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Summary:

When reading about comScore’s new list of top ten widgets (and their reach) in The Wall Street Journal, it reminded me of jellybean contests that involve guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar. While most people try and win it by pulling a number out […]

beansside.jpg When reading about comScore’s new list of top ten widgets (and their reach) in The Wall Street Journal, it reminded me of jellybean contests that involve guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar. While most people try and win it by pulling a number out of their ass, others try and learn arcane facts like that there are 930 jellybeans in a US gallon, and then make an estimated guess.

Web traffic measurement firm comScore seems to be taking the second approach, and has come up with Widget Metrix, a Top 10 widget list that is amusing (Bunnyhero Labs) and astounding (Picture trail). Somehow, I am having a hard time trying to buy into the accuracy of this list. Their definition of widgets is something of a concern.

The current universe of widgets is defined as embedded flash (.swf) objects. The comScore Widget Metrix service will evolve in its tracking of widget file types as the market dynamics and content delivery systems change. The report currently focuses on the individual widgets, and not the platforms that deliver them. Desktop widgets are also not included.

If that is the case, then how come YouTube is not on the list, since they are essentially Flash-based embeds.

It is also not clear is that how the current comScore methodology of calculating their numbers based on a panel of 2 million Internet users correlates to widgets. The methodology has been questioned by some in the past; if comScore data about whole web sites, how can they be accurate about smaller (or individual) components of the page?

Nevertheless, this new list is just part of a growing widget mania that is heading into the madness phase. The large numbers being thrown around by widget start-ups and tracking firms are simply smoke screen around the fact that none of the companies are making anything meaningful in terms of revenues.

Don’t get me wrong: I am still a believer in the concept behind widgets, and many different ways they can be leveraged and can be put to work. Nearly eight months after I organized a day-long conference, Widgets Live in partnership with Niall Kennedy, I am yet to come across a convincing business model. The most common model: advertising inside widgets, which seems like running through a minefield.

Peter Chernin, the big cheese at News Corp., while speaking at the All Things D conference said: “We won’t allow people to create for profit platforms on our platform…. the Wall Street Journal doesn’t allow people to sell ads on their platform.” Of course, you can pay no attention to the man whose company owns the biggest widget playground, and guess the number of jelly beans in that jar.

Also, check out the BuzzMachine post.

  1. om, you are right on the money. 100% of the time.

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  2. I wasn’t aware that people have questioned the comScore data in the past. I’ll definitely take a look at those links and try to talk to comScore to figure it all out.

    I agree with you that widgets are definitely needed; and if the opening up recently by Facebook and the response that they had is any indication, it looks like widgets are going to be around for a long time.

    Since web widgets are being used so much, someone has to report the numbers–because those numbers are so useful to advertisers and site owners. Perhaps by comScore tracking this data it might get someone else to start tracking it, as well.

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  3. What I found interesting (i.e. disturbing) was that when VentureBeat picked up the Slide aspect of the story, the post title was “Slide pounds chest: Widget used by 14 percent of internet population.”

    Whether or not the comScore numbers are accurate, it worries me that in the current widget environment it’s so easy for someone to make the mental shift to calling comScore’s metric “users,” which implies some sort of active engagement with the widget, when in fact comScore’s metric is “viewers,” i.e. a passive audience that may or may not have even noticed the widget.

    I continue to believe that we’re heading for a widget bubble.

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  4. OM – right on brother!!!

    On a related note – if I remember right – you mentioned in your disclosure a while ago that you had an interest in a widget company. Does that still hold – if not I stand corrected. If you are – it only adds credibility to your observations (and assumptions).

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  5. yeah, a list with all photo widgets and no video widgets is a pretty strange list.

    youtube and flickr, the widget kings, used widgets/embeds as an acquisition + marketing tool, not a business model. that’s pretty much where the value lies. so it can help the business, but it can’t BE the business..well, unless you’re photobucket…

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  6. I don’t see widgets as a simple embed of static pictures, videos, etc. I view widgets as the embedding of distributed programs from other sites. So embedding a static YouTube video or picture wouldn’t count (in my opinion) — that’s just content from another source, which has been happening for years — though embedding a program that allows a user to cycle thru videos/pictures would.

    Maybe the distinction for me is the distributed functionality. If the “widget” is static for everyone and not dynamic or controllable by either the viewer or publisher can tailor it, then it’s content. If it’s dynamic and/or controllable by the view or publisher, then it’s a widget.

    Clearly I’m making this up as I go along, but seems to work for me! :-)

    That said, you’re right about the business model challenges. It’s best to think about widgets as free ad placement for the publishers, and measure them on that basis — impressions, uniques, conversion, etc. That’s where the value is (though I’m convinced someone will figure out a “meta-ad” model behind it at some point).

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  7. comScore is a joke!

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  8. How about adsense or any ad network for that matter…

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