Why Widgets Is The Wrong Word For What We're Doing

I am speaking at WidgetWeb today. They asked me to talk about widgets as startups, but I am not going to talk about that. I am going to talk about the end of widgets as we know them, starting with the word itself.

I got excited about web widgets in 2005 and spent a lot of 2006 and early 2007 writing about them, playing with them, and filling this blog’s sidebars with them.

WIkipedia says that "In computing, the term has become frequently used to refer to objects on a computer screen the user interacts with

In another entry, Wikipedia goes further:

A web widget is a portable chunk of code that can be installed and executed within any separate HTML-based web page by an end user without requiring additional compilation. They are derived from the idea of code reuse.
Other terms used to describe web widgets include: gadget, badge,
module, capsule, snippet, mini and flake. Web widgets often but not
always use DHTML, JavaScript, or Adobe Flash.

Widgets have made a great contribution to the web in the past four years. They have allowed us to mashup our web pages and create experiences that express dozens of web services on a single page. This blog’s front page expresses at least fourteen web services at this point in time. It was a lot more before I went on my recent housecleaning spree.

And yet, at least in my experience, widgets suck. That was the top search term on this blog for most of last year. And everytime I clean up my act, I get a huge number of readers thanking me. The widgets (and the javascript I put on this blog) slow down the page load times considerably. And they are distracting to many of the readers. I imagine if I took a poll, about 2/3 of my readers would vote for  widgetless sidebars.

So if widgets suck, then how do we continue to express all of the web services on the pages we create? I think we need to move to a model where the content is all in the same flow. My tumblog is a good example of this. Here’s a screenshot of fredwilson.vc for those of you who have never visited.


That page shows an mp3 I posted this morning (the same one that is on the upper right of this blog), a twitter post from dick costolo that I liked, and a wallstrip interview with Daniel Ha, co-founder of disqus.

I didn’t want to put a larger picture on this page, but if you visit fredwilson.vc, you’ll find a couple of posts from this blog, my last.fm weekly top listens, and a few more twitters on the front page. It’s all in a single column, and flows from web service to web service in a "river of content".

That’s where we need to get to. Putting all of this stuff in widgets all over the page is ugly, distracting, slows page loads, and creates a bunch of other problems which we’ve all experienced.

That’s why I believe we need to move beyond widgets to a more integrated model of mashing up web services. That’s going to be my message this morning at Widget Web. If you want to debate it and are in NYC, come to the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. I go on at 9:15am.

UPDATE: Here’s the powerpoint deck I used at Widget Web today. Great discussion afterwards. The two big areas I left out of my presentation were Facebook apps (and all social apps) and RSS.  If I were to give this presentation again, I’d add some thoughts on both of those.

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