What’s a Blog Widget?

Since the acquisition of MyBlogLog by Yahoo, I’ve had many questions regarding blog widgets. Today’s New York Times (found via GigaOM) brings some light to that phenomenon.

What are they?

Widgets are elements, often in the left or right columns of a blog, that enhance its usefulness or aesthetic appeal. (The term “widgets,” confusingly, can also refer to compact applications that operate on a computer’s desktop.) “Widgets pull content or services from some other place on the Web, and put it into your personal page,” said Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures in Manhattan. Typically, they’re built with Flash software from Adobe, or the JavaScript programming language, which ensures that they work with most Web browsers.”

Three categories:

“Ed Anuff, a co-founder of Widgetbox.com, divides widgets into three categories. “One is self-expression widgets, like photo galleries, games or YouTube videos that you like,” he said. The second category includes widgets that generate revenue for a blogger, like a box that displays auctions from a particular eBay category, or a blogger’s favorite DVDs from Amazon.com. The third category, Mr. Anuff said, encompasses “site-enhancement widgets, like discussion forums, news feeds or a guest book, which provide better utility for your Web site.”

Popular ones:

“According to Widgetbox, its most popular widget allows bloggers to incorporate an updated feed of news items from the site Digg into their blogs. Matt Mullenweg, creator of the WordPress blogging software, says the widgets that his users have been incorporating into their sites lately include Meebo, an instant-messaging application that allows blog authors to chat with their visitors. “One of my favorites,” Mr. Mullenweg said, “is the Sphere It widget, which pops up a window to show you articles and other blog posts related to what you’re reading.”

Business Models:

“Most widgets are available free, though they usually carry links or logos that promote the site that supplies them, and they sometimes have advertising. As with other phenomena that make up the wave known as Web 2.0, blog widgets don’t always have clear revenue potential. “As a widget user, it’s not my problem to worry about how they’re going to make money,” said Guy Kawasaki, an author, blogger and venture capitalist. “But as an investor, would I invest in a widget company giving things away for free? It’s hard to see a business model for it, other than to hope that Google buys you.” Mr. Anuff predicted, however, that “by the second half of 2007, some widgets will shift to a subscription basis.” For some sites that offer fee-based services, widgets can act as roadside billboards that help lure traffic. ”

What it means: widgets are part of the atomization of the Web that I listed in my 2007 predictions. They allow decentralization of content, features and functionalities. Widgets are also available for Microsoft Vista (called gadgets) or the various start pages like the Google home page (also called gadgets) or NetVibes (called modules). The MySpace ecosystem has also seen an explosion of plug-ins and widgets. All are interesting way to propagate your content in other web sites, while maintaining control of it.

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