Part III – Widgets are the New Web Pages


Sorry that this was late – I have had to do that whole work thing a ton of late. Weird, right?

Time for the final chapter. We have chatted a bit about Widgets, discussed open problem areas related to Widgets, and now we are left with the simple question – where will Widgets take us?

Widgets are part of a larger trend towards a more structured web. Walled gardens are coming down. We have seen the beginnings of this trend as RSS has gained momentum over the last 2-3 years, fueling the increased growth of web services. Now that developers are starting to have their fun, however, it only makes sense that users also get a shot at customizing their corner of the web. Widgets are the paint with which they will compose their online experiences.

If you have not noticed already, web portals are changing in a big way. They are no longer static aggregation points subject to the whims of stodgy editorial committees. Instead, they are becoming dynamic content and service aggregation points that update as a result of collective and individual contributions. Blogs, Social Networks, Personal Start Pages and Wikis are all excellent examples of this transformation. Perhaps even more interesting, however, is that all of these portals are converging to a similar information architecture.

  • One, or more Web Services are leveraged to create Widgets
  • Widgets are leveraged by users to create one, or more pages, via a aggregation platform like MySpace, NetVibes..
  • Pages are set with various permissions (user, group, public…)
  • Information is shared by people across pages via underlying social services

In the future, widgets will not only be user by end users crafting their own personalized web experiences using increasingly standardized aggregators (NetVibes, PageFlakes, MySpace, Blogger), but also by media companies seeking to use best-of-breed services to accomplish the same goal. Widgets will no longer be limited to the universe of the simple read-only modules we see today, but also there will be examples of fuller, read/write applications. We are already seeing this inside of the Start Page space. New services and technologies will be developed that enable self-contained applications, or widgets, to effectively interoperate with one another using global standards. Imagine being able to cut and paste a contact from your contacts widget into a Google Map widget to look-up the location of your friend’s house, or being able to drag and drop a result from a Musicnow song search into a seperate music review site to find the most relevant criticisms. This is not that far-fetched – believe me. Microsoft Clipboard already enables this on a rudimentary level with XML technologies. My company has a advanced version of this running today with dynamic translation.

As the ease of publication increases, the number of pages online will explode. As the number of pages increases, however, search engines will be able to perform better as Widgets will have more structured metadata associated with them then unstructured HTML documents. This type of rich metadata, will also make it possible for software programs to automatically assemble pages using widgets from DIFFERENT providers. Imagine running a query for “new science fiction books that your friends likeâ€? in Google. Instead of seeing a list of web pages, you get a page created on-the-fly that contains an Amazon Information Widget containing book listings, a widget with criticisms from your favorite sci-fi group, and a widget displaying the cross-section of the book listings with your friend’s favorite book lists. Sound nuts? Google already is returning widgets in their search result listings for finding and purchasing music. These widgets are selected and displayed automatically, using advanced machine learning techniques. AOL Search was introducing a similar concept on a small scale as well.

Is all of this all going to happen tomorrow? Hell no. There is no telling how it will happen exactly. But one thing is for certain, the web is transforming from a publication mechanism to a platform for online services. As this continued push towards structure occurs there will be more atomization. As this atomization occurs, it will engender serious disruption across the information economy. Some industries will rise. Others will fall. More importantly perhaps, is that the world will finally start to experience a truly cohesive computing experience.

Welcome to the World-Wide-Widget Web.

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hoomanradfar Written by:

  • How about a smart cursor? Something that recognizes what a contact is and then modifies your context menu options to include things like “google map locationâ€? or “send this person flowersâ€? etc…
    Just an Idea.

  • Hooman Radfar

    Derek, thanks for the comment. I love the thinking.

    We have a demo that does that. We call it a context menu. The main ways that we see people interacting “smartlyâ€? with Widgets are through drag and drop, cut and paste, and through that smart context menu.

    Simple UI tricks that are given a bit of juice could do the trick!

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