March 6th, 2007

Widgets of the world unite…

I’ve been having a lot of widgety thoughts recently, so I thought I’d bundle up a few loose ends in the one (long) post.

First though, if you’re playing catch-up a bit, Heidi Cohen has written a good widgets primer on ClickZ.

18seconds.org badgeNow… I happened to replace half a dozen conventional light bulbs at home on Sunday with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Over in the US, Yahoo! has launched a campaign in collaboration with Inconvenient Truth producer Lawrence Bender, Wal-Mart, and others, to raise awareness among Americans about the energy and environmental savings afforded by CFLs.

When you purchase a CFL bulb anywhere in the US it will be added to 18seconds.org! And, you guessed it… you can easily and quickly configure your own widget (or ‘badge’ in Yahoo-speak) and install it on your website, blog and / or social network page with a simple cut and paste. Brilliant!

If you’re interested in reading more about the campaign, Lawrence Bender has written a guest post on Yahoo’s Yodel Anecdotal blog.

Demonstrating impact

The first book I ever read on campaigning was Des Wilson’s A to Z of Public Advocacy, first published in 1984. I can’t lay my hands on my copy (in the garage?) but if I recall correctly, one of Des’s golden rules was encourage you to campaign for something, rather than against something, and the 18seconds widget does a great job of visualising – in raw numbers anyway – the accumulated impact of hundreds of thousands of small actions by distributed individuals to effect positive change.

I emphasise “positive” change, as leveraging Web 2.0 communication tools for good was something that was discussed in a lively ‘conversation’ hosted by Amnesty’s Dan McQuillan during the Uploading Innovation ‘unconference’ last week.

If you hadn’t guessed already… for me, widgets are one of the most exciting ingredients in the emerging Web 2.0 toolbox.

Wear your cause on your blog

Another new kid on the widget block is Carebadges, who aspire to be the yellow bracelet campaign of the web, and while I think the implementation can be improved a lot, I agree with co-founder Saar Gur who told me:

Uploaded by Zanoobi on 26 May '05We think that as people express their identities on the web, there is a big gap where social causes ought to be. We want people to express the things that they care about beyond cultural items (music, movies, etc.).

Last year I actually registered the domain name – mycauses.org.uk – and wrote on this blog that I would willingly give it up to any organisation which promised to use it wisely (or hand it over to MySpace if they agreed to establish a “My Causes” tab on their social networking site!)

Anyway, I interrupted Saar…

We want to give people ‘badges’ to help them identify with a cause and have a positive social influence amongst their peers. We use our “impact meter” of impressions/awareness, donations/support to help recognise folks that use their popularity for good. The money [donations] will come later if we can give tools to those who want to create cool badges, email signatures, etc., and we focus on the social impact that each user has in recruiting new members…

I’m not totally convinced in this peer group tactic, in much the same way as I’m not sure how much saying “I’m In” means you’re really anything other than a number. You’re agreeing that Oxfam’s mission is a noble thing.

Widgets have the potential to show you how by taking this or that action, you are making a difference.

Communicating success

This could be the Holy Grail for widgets.

18seconds does this in a visually compelling way… it joins the dots… and it makes it look simple.

But wait a minute. ChipIn’s Carnet Williams says something very interesting in this interview with Britt Bravo (which to Britt’s great credit rather trumps my own interview with Carnet last month).

Carnet says…

What I think 2007 really should be part of is the evolution of the widget into a smart widget. We are going to see widgets that are going to be focused around transactions, such as a ChipIn widget around donations, focused around intelligent content, meaning that widgets will soon be able to identify the users, and where they’re located, so that they can serve our conditional and intelligent content.

I really think that widgets are going to evolve and you’re going to start seeing a whole new breed of widgets that are more intelligent, that are richer in the data, and that have a much more grounded rationale so they’ll move from becoming decorations to part of a business process for companies and individuals online.

Now the slightest hint of ‘smart’ widgets is enough for me: if I could only get information I care about – e.g. what difference a project I supported is actually having, or the accumulated effect of campaigning actions, etc. via a widget… now, that would surely become a key driver of my future support for that cause.

The Network Effect

For a great insight into the power of the widget widget web, check out Dion Hinchcliffe’s excellent article, Tracking the DIY phenomenon Part 1: Widgets, badges, and gadgets.

Dion identifies the YouTube ‘badge’ (we’re still talking widgets) as demonstrating the value of ‘chunking’ up content and services into bite-sized reusable pieces.

Particularly because it has so many viral distribution pieces built into it, the YouTube badge is the canonical example of the power of opening up and letting the entire web distribute your content for you.

Not content just to ask you if you’d like to share a video with friends via e-mail (resulting in friends forwarding to friends, and to their friends and so on) but YouTube makes the code snippet for embedding it right on your own site or blog readily visible and available to the right of each video.

Not content just to have their content just on a single site, YouTube realized that it was by mobilizing millions of users to extend the YouTube platform to their own sites that they could achieve lasting and durable network effects. E-mail propagation is powerful but it’s almost certainly no match for having millions of persistent, discoverable YouTube badge installations all over the web.

Dion kindly gave me permission to reproduce the following graphic (originally published here) which illustrates the full potential of the network for extending the reach of your widget / message.

Widget Network Effect: Dion Hinchcliffe - graphic reproduced with permission

Here in the UK, Justgiving has added badges (these are just badges) to the toolset available to fundraisers (is it just me who thinks all widgets, gadgets, etc… look better with rounded corners?).

Justgiving badge

Their widgets have been doing pretty well, too. Since their release at the end of December, over 8,000 individual Justgiving widgets have been posted on the web and the highest performing widgets have registered over 500,000 page impressions.

Right now, there are 1,479 “active” Justgiving widgets, all doing their stuff, and this figure is expected to rise pretty steeply as we get nearer to the London Marathon.

Justgiving’s Simon Doggett told me that a Flash version of their widget is in testing, and should be released later this month (fundraisers have been asking for a widget that is optimised for those websites that currently block iframes, e.g. MySpace).

Well, that turned into rather a long post, so I had better think of a way to summarise how I believe widgets can prove a winner for not-for-profits:

  • You move beyond the single website model and turn the entire web into a distribution system for your content / stories (Dion Hinchcliffe)
  • Smart widgets will (hopefully soon) allow you to report back on how you are making a difference

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Technorati 18seconds, chipin, justgiving, nestauploading, net2, nptechuk, saar gur, widgets

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3 Responses to “Widgets of the world unite…”

  1. Beth Says:

    This is an excellent roundup of widgets! Thank you for giving us an astute analysis and the UK perspective.

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