Monthly Archives: May 2007

Widget Week part 2 – Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised

Potent openers are thin on the ground at events, mine especially. Having often developed and programmed the events, I’m normally found delivering safety instructions and other such vital messages in a vaguely ironic monotone (see photos).

So props to Steve Bowbrick for his scenesetting observation at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on Wednesday 16th May that the opposing life forces of disintegration and re-formation are encapsulated in the widgetisation of media.

Getting the second event in Widget Week properly underway, Steve canvassed the panel for their definition of a widget and the answers were both resonant and diverse. For their answers, you have to listen to the podcast due this Thursday 24th May.

PANEL:
Mark Taylor – Head of Content, Eircom & founder, Sleevenotez (blog)
George Berkowski – Head of Internet Strategy, BT Retail
Fergus Burns – CEO & Founder, nooked
Jonathan Gabbai – Solutions Manager, eBay
Kaj Häggman – Business Development Manager & Inventor, WidSets (blog)
Chair: Steve Bowbrick

So are widgets internet famous? 😉 George Berkowski, Head of Internet Strategy at BT Retail flagged-up Adsense as the most successful widget to date. He also cited Photobucket, which gets 1% of all internet traffic in the US.

Nooked CEO Fergus Burns was quick off the mark with some headline info about the widget economy. Last year was the year retailers and advertisers started asking “how do I get onto Myspace and onto Vista Gadgets?” You want your widget to be viral, but how do you drive traffic back to your site from RSS and the widget, Burns continued. The challenges ahead mean it has to be fun and it has to give value to the consumer (can you tell Fergus wasn’t giving away too much..?).

Kaj ‘Hege’ Häggman of Widsets stressed the widget proposition has to be simple. They now have 14,000 widgets in their library, 99% of which have been created by users. Doing profile-base widget recommendations is edging very close to advertising he noted.

Widgets – socking it to the portals?

Eircom Head of Content and Sleevenotez founder Mark Taylor explained that the “Kwaydo” engine that powers Sleevenotez (get more info by clicking on ‘Navigation’ on the Zythe homepage), is in fact a platform that powers what he terms “thin portals”.

He acknowledged that on the one hand – with Kwaydo – he is trying to disrupt portal models, but on the other – with his (Irish incumbent telco) Eircom hat on – to maintain them. He said widgets can extend your brand’s borders, but as a widget sceptic he is concerned that widgets are going to become another marketing and advertising tool.

Outfits like Ning and PeopleAggregator are going in one direction against the old portals, he said, but portals still have a role to play and while we are trying to figure out what that role is, it is clear that there is a value in aggregating large audiences. In turn, those portal-type aggregators can also provide access to exclusive content that you can then widgetise.

Utility versus monetisation?

eBay Solutions Manager Jonathan Gabbai stressed that widgets facilitate the distribution of content – which begs the question how do you monetize that? eBay is good for that because it is time-sensitive. The newly launched eBayToGo widget can be embedded on a blog or website giving you live updates on your auction. It this scenario, it’s important to have an open API, as has Amazon and Google, he added.

From the audience Pauli Visuri described a widget rather poetically as a “tear-off” from a website. Robin Gurney of (Estonian-based) Altex Marketing sounded a more cynical note, saying this monetized widget “sounded like a glorified version of affiliate marketing”.

Jonathan Gabbai concurred welcomingly that widgets do lend themselves to affiliate marketing. Someone else said the whole widget phenomenon must be like a “freak-out nightmare” for content owners and publishers, and George Berkowski noted that that is part of it, but there is also a real value for the user – the widget services from Slide, Photobucket and RockYou have great usability and utility for users. They have an altruistic and positive brand effect, and at the same time those companies are monetizing widgets very well.

Applications for and by the masses?

Kaj Häggman observed that it’s as much about allowing users to generate applications, and it’s a new paradigm that that not only gives users control to create their own apps, it’s also about giving control back to the developers. The mobile industry needs to be able to talk the language of the web industry, he stressed; a remark that triggered a flurry of comments about how the mobile industry’s business models were being put on the line by the arrival of the mobilized web, hence their reluctance to embrace it until the last moment possible.

Steve Bowbrick mused on the impact on site owners who have to host the applications and content of others via embedded widgets; the prospect of that happening on phones struck him as even more iffy.

One widget into 25 platforms does not compute…

A delegate from Profero noted that the arrival of Apollo from Adobe opens out the Flash platform to developers and he suggested that this would make it all more popular and widespread. Fergus Burns countered that the recent launches of Silverlight (from Microsoft) and Apollo means that we will end now end up with about 25 different widget platforms that developers will have to develop differently for.

This issue was thrown into even sharper relief by Opera Software ’s Charles McCathieNevile two nights earlier at Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets. If development work around incompatible widget platforms is not in itself going to become a barrier to the development of widgets, he reflected, support needs to cohere around the notion of a standardised widget spec which is validated by the W3C (more here).

Dave Markham from Vodafone wondered wasn’t it all more about making sure it all works. Vodafone want it to work with widget builders, he said, and he asked the panel whether it would be a better experience for mobile users with downloadable widgets or online widgets.

Widgets as symbiotic parasites

Kaj Häggman commented that a widget is a very personal thing and there is a possibility to put an ad in that space that is not intrusive. Jonathan Gabbai observed that the big question here was one of trust. For kids, you could see a widget as a Harry Potter sticky note. So does that mean it’s all pre-packaged content?

A widget can be classified as a web service, said Burns. Dave Hornick on Ventureblog reckons it can be symbiotic (the Harry Potter-type, providing value for both host and widget provider), or that such as found with Slide, which is a parasitic widget that makes revenue for the widget provider.

Steve then interjected with a vivid analogy of an ecosystem of parasitic widgets leeching around the place and monetizing the attention of hosts on the one hand, and benign widgets that that swung freely between the trees.

Personalisation and widgetised identity

George Berkowski cited the robust personalisation of SnapVine. In turn, he continued, you have the phenomenon of widgetised startpages, whereby you can go to a celebrity’s page, for example on Netvibes, and it has all her content aggregated, plus you can leave voicemails and comments on it.

Lingo allows you to do the same with video and audio. There’s nothing to download, sort of like Skype without the download.

Alex Cooper of 1UpSearch asked if the Widsets business model was one of collecting demographic information and he wondered how that will pan out – will we be spammed by Nokia? Häggman explained that it will be opt-in as they value peoples’ privacy. Steve commented that it all was a bit like widgets as Big Brother or CCTV on your desktop.

Widgets atomised or widgets humanised?

Mark Taylor cited the utility of a private banking widget and Fergus Burns flagged-up the Ding! widget produced by South West Airlines, noting that it had 2 million downloads and there was no privacy issue with that. Jonathan Gabbai remarked that there’s a difference between installation and download, for example, with Firefox you download the extensions but it’s a low barrier to entry.

Finally, Gavin O’Carroll of Rememble asked the kind of mind-melting question that I had hoped audience members might ask in a previous post about this event. Where does it stop? Can you widgetise widgets? For example, will we have banner ads in widgets, and is there any reason why you can’t advertise in widgets?

Check the podcast (due Thursday 24th) for attempted answers to that, as at that point my humble penning skills failed and minutes later chair Steve Bowbrick said it was a wrap.

Stowe Boyd (who discovered the event via Dopplr when he arrived in the UK that afternoon) remained quiet during the discussion but told me afterwards he thought the event was too focused on monetisation (he also tweeted this) and didn’t really look at the user. Fair dos, but isn’t it fair enough to examine potential business models when you want to make a living?

Freakout nightmare or scent of a persona..?

What I felt was also missing was the publisher and brand perspective in terms of future media (although there were plenty of mainstream media publishers in the audience) – how do they maintain their brand identity in the web feed, widget and mash-up space without hugely irritating or inconveniencing people, and how do they fund widgetisation? Alan Patrick is convinced advertising in feeds will fail (see his post on the event). So what will work?

The broader issues of widgetisation outlined in the event webpage were barely touched upon and I would like to have heard more from panellist Mark Taylor too. Check out Mike Butcher’s excellent post on Sleevenotes from back in December 2006 for more on what Mark is up to.

Priya told me later that evening she thought a widget was like a digital perfume. But then we started quibbling over whether she meant natural human scent, perfume or aftershave, and then whether or not we favoured aftershave. And so the lights went down and off I hobbled to Madame JoJo’s for the tail end of the book launch party for Richard Barbrook’s Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machine to Global Village.

Yep, another Chinwag Live to remember when we’re in yr rockin chairz gluing captions to yr cats…. (cheers Ian). Hmm, did I already mention the photos?

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Please bear in mind my notes were sporadic and atomised 😉 For the complete lowdown on what was said, subscribe to the Chinwag Live podcast via RSS or iTunes.

Widget Week part 1 – Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets

Widget Week kicked off last Monday 14th May, and hard to believe though it was, there was me at a MoMo London that I’d come up with the theme for, and someone thought I was called Brenda. Typical 😉

After a quick intro from MoMo’s Alex Craxton and myself, it was on to the substantial roster of speakers – most of whom also gave demos.

David Pollington of Vodafone R&D gave the opening talk – a scenesetter that summarized the key issues and opportunities he saw clustered around the emergence of mobile widgets.

First off – do we want a mobile internet or a mobilized internet? What do people want when mobilized? They certainly don’t want to have to fire-up a browser and search – so widgets are the perfect solution, or at least that’s the hypothesis.

Self-service approach to the Long Tail

Widgets are good for users, Pollington said, giving a threefold justification. You can provide customisable widget templates, hence enabling a self-service approach to the Long Tail; widgets are more bandwidth efficient; and they enable and embody always-on connectivity.

They’re also good for developers, he continued. By leveraging web technologies widgets open mobile service development out to the web development community.

They’re good for business too, he added, but I couldn’t keep up with his rapid-fire delivery! In terms of exploring new presentation options, Pollington said he would like a snapshot option, so he can tab though his widget screens.

In turn, widgets are enabling mash-ups. As a mash-up example he cited the single-click download of a map for one of the addresses in his address book.

Wigdets contextualize

In the same vein, when capturing a camera event a widget can offer the user options for annotating and blogging that image. Widgets aid contextualising services. The contextualisation comes with utilising location data in the calendar.

2008 will see a paradigm change in how widgets change mobile access to web information and services, he concluded.

Then came a short presentation on uiOne, the [event sponsor] Qualcomm user interface profile that according to representative Anwar Ahmed “enables rich and dynamic user experiences on wireless devices”. The speaker stressed the rapid development of customisable interfaces on uiOne. End users can also use it for presentation, theming and micro-segmentation.

Then it was the turn of Cees Van Dok, the creative director of Frog Design. Their strapline is ‘evolve, expand, envision’. Their relevant product is Celltop. It runs on the Alltell mobile carrier network in the US, who approached Frog to develop it, and from the demo it seemed rather nifty.

Open source-powered platforms

Ganesh Sivaraman of Nokia (who also came along to Chinwag Live Media Widgetised) was next up. His talk was quite compelling. He spoke of taking web apps and widgets to mobile devices on Nokia’s S60 platform. S60 has over 50% share of market on converged devices.

Built on top of the Symbian platform, it offers page view, toolbar, web feeds (RSS and Atom), and visual history. He described it as a world class browser developed by embracing and participating with the open source community.

The next step, reasoned Sivaraman, is internet going mobile, taking all Web 2.0 websites and web services to a mobile widget. With Web Run Time, S60 extends and integrates the best in class web components across the platform, he continued. It leverages all known web technologies with two principal outcomes: (1) They develop with standards-based web technologies; (2) Millions of web developers can now go mobile.

By 2010 Nokia predicts 4 billion mobile device subscribers. It will be much easier to facilitate the spread [of mobile web?] by creating templates to crank out widgets.

Web standards and then some…

Charles McCathieNevile of Opera Software kicked off with a bunch of Opera-related statistics. In 2006 they shipped about 140 40 million high-end browsers on four of the major converged device platforms [thanks to Chaals for the correction]. 2006 also saw 40m Opera desktop browser downloads. There are 10m Opera Mini users; and 500,000 My.Opera.com community users. There are around 1,000 Opera widgets; and Opera also runs on the Nintendo Wii, airplane seats, Archos, and the Nintendo DS.

If the browser is the platform and Opera widgets are cross-platform, then web standards are the glue… but there is more! The Opera platform also dug into the camera, for example, so you can use it for photo uploads to a widget [if I noted that correctly].

Widgets everywhere!

Opera took a draft widget packaging spec to the W3C to ensure that widgets can work anywhere. [UPDATE: McCathieNevile has since contacted me to stress that the point of taking the spec to W3C is to kick off the collaborative work of coming up with a single widget standard that everyone implements. So instead of developers being asked to build on X, Y or Z’s platform, they just build widgets and the user decides what platform offers them the most, since platforms will be compatible]

So what can we expect in the future? Messaging between mutually trusted widgets, Charles posited, and mash-ups between widgets – although that poses bigger technology and security challenges.

Widgets will be interoperable soon, he reckoned in conclusion. When you can take your widgets everywhere that’s when it’s really going to take off and make a big difference. So true!

Following Charles even deeper into the web domain (or at least, deep by MoMo standards) we got a short demo from Paris-based personalised homepage outfit Webwag who I’d just stumbled across a fortnight beforehand. Adding to the night’s predictions, their able COO and co-founder Florent Pitoun said that by 2010, 50% of internet users will have a personalised startpage.

Widgets on demand

In my opinion, the Webwag homepage is akin to that of Netvibes and Pageflakes, but it has unique strengths, as Pitoun demonstrated. They provide the facility to create widgets – including mobile widgets [UPDATE: enabled further by their recent aquistion of Mobease] – through their Widgets On Demand function.

Webwag will be LBS-enabled in the near future Pitoun added, and you can checkout what they’re doing at http://beta.webwag.com. He also demonstrated Webwag’s intra-widget communication ability between the Flickr widget and background widget, both on his mobile phone.

Then we had a quick talk from Ray Anderson, CEO of Bango. He made a call for interested mobile folks to contact him about the “web trigger” widget they are developing that will both collect user numbers, and offer the “read and sign terms and conditions” facility (if I understood him correctly).

Last up was Kaj “Hege” Häggman, the business development manager and inventor of Widsets (run out of the Nokia Emerging Business Unit) who also spoke at Chinwag Live Media Widgetised two evenings later.

Facilitating user-created apps

Given David Tollington’s and Charles McCathieNevile’s insightful contributions, and the limitations on time, he passed over the implications of widgets for a quick overview of the technology and usability aspects of Widsets. As such, it has a user-customisable UI; produces mobile mini-apps that perform a specific task; and is good for keeping an eye out for updates.

Widsets have an SDI coming out this summer that allows complex widgets for communities. They also facilitate user created apps – you can create a Widset for your business, or a Widset for your blog.

Widgetisation simplified

Collaborative filtering is important, Häggman continued. You can trust your community when it comes to selecting widgets for your mobile. What’s more, distribution channels will come pre-installed on all new Nokia models, and also on selected Blackberry, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and LG handsets.

They’ve also partnered with Netvibes to get mobile widgets on there, he explained. So why should content providers work with Widsets? Because they’ll get many distribution channels, it’s easy to do, all mobile technology challenges are dealt with by Widsets, the server is stable and it will enable new business models.

I loved how this MoMo looked at mobile development innovation from a broader web perspective without recourse to the standard mobile web 2.0 clichés. Opera, S60, Widsets and widget aggregator outfits like Webwag are very well placed to both benefit from and push forward innovation and convergence in this area.

Widget Week hypothesis proven?

It also dovetailed – far beyond my expectations – with my previously-stated view that the UK, Ireland and North-Western Europe as a whole is better placed and (currently) much farther ahead of the US and the Far East in terms of understanding and innovating in this space. Feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong.

However, that’s not to detract from the topical span of MoMo’s global chapters – which is *hugely* impressive. Check the worldwide MoMo aggregated events here: http://www.mobilemonday.net/community

Big thanks to Daniel Appelquist, Alex Craxton and Jo Rabin (the MoMo London trio) for running with my Widget Week idea. It wouldn’t have been the same without them. Hopefully we can get the web developer community properly on-board for Widget Week 2008!

[UPDATE: Rod McLaren of Mobbu has also provided a great write-up here, via Florent]

Interesting bits round-up for 19 May 2007

First Moblog from Mount Everest!

The Call Of The Mountain (via Alfie). Forget lazy usage of the word and of the moblogging medium – this is literally awesome. Or at least it will be if mountaineer Rod Baber can get a signal further up there – there hasn’t been any posts since he left base camp. Hope it goes safely.

[BTW, have you seen the total makeover of MoblogUK?]

Capturing & sharing fragments in time…

At Minibar in East London on 20th April the standout demo was Rememble. It’s a Flash-based social timeline that can save content – from images and emails to text messages and audio – as ‘membles’, taking them from mobile phones, PCs, digital cameras and web services.

Coming soon from the workshop of Gavin O’Carroll –  a talented guy and fellow Northern Ireland exile who I got to meet at Chinwag Live Media Widgetised on Wednesday – it’s still behind a beta-testing wall (but you can get a beta account). Conceptually, Rememble is an original twist on life-caching propositions and poised to break new ground. Convergence in action!

Ego run amok is so 2.0 

Nice little riposte from Twatter.org – clearly built by a Britisher 😉

What’s up with web culture? 

Bruce Sterling’s rant podcast from SXSW 2007 – egad, just do yourself a massive favour and listen to it [warning – the contents of this podcast may flatten your pretentions but that’s why it’s so refreshing]

Last but not least…

Happy Widget Week 🙂 It rounds-off at Beers & Innovation: Widget Nation on Tuesday 22nd May. Hope to see a few of you there.

Internet World snippets

The Chinwag posse pulled-off what I’m dubbing a “pop-up event” at Internet World last week.

Much like the pop-up restaurant phenomenon – one minute there’s nothing but an empty shell auditorium, then all of a sudden you have a well run event in full flow, with a big audience and high-level discussion.

Thanks to the lackadaisical support of IW’s on-hand sound technician, our recording of the Wednesday 2nd May event for podcast was royally screwed. Luckily however, the panel was a re-run of our 27th March event (for which there is a podcast) PPC Earthquake – although each discussion was quite different and the audience had different questions, plus we had Yahoo joining the panel at Internet World.

The expectant generation

I dipped into a few other sessions later that afternoon, including one in the Brands Reignited stream ‘Client 2.0 – Best Practice Strategies for Running an Agency Focused On New Generation Clients – The Millenniums’. Beat that for a snappy title 😉

The observation that struck me most was made by panellist Alex Wright, MD of Agency.com, in reply to a question about the opportunities and challenges brought on by a new generation of connected clients and staff:

“They expect to become Marketing Manager and they expect a 20-30% pay rise and if they don’t get it, they’ll change jobs every 12-18 months. A sense of entitlement [and personal sovereignty, I’d add] defines them [the millennials] and this is something we’ll see in both agencies and clients.”

Subscription-based social networks

Then I happened upon (Chinwag UK-netmarketing mailing list stalwart) Richard Gale’s session on the development of social networking in Playboy TV UK – ‘Platform Hopping with the Bunnies’. His standout point for me was:

“The concept is now the vital element, and understanding the nature of ego and how it affects premium rate social networking.

A strong concept can go multi-platform and become a brand in itself…. You can make a social network that operates in the black from month-one.”

The snippable web

Amid the rush of last-minute event preparations that morning, I missed the talk in the Web 2.0 Experience strand given by BT Retail‘s Head of Internet Strategy, George Berkowski on ‘Aggregation, Web-clipping and the Right Web Platform’. So I’m still intrigued to hear his contributions as a panellist at our upcoming Chinwag Live session on 16th May – Media Widgetised.

And then of course there was the Chinwag Drinks afterwards at the pub down the road. A lovely bunch of people came along and we had a grand time in the beer garden 🙂

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[BTW, I expect some of the above URLs may not work by 2008, as the Internet World website spurns several of the basic tenets of good web design – unbroken URLs being one of them. A good list of further tips for reference – 43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid]