Now that the dust has settled and the world is taking a reality check, it might be a good time to reflect on Widgets vs. Social Applications (Apps). There’s been a great deal of debate/confusion about the distinction between the two – with the media often calling applications, widgets and vice-versa. So what’s the difference? Is one ‘better?’ Are things going to change in the future? Let’s start from the beginning…
What’s the difference between a widget and social app?
Widget: A widget is a portable, atomic, application that can be moved to a blog, start page, or social network.
Social Application (today): A Social Application is an application that is deeply integrated with a particular social network. Specifically, it is an application that is integrated with multiple points in the social network such as the profile, canvas page, news feed and other points.
In short, the widget can effectively be delivered to a ‘broader’ range of users and has quickly become the building block for the social web. And despite all the hub-hub around OpenSocial, Social applications, can – at least today – only live on a single social network without modification.
Is one better?
As always, it depends on your purpose and ROI model. For branded advertisers, it often makes more sense to build a widget versus an app. Why? Because it takes less time and, frankly, advertisers mainly seek to drive awareness during a campaign period. That being said, if an advertiser wants to TRULY maintain a relationship an app affords more ‘hooks’ to do so. That means you have to refresh the content, make upgrades, deal with users being pissed off and all that good stuff. Oh yea, and that’s mostly forever. That could make sense, or it might not. So, long story short, make sure you understand your campaign goal and make sure your widget OR app strategy fits your success metric.
Are things going to change in the future?
Yes and yes. Widgets will become more like social apps and social apps will be standardized via efforts like OpenSocial. Let’s just assume that the two mediums do converge and the term will be widget. Widgets will be portable, have access to your social data, and be able to use ‘context’ from within their container whether it be Facebook, MySpace, or the next big thing (iGoogle). Although over the next 1-2 years, trends will result in widgets and apps being indistinguishable. Unfortunately, today that is not the case and publishers and advertisers have to pick the right mix.
What is the end game?
All applications will be built from widgets. There will be no apps vs. widgets. Widgets will access your social data, from wherever they are installed. Game. Set. Match.