow alert technology from Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly featuring the following:

  • Daily snow — reports sent straight to your desktop
  • Snow alert — snow on your screen = new snow at our resorts.
  • Trevvor (at top right) — he’ll be your animated snow guide who will ski or snowboard around your desktop and do cool tricks.
  • Video and photo gallery — featuring daily snap shots from the slopes.
  • Micro bar mode — reduce the SnowMate desktop application to a small dockable mode that displays current snow conditions.
  • Live mountain cameras
  • Screensaver, wallpaper and e-cards

Conclusion
As York Baur, EVP of business development for Zango, recently wrote, “Widgets are unquestionably unique and afford exiting new opportunities for advertisers. But no macro-event in business is unprecedented, and widget marketing is uncommonly similar to other marketing applications that have come before. Avoiding near-future missteps by studying the recent past is widget marketing’s greatest opportunity for smooth and steady growth.”

The barriers to entry in the world of widgets are going down, and while that is exciting, it’s also dangerous. Email continues to get easier, but just because you can email customers everyday doesn’t mean you should. Just because widgets are now easier to develop, distribute and market, it doesn’t mean you should do that either.

Do your homework, research the market, and don’t rush to be the next widget wizard just to say you have one. As I end, I must tell you that I’m currently going through the widget analysis process myself. Through my own research, it’s become clear that there is a lot of potential gain with widgets, but as with most business decisions, there is also much to lose. Regardless of the approach you end up taking, consider this: “Courage is the discovery that you may not win and trying when you know you can lose.” Good luck!

A low-cost plan to elevate your brand

May 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/19129.asp

As the economy weakens and your competitors cut budgets, you can get the leg up with a thought-out digital marketing strategy.

As the economy grows more uncertain, a common reaction is to cut marketing budgets. Before following the crowd you may want to look for the silver lining. It is likely that your competitors will cut their marketing budgets thereby reducing their media presence. With a few adjustments in your marketing plan, you have an opportunity to eclipse the competition while remaining mindful of budget restrictions.

Now is the time to engage the full range of interactive media to create a powerful, targeted marketing mix. The following presents effective ways to move forward.

Use your data
More than likely your company has been collecting data from numerous channels — website, call center, direct mail, etc.­– but if you are like many companies this may be as far as it goes. Now is the perfect time to analyze your data.

A thorough analysis may uncover a trend that can be acted upon in a significant way, such as repositioning your website. As major overhauls are time-consuming and expensive, it may be easier, less costly and potentially more beneficial to create a targeted micro-site focused on a particular product, service or niche. With the intelligence gathered, this site should be optimized to yield meaningful results from major search engines. A micro-site is a good way to test the accuracy of your analysis and it can be the basis for a website overhaul later.

You may also consider creating several SEO (Search Engine Optimized) landing pages to target different audiences, which is one of the most effective ways to get powerful results from Google. Here, users arrive at a welcoming page that speaks directly to their search, and are guided to relevant sections of your site. This can bring them closer to a purchase decision or connect them with the information they want. Now analytics equals results.

Digital deals and opportunities
Traditional media buys typically have long leads before their effectiveness can be measured, providing little opportunity to tweak campaigns. By the time measurable results arrive, your budget is depleted. While traditional advertising can be expensive, digital media offers a wide range of affordable advertising options. With the ability to build highly customized campaigns that can be tracked up to the minute and down to the individual user, search engine marketing should be part of almost any advertising campaign. But effective digital marketing does not need to stop there.

Here are a few effective approaches:

Blogs and beyond
Advertising on a community site whose audience is inclined toward your product or service can build strong brand association. By getting involved as an active contributor with valuable content, you become part of a community and are able to monitor what is going on in your industry’s corner of the blogosphere. This can gain you invaluable market insight.

To take it a step further, consider micro-blogging through services such as Twitter or Pownce. Here you can keep a group informed of your every move on a moment-to-moment basis and learn what they are up to as well. This can be an even deeper way of involving yourself in the lives of a core group.

Podcasts
Often overlooked as an advertising vehicle, podcasts can also reach a core demographic. For example, if you’re looking to reach a tech-savvy audience, consider TWIT (This Week in Tech’s podcast.) Or create your own custom podcasts to get your message out. Startup costs are minimal, and if you offer valuable information, you can create a meaningful relationship with your listeners. (See “The Perks of podcast advertising.”)

Niche and community websites
The internet has no shortage of websites with unique audiences. MySpace and Facebook are the two communities that come to mind, but there are many others that are even more geared toward specialized interests. Check Ning.com for examples of easy-to-create niche social networks.

If you build it (right), they will come
Besides web-based advertising, consider fostering relationships with customers by creating a destination worth visiting or a useful widget to download. These interactive platforms can be custom built to effectively reach your audience.

Some possibilities follow, with a few examples of what has worked from my company’s clients:

The micro-site
Micro-sites provide a great way to promote a product or service at lower cost than a corporate site and can provide greater flexibility. Additionally, these sites are often more fun to visit as they can be built around a single creative concept. The Oprah, Dove and the Girl Scouts of America site, which we based upon Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, is an example of an effective micro-site. This provided an engaging environment built around user-generated content.

Landing pages
Landing pages are a powerful way to stretch one’s website development investment. A landing page designed around a specific search query, such as “hammer,” can send a prospect to the home page of a hardware store, where he will have to navigate through that site to track down the product. Alternatively, if the search engine had directed the consumer to a landing page for that same hardware store where a variety of hammers, nails and tool belts were featured, you not only have a result that brings you closer to making a purchase, but that also offers cross-selling options. This is where valuable online customer relationships can begin.

Mobile
Mobile communications as a means of marketing is one of the fastest growing options and enables users to connect with people in unique ways. For example, SiiTE Interactive worked with PayPal to create a mobile shopping environment that brought mobility to ecommerce. The way this works is the following: If a user spots a product in a store front window, in a magazine, on a billboard or almost any place, and she sees a PayPal ID, she simply texts the ID code from her mobile phone and the product is purchased and shipped directly to her mailing address.

Widgets
Widgets are distributed components used to present data through a user interface. They break into three major types. The first is the desktop widget, which lives within the highly coveted real-estate of your computer’s desktop or as an add-on to the operating system. The second is the embedded widget, which is typically placed into blogs, web pages and personal pages such as Facebook. The third type is the mobile widget developed for smart phones.

Widgets are powerful because they are trackable, easily distributed, and if the content is compelling, they will show up everywhere. Creating a custom widget can be a great broadcast medium for advertising or sponsorships. (See “The art of widgetry: a primer.”)

SiiTE has developed numerous widgets including branded shopping widgets that serve up favorite items for avid shoppers on a daily basis. This widget has a calendar-based system on the back-end that allows an administrator to serve new products on any date and for any duration.

Viral content
The current rage is creating content that is so compelling, humorous, or off-the-wall that people are driven to pass it along to friends. Well-known examples include the JibJab spoofs, the Cadbury drum-playing gorilla, and of course, Diet Coke-Mentos’ eruption videos. One favorite is Will it Blend, a website with 3.5 million viewings of the infamous iPhone in a blender video. More importantly, Blendtec quadrupled blender sales after the video hit.

This can be a great marketing tool on a small budget. It is even possible to create live streaming content from your mobile phone with services such as qik.com. However, purposefully creating content in the hopes of it going viral is a long shot. Have fun and get your content out there but don’t expect it to explode unless you’ve really got something unique or you have content that serves some positive social value. (See “5 consumer touchpoints for viral viability.”)

SiiTE Interactive worked with a major pharmaceutical company to help create personalized video messages directed toward caregivers of specific medical conditions. These campaigns generate tremendous pass-along appeal because of their personalized nature. Once customized by a friend or family member, a collection of video clips are automatically edited and sent to the recipient. The final video presentation speaks directly to the caregiver, even going as far as having the video spokesperson refer to family members by their first name.

Measuring success
Measuring the effectiveness of traditional media is often subject to a significant amount of interpretation. Digital media metrics, while not perfect themselves, are often more precise and more targeted. Digital media metrics can more easily track niche groups or even individuals right through to a sales conversion. This said, when money is tight, it may be comforting to see where one’s budget is actually going.

With the lower cost of entry that digital media offers, it becomes affordable to experiment. You can test various targeted buys that yield results within days or even hours, or build precisely crafted micro-sites. The bottom line — now is a fantastic time to explore the possibilities of digital media.

DoubleClick’s Self-Publishing Widget Ads May Monetize Social Networks

April 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

DoubleClick, now a Google property, is launching widget advertising into the self-publishing ad market.

Powered by Gigya Wildfire, the option enables advertisers to encourage viral dissemination of interactive ads across social media. Gigya will provide metrics for advertisers.

DoubleClick expects the medium to blossom into an effective way to monetize social networks.

Future Bright for Widgets, Say Media Execs

April 2, 2008

Media Week

Advertisers and media companies are beginning to embrace the power of widgets, particularly those thousands of mini-applications that have sprouted up on social networks like MySpace and Facebook.

Mike Shields

MARCH 12, 2008 –

Advertisers and media companies are beginning to embrace the power of widgets, particularly those thousands of mini-applications that have sprouted up on social networks like MySpace and Facebook. Those close to the phenomenon predict a robust moneymaking future for widgets, i.e. small Web-based programs or content packages that users can easily download and take with them to other sites though several basic business practices need to be established, said a group of panelists at the McGraw Hill Companies’ Media Summit in New York on March 12.In the future, content and ad portability will be so commonplace to the Web that “every consumer facing Web site will be a collection of widgets,” said Eric Alterman, chairman, KickApps, a firm that produces widgets for various companies. Alterman predicted that online ad networks will essentially become distribution networks widgets, and later boldly stated that as widgets take hold “all the money on the Internet will be in that space…and traditional media will be a leader.”

Right now, traditional media is still figuring out its role, said Dan Riess, vp, marketing and ad solutions, Turner. Riess said that CNN.com has had tremendous success in letting users grab mini-versions of the news site for their RSS readers or social networking profiles, but not every traditional media company has figured out how to uses widgets or how to cash them in.

“Right now, widgets have two values for us,” he said, namely marketing and media. While marketing is easier to swallow for media companies, said Reiss, using widgets are a form of media, which need to be monetized, “gets a little trickier. It’s not as clear.”

Riess acknowledged that as content becomes more and more portable, “It’s increasingly hard for sites to expect users to come through your door.” Yet that often means a loss of control, and often, some sort of “revenue share situation. That isn’t as exciting for a media company.”

One company that is enjoying some success turning widgets into dollars is Slide, which produces SuperPoke!, FunWall and Top Friends — three of the most popular applications on Facebook. Those apps, coupled with an extremely popular photo sharing application, give the company a user base of 170 million uniques, according to Kevin Freedman, Slide’s vp of finance & operations.

Application/widget creators like Slide have something highly compelling to offer advertisers: “an amazingly rich set of data,” said Freedman in an interview with Mediaweek. “We can target things in a much better way.”

For example, last fall Paramount created a SuperPoke! Icon for the animated Bee Movie through which SuperPoke’s 15 million users could “sting” their friends. And in the past week, the company has rolled out a SuperPoke! Icon for the upcoming movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – through which users can “whip” their friends – as well as an icon for McDonalds tied into the fast food giant’s current marketing effort. That icon provides users various ways in which they can “give props to” their various friends.

Freedman says that while Slide has spent the past few years building an audience, the time is right to focus on hauling in ad dollars. “We are on the right side of the curve at this point,” he said.

 

MyVox Voice API Adds Sensory Layer to Online Campaigns

April 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

VoodooVox has announced the release of MyVox, a service that enables software developers to incorporate voice into applications and widgets.

Examples of the MyVox API in action include adding voice pushpins to Google Maps and adding voiceovers to a Flickr slideshow.

VoodooVox, which is backed by Disney, shall encourage developers to take advantage of audio inclusions by offering prizes for the next big voice app. Developers will also get to share in VoodooVox’s voice ad network.

All MyVox call volume passes through its In-Call Network Exchange, an audio network made up of over 500 call publishers. Publishers on the exchange make over 250 million calls a month and include VoIP providers, radio stations, call centers, 411 services, and calling card companies.

MMO Games Are The Evolution Of Social Networks

April 2, 2008

Media Post Publications

by Tameka Kee, Wednesday, Mar 5, 2008 7:30 AM ET

PROPERTIES LIKE FACEBOOK AND MYSPACE don’t just have to deal with issues like user attrition from “social network fatigue” or inventory monetization challenges. According to Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, they also face a growing threat from an unlikely source — massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.

 

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference on Tuesday, Kotick said that MMO games like World of Warcraft are a unique blend of “a social network with an entertainment experience,” and they’re drawing in users and their wallets by the millions–with advertisers eager to follow.

World of Warcraft recently surpassed the 10 million subscriber mark in January, making it the most popular MMO worldwide. Kotick said that players spend an average of 3.5 hours per day with the game–with particularly rabid fans clocking in 6 hours. “It’s replacing TV and other activities for a certain type of audience,” Kotick said, even eclipsing time spent congregating on social networks.

The gamers are also willing to spend on products like mission expansion packs. “These extras cost a fraction of what our users pay for cable, for a cell phone or food per month, Kotick said. “And if you ask them to give any one of those up for more time with World of Warcraft, they will.” But Kotick added that there’s also the possibility of ad-sponsored supplemental content, particularly with games like StarCraft that require shorter sessions.

Still the threat isn’t just coming from hardcore MMOs like World of Warcraft. Even Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise has the potential to disrupt the social networking landscape. The console-based game lets users rock out, competing against each other while trying to play hits from bands like Aerosmith on a full-size replica guitar. While the franchise has raked in sales of more than $1 billion in North America alone, Kotick said the communal gaming stats are even more promising.

“Fifteen million people have purchased the guitars, but 45 million people are using them,” Kotick said. “That three-times pass-along rate speaks to the quality and type of interaction players get from the game. The only thing that’s missing right now is that it’s not over the Web. Right now it’s played in a bar or a living room–with no prize play and no competitions. But that will be the evolution of the medium.”

And Guitar Hero’s demographics range well beyond the typical 18- to 34-year-old male gamer. “The demographic reach is incredible,” Kotick said. “Forty percent of Guitar Hero’s audience is female.”

Still, the most potent threat that social networks face from MMOs (or soon-to-be MMOs like Guitar Hero) is their current lack of marketing infrastructure. “Last year, we would have deployed a lot of marketing capital to sites like Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo and iLike, but they didn’t have the personnel or capacity to take our money,” Kotick said. “There are Guitar Hero groups on Facebook–why wouldn’t we want to reach our audience there? We’re going to continue to shift our dollars away from things like typical or trade marketing to things that are more relevant–but they need monetization strategies first.”

And as social networking sites develop those strategies, Activision will adapt them for their own MMO and socially-focused game properties. “We want to build a rate card for advertisers that has validity and credibility,” Kotick said. “It’s still the early days, but those same marketing principles will be the ones that we get.”

World of Warcraft is published by Irvine, Calif.-based Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Vivendi Games that Activision made a deal to merge with in late 2007. Once the acquisition closes, the new company’s name will be Activision Blizzard, and will operate as a subsidiary of Paris-based Vivendi SA.