Monday, December 10, 2007

The Wisdom of Widgetry...Netvibes

I recently saw an interesting panel discussion on Widgets & Gadgets. Since then, I’ve been doing a bit of research on what seemed from a Mac fan, to be a fairly open-shut case. Not so, the world of widgetry appears to be bubbling into an explosive area.

Carrie Lysenko, Manager of Online Applications at the Weather Network specializes in widgets and gadgets. Part of her panel presentation discussed the evolution of their “weather-eye” widget, which launched in 2004 as a small data ad containing localized weather information for those that downloaded it on to their desktops. Carrie showed a major growth curve in usage from just under 600,000 monthly Canadian users in 2005 to an estimated +2 million in 2008 generating around 470 million page views.

Benefits to the widgets aside from the obvious user value, included brand persistence, traffic generation to the core website, viral marketing through sharing, new ad inventory and of course revenue.

Another presentation by Chantal Rossi of Google Canada showed an enormous growth curve as Google left Q3 with 9,000 widgets and entered Q4 with over 20,000. As a web-based product, users are able to place widgets on their iGoogle page or any other web site. Google gadgets are made with professional and consumer generated content. Sports associations use their game gadget to communicate schedules, live scores and other fan content while the film industry creates movie trailers. Google has used them to demonstrate products like Google Earth.

Progressing on Friday’s topic of creating mini applications for social networking sites, it’s becoming increasingly clear that developers could out-niche themselves if they focus too hard on one API’s offering. Today’s APIs are generally focused on web-centric applications. The future of widgetry however, is highly decentralized. As media consumption is fragmented across multiple devices, widgets need to be nimble.

Some of the most innovation on widgetry is happening in France based Netvibes.

Tariq Krim as a pioneer in the personalized homepage space founded Netvibes in 2005. lets individuals pick and choose their favorite widgets, websites, blogs, email accounts, social networks, search engines, instant messengers, photos, videos, podcasts, and any other syndicated media on the Web.

I had a discussion today with Netvibes' PR Agency, Vincent Chang, of the Antenna Group. Vincent talked about Netvibes’s universal Widget API that allows developers to code widgets that work anywhere from desktops to iPhones.

The universal aspect is what makes Netvibes unique. To date, networks are competing with one another and launching closed APIs making it time consuming and cost-prohibitive for developers to cover the fragmented audiences.

Another advantage to the universal focus is towards the consumers. Currently, feeds are fragmented and are not following the “always on” spirit of the connected consumer. Self-selected media should be available everywhere the consumer wants it to be. It’s been difficult for developers to find a one-stop API to build out widgets and gadgets that are nimble enough for consumers to use across all platforms. Netvibes appears to be listening.

Netvibes has attracted over 10 million users in over 150 countries and a long list of top international media publishers including CBC, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Die Welt, Le Monde, El Pais, El Mundo and Columbia Records. “Developers are flocking to build once and re-use their widgets”, said Vincent of Netvibes Universe.

While Vincent was unable to comment on Netvibes’ business model, it’s clear that Tariq’s Krim’s vision is all about mainstreaming the use of widgetry. The fun will really start when widgets start interacting with one another to enhance the user experience and become a staple in media consumption. With publishers streaming high quality content across devices, Netvibes is perfectly positioned to capitalize on its mass consumption.

Netvibes is launching their consumer-oriented product tomorrow in San Francisco. Vincent says, “The new era in widgetry will be revealed”.

Oh to be a coder in San Francisco...

Further Reading:
Here's a great article from The Economist written February ... "Web deux point zéro"

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