Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Trouble With Widgets.

How many widgets does it take make you unproductive? How many aggregators of data, and aggregators of aggregators do we need to stay productive?

The race is on to deliver the next homepage solution for aggregating all of your data. It's what I call "the rule of the three Cs": Consolidation, Convergence, and Conversation.

Access to plentiful data is a blessing and a curse. It's hard to know where to begin and where to end. If you dig a little deeper you'll inevitably find something cooler, more feature-rich, easier, or more detailed. I don't know about you, but information overload is slowing down my own productivity. It's easier to make choices when you're presented with fewer of them.

Win-win or lose-lose?
The ultimate homepage product will converse with as many of the high traffic social sites and aggregators as possible. In-so-doing, each new social aggregator cannibalizes traffic equity from the social sites, some of which are themselves aggregators. They also help distribute data, so from another perspective, they are publicity tools for the content producers or distributors.

One of the trailblazers in the 2.0 aggregation niche was Netvibes, with their pioneering drag & drop interface. It's already a standard service on most bookmark applications. Netvibes is a Rich Internet Application (RIA) that offers customizable pages using partner APIs and widgets to port in all of your news, feeds, and social data; things like Twitters, email, blogs, Craigslist, Facebook and much more. A robust developer widget ecosystem has grown around the service, with more Web apps becoming widgetized daily.

Netvibes had the killer idea of allowing users to create public portals -- "universes," that represented vertical interests or consolidated content. When content is aggregated, the aggregator has created something from nothing. Taking other people's content equals value.

Once Netvibes set the course, other companies vying for mind share implemented their own RIA homepage gateways. It could be that they were in development before Netvibes launched, but that's besides the point. My Yahoo! is Yahoo!'s attempt at capturing the homepage gateway, while new players like MySurfPad.com and Social Network and messenger aggregator Power.com are also competing for mind share. Meanwhile, the widgets are overpopulating our digital universe. Companies like SpringWidgets give users the ability to aggregate content and private-label the widget delivery channel. There seem to be countless companies making their own widgets. There are even more companies making their own WYSIWYG widget-makers so that everyone else can make their very own widgets. How many widgets is enough? Are they really useful or are they just distractionware?

It's hard to imagine what's going to become of all these companies. The cool factor of watching the techvolution in real time is counter balanced by its distraction and disruption of productivity. Isn't technology supposed to make things less confusing?

In a world without standards, there is a huge opportunity, and we all know who is going to cash in. Here is how I predict it's going to go down:

All of these services are Web-based, with some hybrid desktop widgets that are using the new Adobe AIR technology. The common denominator (not including AIR and Silverlight) is the browser gateway. Right now, I think Firefox is on its way to becoming the king of the castle, but have no doubt that Google is going to be the next standard. "He who controls information controls the world." Not only do they control the data, but they also control the content to a great extent. Alexa traffic report ranks Youtube in the top 5. So, like Netscape before it, I think that Firefox will be overshadowed by Chrome during Google's conquest of the world. Hard to fathom right now since Firefox has so many cool plugins, but look what happened to Palm OS with its ecosystem empire when Blackberry and other new OSs came to town. Maybe Google will just acquire Mozilla.

Star Trek Convention In Las Vegas - Day 2
Google has it all covered. They have Gears to speed up your browsing performance and to enable useful AIR-like widgets. You probably noted that you can no longer upload multiple videos to Youtube with any browser except Google's Chrome. To me, that's a sign of things to come for Mozilla's Firefox. Google has the up and coming alternative to Microsoft Office in an opensource package; and because it's Web-based it will eventually offer a free alternative to Outlook's Exchange. They have the email covered with what is arguably the best Web-based email solution available. Quickly but surely, Google is implementing the master plan to consolidate, converge and converse.

Google is going to be the information exchange hub of the next generation. They already manage the world of information. Their open source solutions promote developer ecosystems and coopetition. Smart. Oh, one more prediction: Google will buy Facebook before it creates its own operating system. Sorry--that was two predictions.

If only Google would just hurry up and run the world so I can finally get some work done.

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