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Think Big. Move Fast.

Todays’ NY Times article on Widgets and the blogosphere reaction brought to mind Josh Kopelman’s post last May on the 53,651.

Josh made the point that too many companies are targeting an audience of 53,651 (Techcrunch‘s audience at the time) rather than the “real world”. Before joining Lightspeed last year, I’d spent the last 10 years working for large internet companies whose audiences mirror the internet user at large (CitySearch, IAC, AOL and the “old” Netscape). I wholeheartedly agree with Josh’s thoughts that the Valley can be an echochamber where opinions can radically differ from those of the general public.

The NY Times’ piece focused on widgets as “digital bling” and gives equal weight to several different types of widgets; (i) self expression widgets, (ii) widgets offering some utility to blog readers, (iii) revenue generating widgets and (iv) widets offering some utility to blog publishers. It mentions MySpace in passing, but is very focused on widgets in blogs.

Wow. What a disconnect from the reality of how widgets are actually used. If you did a straight up count of all widgets embedded everywhere on the web, I suspect that you’d find that the VAST majority of widgets are on social network profile pages, not on blogs. And they are ALL about self expression. My SWAG is that classes (ii)-(iv) would probably represent less than 10% of all embedded widgets.

Blogosphere commentary like this from Deep Jive Interests:

Quite frankly, I think that all of the pub that widgets have gotten and continue to get (2007 the year of the widget? Playa, please!) distract from bloggers creating great blog content in the first place. The emphasis on bling detracts from bloggers focusing on what matters most: creating fresh, interesting, passionate content which is the REAL reason why people come to read any blog.

or like this from the admittedly deliberately controversial Valleywag

A violation of blog principles. Google’s focus on the search box was a refreshing antidote to confusing portal pages such as Yahoo’s. Similarly, the blog represented a pared-down way of reading news: the most recent item at the top; scan down the page; stop when an old headline appears. Widget clutter is not simply distracting to readers; it compromises the original appeal of the blog format.

[I cringe as I write this, awaiting the inevitable snarky response]

seem a little blogger centric. But that is the nature of the 53,651. Slamming widgets because they distract from the content when put in blogs is like slamming TVs because they distract from driving when put in cars. But TVs belong in the home. And widgets belong in social networks.

At least Om gets that:

The real excitement of widgets in on personalized pages, mobiles and the desktops.

Now there have been legitimate questions raised about the busines model for widgets which I’ve addressed in a previous post.

But writing off the whole category as hype because glitter text or picture slideshows detract from your deeply meaningful blog posting seems a bit of an overreaction. At least judging from an average Bebo users page or an average Myspace users page the general public quite likes to express itself through these widgets. Looks like we, the 53,651, are in the minority on this one.

  • http://blog.snipperoo.com Ivan Pope

    Jeremy,
    Yes, quite. On Valleywag’s position that ‘Widget clutter is not simply distracting to readers; it compromises the original appeal of the blog format.’ they have it utterly the wrong way round.

    Widgets do not distract from the content – they are the content.

  • http://www.satine.org/ Charles

    Very, very true. The blogosphere myopia is in full effect when it comes to the MySpace / Bebo / widget ecosystem. Of course, where there’s myopia, there’s opportunity. Think Different. :-)

  • http://www.bouncebase.com David Armstrong

    I am happy to see this emerge again. We’ve purposefully avoid Techcrunch….it’s not our audience. We have put our time and money into our customers, usability testing, pain/pain relief, not PR hype. I do believe, a subtle root cause is the funding process being a little broke, as it is the angels and VC’s that want to ‘replicate’ or try to ‘bucket’ new ventures. I get it a lot…so you are like “digg” or you are like “delicious” and I say no…we are for a regular Internet users. These companies have done well and have had good exits or potential exits but their users will be capped unless they make big changes..which of course will upset their current users…what a dilemma. Widgets have the same issue…too much focus on copycat and not enough focus on actual customers or bloggers who would use the widget for their customers. It’s great to part of this web evolution.

  • http://www.500hats.com/ Dave McClure

    altho many widgets provide some user visualization, they aren’t all digital bling… and even the ones that are, aren’t necessarily bad.

    widgets have been around for years, and within a few more they will be a de facto standard for most internet site & service development (if they’re not already).

    whether techcrunch or other tech blogs, non-tech blogs, social networks or websites… “widgets” (nee embedded application components) will continue to have place & purpose. for distribution, for mashup functionality, for social networks, for previews, for data exchange, for metrics analysis, or simply for the latest online chia pet / tamagotchi / hello kitty sparkle accessorizing ;)

    besides, they’re shiny.