How To Widget?

Being a publisher ain’t so easy these days. I know a little bit about it now that I have this thing called a blog that I feel compelled to keep fresh and build (whatever that means, my audience has been flat for the past year – maybe because of the very subject of this post).

But things don’t stand still. You need to do more everyday to keep up with all the changes afoot. And one of the biggest changes out there is the world of distributed media. Feeds, widgets, embed codes, apis, and other tools that allow the publisher to make their content available on other pages. You have to do this, it’s critical and it’s way more than just getting your content on my daughter’s MySpace page. The web is disaggregating itself and reassembling itself in front of our very eyes as users take control of more pages on the web every day.

Now I’ve been a big fan of widgets, maybe even the poster child for them with the sidebars on this blog. Many people link to this blog when they talk about widget overload. I do love widgets but I have a view about widgets that I’d like to put out there.

Widgets should not be one more publishing system that we need to support. Widgets should be built on top of a feed based architecture. I am stuck on my four rules and I plan on sticking to them a little longer. They are:

1 – Microchunk it – Reduce the content to its simplest form.
2 – Free it – Put it out there without walls around it or strings on it.
3 – Syndicate it – Let anyone take it and run with it. 
4 – Monetize it – Put the monetization and tracking systems into the microchunk.

Widgets are part of rules 3 and 4. Widgets are a syndication tool and a tracking tool. And hopefully they’ll become a monetization tool as well.

But when I put on the hat of a publisher, I want a simple way to do all of this. And that takes me back to the feed. I like the idea of write once, publish anywhere and everywhere. When I hit the "save" button on this post, not only will this post hit the web at avc.blogs.com, but it will be put into my feed. That means it will appear in web-based feed readers and start pages all over the internet pretty much instantly. It should also mean that it (or at least the headline) should appear in widgets all over the web.

But many of the leading widget solutions don’t support a feed-based architecture. I have a friend who is in charge of the web efforts of a large media company. He saw the news that Clearspring had just closed a big round of financing for "widget syndication" and asked me what I thought of them.

I told him that Clearsping was a great company but that he ought to think hard about his distributed media strategy before making any decisions. Does he want one solution for the web, another for feeds, a third for widgets, a fourth for video, and so on and so forth?

Or would he like to write once, publish everywhere?

If the answer is the latter then widget syndication systems must be built on top of a feed architecture, as should web video syndication systems, and any other systems that support a distributed media model.

Being a publisher is hard and getting harder so I’d like everyone building tools for publishers to think about making things simpler and to my mind, feeds are as simple as it gets.