Learnings from the Widget Roundtable

Dave McClure (who helps teach the Stanford Facebook class, and runs the Graphing Social Patterns conference), Justin Smith (of Inside Facebook), Rodney Rumford (of FaceReviews), and myself brainstormed last night trying to understand the current state and direction of the emerging widget industry.

The widget universe is vast with a lot of variation. So although the initial goals was to try to categorize the widgets into clean buckets, and we found that to be an impossible task. Widgets can often have multiple attributes, so instead we focused on attributes and characteristics, rather than groupings. We developed a couple of models, (none that are perfected) but noticed a few ways to look at the attributes:

Levels of Data Interaction
Highest | Application uses data from your social network | iLike
High | Application uses data from your preferences | Pandora
Low | Application pulls data from source | Audio stream (like a radio station)
None | Static widget, display badge | Widget links to other website

We also explored a model of self-expression/vanity/entertainment vs utility and communication. And also found that some apps have different lifecycles from simple one time users (disposable widgets) or to those that got more value over time as network usage increased.

Later, Ro Choy from RockYou came by and presented me with a very clear definition of the differences between widgets and applications. Essentially (and I have a video of him to come) widgets are limited in functionality (due to limitations in size), usually resulting in the widget creator trying to get the user to go another website, vs an application that has full functionality, is on multiple pages, and therefore the widget creator doesn’t need to lead the user off the application.

So in summary, this was one of the first cracks at trying to segment the landscape, we’ll have to have subsequent meetings to drill down even farther. I’ll be mulling this whole thing over for the next few days/weeks to try to make sense of all the learnings. It’s a much larger universe (over 13,000 widgets exist, which will likely double this year) developing a taxonomy will be challenging and fun.

I was planning to live stream the event, but had issues with my wireless, although Rodney was taping and I’m sure he’ll post it. Chances are, you’ll find it very boring and dry, as we weren’t playing to the camera, we just had it on from the other side of the room as we discussed.