Badges, gadgets and widgets = Link bait!

I’m here at the Web 2.0 Expo. Sat in on the session today “An Overview of Badges and Widgets: The Fast Rise of Viral Web Parts”.

Before I get into the content of the session, I have just a couple of remarks. These come from me and not from the session presenter…

  • Badges and widgets CAN be amazing link bait. If it’s a useful widget and if it’s launched properly AND if the widget incorporates links back to your site in the right way, it can go viral and start building up your link popularity and PageRank.
  • Inherently the widgets placed on other people’s websites aren’t helping your PageRank. That’s because most widgets are based on AJAX, JavaScript, or Flash — and links that are inside a Flash movie or within a JavaScript program are not treated like normal links by the search engine spiders. You need to think out-of-the-box if you want to capture PageRank from the page on which the widget is placed. That’s not to say you won’t get PageRank from bloggers talking about your widgets on their blogs, because you will. It’s just that the widget itself won’t (typically) pass PageRank.
  • I think plugins (e.g. WordPress plugins) should have been included in the presenter’s list of viral web components. Plugins can be amazing link bait. We at Netconcepts are starting to witness this for ourselves with our SEO Title Tag plugin for WordPress. I’m hoping to get to the point that the plugin page on our site beats out our home page in terms of PageRank score. Which is a tall order when you consider that our home page fluctuates between a 7 and an 8!

Anyways, here are my notes from the session…

  • An emergent phenomenon is web sites with “portable” content and functionality.
  • Forrester Research says portable content is a key trend.
  • There is limited business value in being on a single site…. YouTube and Google are showing the industry what’s possible.
  • There’s a trend towards the “atomization” of content. Small pieces are easier to reuse and more general purpose. Microformats are the smallest pieces.
  • Exploit Jakob nielsen’s Law of Web User Experience, that “users spend most of their time on other websites”. Design your products and services to leverage this fact.
  • Spread your product beyond the boundaries of your site: badges, widgets, gadgets, apis, syndication.
  • It should be end-user friendly.
  • Build on the shoulders of giants: leveraging widgets and APIs from Yahoo, Amazon and thousands of others.
  • It’s automated mass servicing of markets of low demand content and functionality (The Long Tail).
  • Widgets are small applications or bits of functionality that can be embedded on the web — can be AJAX or Flash.
  • Badges are displays of content pulled under the covers from other sites.
  • Gadgets are more formal widget models from Google and Microsoft.
  • There’s a widget standard under consideration by the W3C.
  • Netvibes offers a universal widget architecture.
  • Google and Microsoft have their own gadget initiatives. Both have a developer community.
  • Ease of consumption and distribution is critically important. Copy and paste is best — e.g. a single line of Javascript or object/embed tags for Flash.
  • Connect to their underlying sites to provide value.
  • Have a business model baked deeply into it — driving site traffic, content consumption, advertising, etc.
  • Widgets are often virally self-distributable, triggering network effects.
  • Build a simple “dashboard” and applications (aka mashups)
  • Google Gadgets directory is broken down into desktop gadgets and web-based gadgets.
  • Google Docs & Spreadsheets gadget is an excellent example of a widget for your website.
  • Microsoft’s gadgets directory is in the Windows Live Gallery.
  • Huge directory of widgets at widgetbox.com.
  • Google’s AdWords widget is probably the most successful widget in history. It turns the entire web into Google’s ad platform (The Long Tail of content/advertising). Purported 80% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising, and 80% of that 80% comes from displays within the widget (i.e. from Google’s “content network”). Key aspects of the widget: good user incentive, extreme ease of use, strong viral feedback loop.
  • Widgets and badges are your front end to your APIs.
  • Key design considerations include: Scalability (cost effectiveness, reliability, exploitation by others, global reach, security), Clearly thinking through the cross domain issues (sharing of personal data, will it work on mobile?, selectively allow users’ personal data such as pictures or video, no security holes), IP issues (do you have a license to redistribute the content you have, can others violate the IP protections of others? and if so, what will you do about it when you put other businesses at risk with your widget?, do you widget make it hard for others to take content out of the widget?), Ease of consumption (really must be a simple copy and paste to deploy), Leverage network effects (encourage every viewer to share it with others, letting users copy the widget), end user motivation (must do something useful for them, hsaring interesting content, providing shared access to their personal data such as photos or audio or even paying them, e.g. AdSense)
  • According to Programmableweb.com, there are currently over 1700 mashups.
  • Small pieces, loosely joined.
  • Reuse the web palette.
  • Service level agreements (SLAs) will get much more interesting in a highly composite world.
  • Get experience now: begin trials to offer your capabilities via services.

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