From Gidget to widget – the digital surf’s up!
Gidget – girl midget – was the name of the heroine of films and a TV series way back when surfing culture was at its beginning. Gidget symbolised a number of cultural trends all rolled up in one tiny Sandra Dee package.
We have come a long way since then. Today, the widget – oddly enough, a ‘real’ symbol – is the symbol of a profound, digitally driven, cultural change. Gidget was an iconic surfer; widgets are surfer – web surfer – icons.
Widgets – Windows gadgets, I think – are controls, the boxes, buttons or symbols on your computer screen that you click on using a mouse to say yes or no, to go from here to there or to initiate an action. There are ‘toolkits’ with thousands of widgets that programmers use to build on-screen, interactive, user interfaces.
Today widgets include pieces of code such the famous Flickr Badge. Flickr, a Yahoo subsidiary, is an online photo storage, sharing, and organisation service. You can stick a Flickr widget or badge, an icon coded in HTML or XML, into your blog or an email. When the reader clicks on the widget it connects directly to the Flickr site, and directly to the sender’s photos.
Bloggers love the Flickr badge. They can download all their photos to Flickr and anyone can access them; with the badge embedded in the blog they direct readers to the photos. This simplifies access and, since Flickr stores and handles access to the photos, lightens the load on the blogger’s own server. Flickr opened the door. Bloggers soon started using widgets to direct readers to a wide variety of services – news feeds, search engines, music, ads for a local bar or anything else that could be found on the Internet. Widgets have also become a desktop accessory for many; one click and you are at your favourite site or application.
You Tube moved the game to the next level. You Tube widgets let bloggers organise video clips and, in a very real sense, set up their very own, no-cost, on-line video channels. Bloggers, if for no other reason than this, will fight to the end for net neutrality.
The widget is one of the many developments that are paving the way for the age of personalisation and we know its time is coming fast; Microsoft’s Vista has incorporated its own version of the widget called, quaintly enough, a gadget. This fits quite well with the new XML based Microsoft standard for MS Office documents. Widgets and XML were made for each other, together they simplify access to relevant material and make it easy to move closer to a truly personalised – everything you want, at your fingertips – experience.
AOL recently announced widgets for its Instant Messenger service and Microsoft, within the last few days announced Popfly, a hosted service that lets non-technical users put together, or ‘mashup’, the content from different websites using a visual tool. Popfly helps users embed widgets on their own sites that point to material on other sites and share it with others.
In addition to widgets, Microsoft is pushing its mobile version of Windows. At the recent 3GSM show in Barcelona MS executives were eagerly showing off their new full-keyboard, 5-inch screen, Internet enabled, pocket phone computers with mobile versions of Widows and Office. Microsoft believes that mobile computing will be a significant part of their business and they also know that these pocket mobile Internet devices will – one day soon when all the practical problems have been dealt with and the prices drop – be the world’s primary Internet access device.
I think mobile might well prove to be the catalyst that accelerates the switch to Internet based marketing and advertising. Mobile is always-on, always-carried mass media – the first and only one of its kind. It may be a mass media, but it brings a personal experience. Mobile is already in use in many parts of the world to make payments or transfer funds using the pre-paid credits stored in the phone. Indeed, this sort of payment has a great future in the developing world. Nigeria, where most people have neither bank accounts or credit cards, is a good example of this service; people there can even transfer mobile phone credits to the mobile phones of, say, family members in another town. The credit can then be redeemed locally for cash.
Cell phone credits, together with widgets, might very well be one of the keys to popularising the use of on-line-rent-it-for-pennies-whenever-you-need-it software, the next big push in the software market. Rent-it-as-you-need-it seems to be an ideal way to have little used software on hand when you unexpectedly need it without having to load vast amounts of rarely used software on mobile Internet-connected devices.
On-line advertisers of every sort are planning how to use widgets to distribute content entertainment, news, technical information, programming guides, and just about anything else they can imagine.
Microsoft’s recent inclusion of widget facilities in their new operating system, their just announced purchase of a major on-line advertising agency, their discussions with Yahoo about a merger or association, and Popfly are not separate facts; they are not linked coincidently. Each of these facts point to an overall strategy; Microsoft wants to be at the forefront of the move to Internet carried one-on-one advertising.
Marketing specialists agree – the Internet is the growth media for advertising. The Internet offers advertisers a wide variety of ways to discover what net surfers like and aim advertising directly at them according to their known interests. The Internet will not eliminate TV, radio, print, point-of sale or other advertising media, but it will make a big dent in the advertising dollars spent for all other advertising. Many marketing experts predict that Internet-based advertising will, in time, become the biggest game in town.
The interconnections and implications of all these developments are rather difficult to sort out just yet. When Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave…”, today’s Web was still many years in the future, so he had no idea how unintentionally prophetic he was. Still, certain connections can be made and some facts tied together into a plausible scenario.
I can imagine a not so distant future where blogs – many amateurs, but many professionally produced by or for companies – populate the Web. Much if not most of the material is ‘mashed up’, taken from links to other sites. The blogs are often hosted by an on-line blog publishing service that is paid for by advertisers. The blogs are loaded with widgets that direct traffic through an on-line ‘click-audit’ site to the final destination. The click-auditors mine the data they accumulate to determine the sort of tastes the viewers of each blog tend to have and directs the appropriate ads to these blogs.
Really popular blogs that attract people with expensive tastes and fat wallets will command top dollar for the ads they carry, and the revenue will be shared by the bloggers, the publishers, the click auditors, the on-line ad agencies, the content producers and, no doubt, a number of other service specialists that have yet to be invented. Producers, even advertisers that want to attract more viewers to their ads, will provide content aimed specifically at a popular blog’s viewers.
One day there will be blogs with viewer numbers that rival popular television shows, but the real strength of the blog universe will always be the enormous numbers of blogs – I’ve heard there are some 55 million already; there will be a blog, many blogs, for any taste or interest. With click auditor information, advertisers will have a field day micro marketing and micro managing their product messages.
The waves on the Web are getting higher – the digital surf is up.
Our next Connect-World Asia Pacific Issue will be published later this month.
The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: IIR Telecoms & Technology (28-31 May, Singapore), Broadband World Forum Asia (5-8 June, Beijing), CommunicAsia (19-22 June, Singapore) – Indo ICT 2007 Expo Forum (11-13 Sept, Jakarta), and Telecomp Vietnam (19-22 Sept, Hanoi).
The theme of the upcoming issue is: Next generation strategies – a look at the new environment part II: – regulation, convergence, new technology and the enterprise.
The changes brought by today’s information and communication technologies have unsettled the sectors involved and raised a series of profound questions that policy makers and regulators throughout the world are struggling to deal with. Business users are finding that buying technology and learning to use it is just the first step; to really take advantage of the new technologies and tackle the competition they often have to re-invent their processes, systems and products – even the corporate culture and the company itself. Governments and institutions, like businesses, have to re-think their systems and services in terms of what the new technologies can do, but the payoff in better services, greater efficiency and reduced costs can quickly re-pay the effort. The new technology is infiltrating itself into the daily lives of people in the world’s great cities and in its remotest reaches, bringing basic communications, entertainment and new life-changing educational, medical and business services.
Enterprises of every sort, manufacturers, systems developers, content providers, distributors, operators, carriers; each and everyone in the sector will feel the change as will, indeed, those that use the technologies. New business models, new partners, new marketing, new competition will be the rule.