This is the second part in a two-part series. And, yes, it is a long one. The first part was entitled “Death of the Portal.” I will post a brief addendum sometime and discuss how The Coop is related to this whole thing. I know, I know Ivan – I went all wacky again. Enjoy!
The assumptions that drove the creation of the original portal model have gone KAPOOF. Content and services are proliferating like crazy. Users are overwhelmed with choice. But, have hope, all is not lost. A new model is emerging…
Social Networks, Blogs and Startpages have long been treated as separate categories of web-based applications. However, this is about to change. As these categories evolve, they are merging into a new class of application – the Social Aggregator. Let’s zoom in on Startpages and Social Networks in particular. Startpages began their existence as simple tools to aggregate RSS feeds via a web-based interface. Back in the summer of 2005 when Netvibes was introduced they had simple RSS widgets, web notes, and a weather module. Since then Startpages have quickly evolved into robust management interfaces for web services other than RSS. Some of the services that they manage include mapping, calendaring, games and more. The industry has converged upon the term ‘widget’ – the namesake of this blog – to describe the graphical user interface components encapsulating these services. For those of you that are not familiar with the etymology of the term ‘widget,’ it is derived from the terms ‘window’ and ‘gadget.’ Although Startpages have evolved fantastically over the last two years, they are still regarded by most as a tool for personal content aggregation. In other words, my widgets are for me. If I want to share, or publish, information with the world at large then I will use my favorite social networking platform, or blog. Not for long…
While widgets play a foundational role in the world of Startpages, widgets – at least the way they are thought of on MySpace – were not even a twinkle in Tom’s eye as MySpace exploded onto the scene. MySpace was designed to be a community publication platform providing the tools to create and share content across a network. It just so happened that some smart folks like YouTube, Photobucket, and RockYou quickly realized that users wanted to share more than just text. They wanted to share videos, slideshows, games, and other cool applications. What tool did these Web 2.0 mavens empower users with? Widgets. Why? Because they are simple. Users simply cut and paste a code snippet to personalize their profiles. Initially, widget content was – for lack of a better word – stupid. Glitter text, video clips, and so on. But now that Pandora’s Box has opened, a slew of smart folks are lining up to usher in the next gen of personalization. And by the way, these aren’t just kids hacking in their basements. Major brands such as Maxim, NBA, NBC, Time, and more are partnering with widget platforms like Clearspring to innovate in this space. MySpace kiddies now have an infinite palette with which to paint their virtual canvases. Users of other publication platforms such as blogs and Wikis are following suit. And the owners of these platforms, such as Blogger and Wetpaint, are making it easier to integrate widgets into the publishing experience.
A New Information Architecture
So via convergent evolution, everyone seems to be driving towards a similar information architecture that supports users:
1. Aggregating data and web services
2. Keeping some of this junk private
3. Sharing with the ‘right’ people across networks and devices
4. Oh yea, and making it collaborative at every step (social networks!)
I call this information architecture the Social Aggregator. If the value proposition for the portal was, “we aggregate content for you to consume,” the value proposition for the Social Aggregator is, “we give YOU tools to aggregate, create, and share content.” My buddy Marc Canter calls this concept the DLA, or Digital Lifestyle Aggregator.
Regardless of what you call it, it is a pretty damn powerful concept. And, it is here to stay.
So what does this mean to all those Startpages, Social Networks, and Blogging platform providers out there? It means that it is time to wake up and smell the Web 3.0. The name of the game is not about publishing. It is not about providing the ability to manage friends, or create groups. And, despite popular belief, it is not even about creating best drag and drop environment for managing content modules. It is about the user.
And the user wants a single tool to manage their web services across multiple networks and devices. As more folks adopt this paradigm, the dynamics of the widgetsphere will change dramatically. Folks like MySpace will be faced with a simple choice, “open up, or let them go.”
Let the games begin. Happy belated Bunny Day. I sleep now. 😉