Fred Wilson: The Widget Must be Reborn

June 17, 2008   

This morning, Fred Wilson delivered the keynote at Day 2 of the Widget World Expo, in Brooklyn (Day 1 coverage here). His talk, titled "Why Widget Is the Wrong Word and Why it Matters" was first covered on his blog this morning and his prepared remarks largely stuck to the theme he posted today and over the last several months. His focus: the flow and experience of the web (and, in this case, how it relates to the integration of widgets).

To Fred, the "problem with widgets" stems back to the original separation between content and the first widgets -- ads. Google was smart to put its own contextual ad widgets (AdSense) in the sidebar of its searches, being clear to its users that its content (search results) were pure and separated from their ads (paid results).

However, as widgets started to be used to display other web content (Fred notes that his first widget was Flickr's photostream widget, back in 2005), Fred added that "widgets are relegated to the sidebar and increasingly seen as ad units and increasingly ignored."

But they shouldn't be ignored, Fred argued, instead they should be integrated into the flow and experience of the page. Developers, he said, need to put more focus on widget user experience.

The best example Fred had of this sort of integration (and transformation, from sidebar to flow) is the "latest songs" widget he used to have in the sidebar of his AVC blog. Now, Fred uses a Yahoo! Pipe called Tumblr which takes the same data and injects it into his Tumblr site.

While injecting content more into the stream of a webpage may be one answer to getting more "flow" and a better user experience with widgets, I had another suggestion: Context.

Contextualizing the display of widgets to the person (as MyBlogLog does), to the content (as AdSense does), or to behavior (as no one does, though Tacoda could try to do) would also make the flow and integration of widgets that much tighter. Right?

Fred agreed.

Again, however the experience can be approved for the consumer, Fred's point was that the user experience needs to grow.

Much of the rest of Fred's keynote was unprepared though some other interesting tid-bits emerged.

For instance, while Fred's first widget he ever used was Flickr in 2005, the most interesting widget he ever saw was MyBlogLog, which after hearing him talk about it several times, I can tell he considers "the one that got away" (USV has an unexecuted agreement to invest in MyBlogLog right before they accepted a ~$10 million purchase from Yahoo!, where it has sense disappointed everyone -- especially Fred).

Interestingly enough, Fred's favorite widget is indeed a sidebar widget: that's the one concocted by a reader of his -- Darren -- which grabs music from his tumblog and puts it on the top right his AVC blog.

In the end, Fred was not necessarily called for the "end of widgets" as much as he was delivering a wake up call for developers and publishers interested in the space. And, while the rest of the Widget World Expo including a lot of navel gazing about what seemed to be working for folks, Fred's talk was a forward looking view of what must change.

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