Apps: the new widgets

Remember widgets? In the early days of corporate social media (i.e. 2005 – 2006), widgets were all the rage. They were light and viral; the minimal effort to support them post-lauch made them more attractive to brands than blogs or podcasts.

Fast forward a couple years and I was speaking with Bob Garfield of Ad Age about widgets. This is the piece of mind that I gave him about widgets, which he published in the weekly and I think in his book:

“When you can combine utility with the purpose of your brand, that’s the opposite of why people hate marketing. Instead of fooling them with the old brand-marketing song and dance, it’s not a promise; it’s a reality: ‘This is what the traffic is like. This is what the weather is. This is what the stock market is right now.”

Fast forward another couple years and I’m listening to Tim Duggan of Mercury Girl speaking about mobile applications. Suddenly everything old is new again; the factors that will make brands’ mobile applications successful are the same principles that made a good old widget: utility, functionality, value.

If you’ve been trying to figure out how to think about the new world of applications, look back at your resources on widgets and run a find-and-replace…it might get you up to speed sooner than you imagined.

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  1. I definitely agree with you Peter. Not only was I in love with online widgets, but even desktop widgets. Do you recall Konfabulator for Mac? It’s now Yahoo! Widgets. There’s also more than 5 thousand widgets. Everything has moved to the cloud now. So I haven’t used a desktop widget in a while, but I dabble every now and again. Having these pretty widgets on the go and calling them apps is much more fun and productive.

  2. I absolutely remember, along with the difficultly that so many people had trying to download and install Yahoo! widgets on their PCs. That experience echoes the same difficulties faced by Second Life – many people won’t or can’t install new applications.

    Another lesson here, when you consider that Nokia had offered mobile widgets / applications years ago via Widsets then through Ovi. The tyranny of choice is true.

  3. Thanks for your post. Now that it’s 2010, is a widget a waste of time? I’m considering developing one for a new healthcare website to help consumers compare prices on test and procedures.

    I guess my question is, can a widget still serve as an engaging and useful advertising vehicle for a new brand? My guess is apps get more downloads when they are extensions of established brands. Plus, no one can see you’re using it so an app seems less viral.

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