As website owners try to boost the amount of time their users spend online, the all-in-one site toolbar is becoming more and more popular. Wibiya, which makes a social toolbar websites can add in order to allow users to chat, share links on Facebook and use other social features, said today it’s launching a developer platform and open API to allow third-party applications to integrate with its application marketplace. The two-year-old startup, which is based in Israel and was seed funded by ICQ founder Yossi Vardi, is also partnering with Yahoo, Bit.ly and AddThis.
Wibiya says its toolbars, which can be installed on any website and customized with a variety of apps and services, reach more than 175 million unique users a month and appear on over 80,000 websites, even though the company only came out of beta earlier this year. Wibiya CEO and co-founder Dror Ceder says that about 25,000 new websites have been joining the toolbar network every month, and the company has seen 15 to 20 percent growth in activity in just the past two months alone. Wibiya plans to add several additional APIs in the future, Ceder said, including one for mobile as well as an API that makes it easier for apps to connect to a user’s other social network profiles.
You may never have heard of the company, but you’ve probably seen the Wibiya toolbar if you go to websites such as TheStreet.com, Philly.com or Playboy.com. Each site has a customized version of the toolbar, with a different look and different services built-in, including live chat (or video chat, in the case of Playboy.com), a translation tool, sharing functions for Twitter and Facebook, and links to popular news or features from the site. Wibiya’s toolbar competes against similar bars from companies such as Meebo, the web-based chat provider, and Facebook, which has its own sharing and chat toolbar for websites. (Google has a Friend Connect toolbar, but it doesn’t seem to get used much.)
I confess that I’m not a big fan of website toolbars in general. I find they generally clutter up the screen and don’t really provide a lot of functionality that I would use most of the time. Even when they do — in the case of sharing on Twitter or Facebook — those functions could be just as easily handled with a button on the site near the content. It’s obvious that some users share my lack of enthusiasm, because a number of companies have either killed their toolbars outright (as Digg did when Kevin Rose took over as CEO), or made a point of de-emphasizing them, as both Stumbleupon and GetGlue have done.
That said, Wibiya’s growth stats are impressive, and the fact that the company is trying to open up and become a platform for any third-party service — as well as building in useful features such as Bit.ly support — is a positive sign. Whether it can become the dominant player by becoming more open remains to be seen, however.
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