(Over) Counting Widgets

I got an email from a friend the other day.

"Did you see that Clearspring has served 3bn widgets in the past five months?"

I hadn’t actually seen that news, but here is the press release my friend was referring to. It’s clearly an impressive number and Clearspring is doing some great things in the widget market.

But before we start putting Clearsping in McDonalds territory (billions served), let’s get something straight. Serving widgets generates huge numbers quickly.

All you need to do is look at Photobucket, Slide, and RockYou’s numbers for their photo/slideshow widgets to see how powerful the widget model is. I don’t have access to the actual numbers for these three photo widget services and I’d prefer not to print the rumors I’ve heard, but I’d venture a guess that their numbers for widgets served each day will make Clearspring’s 3bn number look tiny.

I do know the numbers for FeedBurner’s widgets and they are well north of what Clearspring is serving. But this post is not about whose you know what is bigger than whose.

It’s about the challenge of understanding what is what in the widget market.

Max Levchin, Slide’s founder and CEO, is one of the most thoughtful people in the widget market and I’ve had some conversations with him about the challenges of measuring widgets. He’s frustrated that there isn’t good third party data on the widget market. I’ve also talked to the team at comScore about this issue because it’s starting to become an issue everyone is paying attention to and there just isn’t good data yet.

You can get unique visitor counts from comScore on widgets like Photobucket, Slide, and RockYou, but what does it mean? Here is the comScore data on the photo widget sector (the top three players).

Photowidgets

Are those 18mm uniques that are attributed to Photobucket being seen on Photobucket.com? Or are those 18mm uniques the number of people that are being exposed to the Photobucket widget wherever it is being embedded (MySpace, Beebo, etc). I don’t know the answer to that simple question, but it’s an important one.

And what’s the right number to look at? Should Photobucket get credit for having an audience that sees its widget on other services pages? When that page includes five to ten other widgets? Or should it just get credit for those who interact with the widget in some way?

The bottom line is we need better numbers on widgets, we need some standards, and we need them now.