Archive for February, 2008

The Many Challenges of Widgets


Before you invest time and money in a widget strategy, you better know the challenges. This applies to VCs, Web Strategists, Developers, and even Social network companies

An Objective View
In this blog, I strive to provide a balanced viewpoint of both the benefits and challenges of a web strategy, it’s easy for us to become over-hyped and then fall right into the pit of over exuberance. (See other posts tagged Challenge)

I’m moderating quite a few panels with widget developers (last week at Stanford, next week at Graphing Social, and in a few weeks at Ad:Tech) so I’ll be using many of these challenges to hold the vendors to their claims.

First, a few parameters:
Update: This list of challenges mainly applies to widgets within Social Networks, although many of the challenges afflict mobile, desktop and blog widgets.

Widgets are ‘mini-applications’ that can be embedded on other containers (such as social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, and whoever decides to join the movement) The thing is, desktop widgets have been around for some time, so this really isn’t anything new, but for the purpose of this post, I’m just going to keep those on social networks in scope.

In regards to terminology, I’m just going to use widgets as a blanket term to also include “applications” and “canvas pages” terms that developers user on Facebook’s F8 platform. I’ll clarify that on another post in the future.

The Many Challenges of Widgets:
Each of the following hurdles can be overcome, but first, let’s identify them.

Difficult to Monetize
First and foremost, this has been the biggest challenge. For some widget developers, the money has come from investors or VCs on Sand Hill road. Secondly, I’m hearing that the CPI plague (see below) is becoming more common, and then lastly, advertising is not an effective way to monetize in social networks (read this for more).

Immature Market
Widget developers are mostly experimental, they are throwing gangly Spaghetti, Pasta, Rigatoni, and Jeremici (I just made that up) against the wall to see what will stick. In most cases, most of the half cooked pasta falls down from low users adoption, leaving a sticky residue of messy profile pages.

Overcrowding profile page
Have you seen my profile page on Facebook? It’s a mess, and with so much noise, who can compete? With there being thousands of widgets, only a few can survive on my profile page (I know there is tabbed segmentation) but really, how many do we need?

Low Barriers to Entry
A challenge for every web market, is that there are few ways to differentiate, and it’s easy for a young Russian developer or a Stanford student, or a team of Chinese engineers to quickly get in the game.

Metrics and Analytics Inconsistencies
Hardly anyone is measuring the success of their widgets in the same way, do we measure on install, activity, views, traffic, or clicks? As a result, other than Appsaholic, there’s very few industry ways to measure success.

Sadly, I learned from a panel I managed that some of the most successful apps were the one that leaned on the social graph, no not the one that we all dream about, but in the context of email spam. Many containers are clamping down on this, as it’s best to preserve the user experience, but this could continue to be an issue.

Bastardization: Cost per Installation (CPI)
To me, this looks like one of the worst in our industry, to me, this is like ‘printing money’. Did you know some of the top developer companies sell to other developers the chance to let new widgets piggy back off successful ones by promoting them. The developer can then charge for cost per install.

Disposable and low value
Rodney Rumford first mentioned this term to me, he was describing that many widgets are simply not used more than once. These glamor widgets provide one time entertainment, or are used once and never reused –except for removing from ones profile page.

Recycled clones offer little uniqueness
Perhaps the worst plague is the “attack of the clones” in many cases, the code from widgets are created by one developer, stolen (I mean crowdsourced or collaborated) slightly modified or rebranded and then republished.

Low Utility
I’m trying to think of a widget that provides business utility, or one that improves my life other than casual communications or entertainment. Reminiscent of the web in the mid 90s, we’ve yet to see the business value.

Hard to build successfully
Specialized skill set are common among the developers, most traditional interactive firms, and most companies don’t have the skills or experience to create a widget. It’s a different game with a different mindset, the same strategies often don’t apply.

Multiple APIs strain developers
Most platforms or containers are offering their own API, although most are touting they are OpenSocial compliant (as I write this, OpenSocial is not public, it is but in beta but should be soon) yet we’ve got to wonder is it too late for there to be a common industry API if it’s already fragmented? I spoke to the Evangelist of MindKey last night and he suggested that each platform has unique APIs (like news feed APIs) that the other doesn’t share –it’s already fragmented.

Ever changing platform APIs requires attentive team
When I hosted the widget roundtable, it became very clear that the APIs on platforms are quickly changing, and sometimes without notice. For the agile developer company, they’ll be able to quickly morph with their full time resources, but for the Interactive Firm or corporate web team, they’ll likely be too slow.

Pricing may vary, lack of standards
I have the privilege of being one of the few people in the world that gets to talk to the widget developers and find out what they are charging. In many cases they don’t know what to charge (as they have strong technical skills, but are just ramping up on the business side, and they are undercharging) This will clean up this year, and we’ll start to see some benchmarks.

Poor User Experience
Dennis McDonald (via comments) suggests that the usability for widgets is often poor. With there being little standardization on the inteaction design, I’ll agree, he states: “It’s hard enough to keep track of multiple incoming data streams representing different people, sources, relationships, keywords, etc. When you try to cram too much though a widget you have a real usability problem because of the variety.”

Performance Issues
Pravda (via comments) suggests that some widgets have poor performance, and thereby causes a disrupted experience. Since widgets are hosted on third party servers, some laggards can hinder the rest of the social network experience, he states: “This is because they require additional HTTP request, and in some cases, this request delays the rest of the page. This is the reason that I am not using Meebo widget in my blog”

Lack of Brand Control
Len Kendall (via comments) suggests that some brands may be concerned where their sponsored widget may appear. In many traditional advertising deals, Coke will never want it’s advertisement near Pepsi, but with widgets, that’s unavoidable.

Add your own in comments
What other challenges of widgets did I miss? Please leave a comment and credit and link to you.

Caveat: While I’m highlighting the challenges, it doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome, and it most cases, the value is higher than the challenge. I’m just suggesting, we shouldn’t only look at the beautiful side, but set yourself up for success by knowing what you’re in store for.

I could write a solution or a fix for all of these challenges, but that’s a post for another time, or one I’d be happy to answer for clients.

Sophistication May Vary (Am I boring you?)


I’m pretty confident that there is a wide range of social media sophistication of the Web Strategy Blog readers.

I get questions that are very novice, but those that are very advanced tell me they’re still learning something once in a while. The same is true on my interactions with clients, there’s a small group of the very sophisticated, but most are trying to answer the ‘how do we do it’. Very few are in the ‘what is it stage’ when it comes to social media.

David Churbuck from Lenovo is in the sophisticated camp and moans that I’m writing posts for the novice community “let’s step up the analysis and look at the hard questions, not the thumbsuckers”. He’s right ya know, but here’s an explanation:

Some of my posts are aimed at the novices but it’s because I refer people to these starter posts to save me time. The Social Media FAQ series and the 3 Impossible conversations (the one David complains about) is for that.

If you’re in the medium stage, and are convinced that you understand social media but need to jump forward quickly, read these posts.

Now if you’re on the more sophisticated side, you may benefit on all my posts tagged Web Strategy. If you want to dive in to measurement you’ll need to sift through my posts tagged Social Media Measurement.

I’m grateful for feedback from folks like David (check out his Bio, he’s very seasoned) and I even offered him the opportunity go guest post on this blog to set the bar higher. But if you’re still hungry for advanced content that solves all your business problems, you won’t find those here. While I share a great deal of information on this blog (I work really hard to try to earn your trust and respect) but I reserve 100% of my resource for my clients.

I know I’m never going to please everyone, but lemme tell ya, I walk a real fine line of trying to connect with the community, being mindful to my paying clients, and doing my day job. There really isn’t a lot of folks that have done this to this level, so bear with me while I walk on new ground.

The Tenacity of Jake McKee: A Social Media Case Study at Lego


How could one person create 20% of work for the legal department? Watch or Listen this video to find out.

The Conversation Group recently hosted an event celebrating 10 years of the Cluetrain Manifesto. What’s interesting is that only in the last couple of years has the train really started to build up stream. Jake McKee former social media practitioner at Lego tells his story on how he challenged and changed the culture within the organization to build relationships with customers, share proprietary information, and how customers were in line with employees.

This video is easy to consume, just put it on play, and listen in while you do your work.

Weekly Digest of the Social Networking Space: Feb 27, 2008



I’m respecting your limited time by publishing this weekly summary, read the summary, then quickly scan headlines, read the bullet, then click to learn even more.

I’ve created a category called Digest (you can see archives) where you can start to track and access these going forward. Quickly scan the succinct and categorized headlines, read summary for analysis, and click link to dive in for more. You can subscribe to this digest tag only, which filters only these posts tagged digest.

Need to make decisions about your web strategy? I’m here to help: subscribe to my blog, sign up for emails (right nav), follow me on Twitter, I’ll add you back.

Web Strategy Summary
I was pleased to see that consolidation of the white label industry is already starting, this is needed as there are too many players in the space, expect more consolidations then some major acquisitions later this year. Continued scrutiny over social networking fatigue continues to pound away at Facebook and others, although the social networks are fighting back, and insisting that fatigue is only a temporary dip.

Adoption: Helpful map shows adoption of SoNets on Earth
Worthy as the first story, this map shows how each social network has dominance in certain geographies, Out of all of those listed, I only did not know 4 of them, I’ll study up for next week. There’s an additional list here sorted by Alexa by country.

Downtime: Bebo has over 12 hours downtime in two months
This is downright embarrassing. 12 hours is barely acceptable in a whole year, let alone Jan-Feb of this year. Other culprits include Microsoft live spaces, Friendster then Hi5. Let’s hope downtime reduces for the rest of the year.

White Label: Acquisition of Social Platform by ONEsite
Expect more acquisitions to occur in this crowded market, Social Platform now mergers under ONEsite. I’m tracking this space closer on this post.

Mobile: Social Network for iPhone
Fon11 is a vendor planning on creating a social network for iPhone users. But why limit this to a particular phone type? Why not extend this to all mobile devices.

Innovation: Facebook allows 3rd parties to update newsfeed
Smart move here by Facebook, allowing it’s lifestyle social network to hook and display other areas of a members life right on it’s newspage. As long as this doesn’t get too spammish, expect this to be a success.

Fatigue: UK Facebook dips?
Facebook, the top social network in UK had a 5% reduction in usage in recent months, and reports from BBC, and techcrunch. Despite these claims, Facebook declares traffic is not dipping.

Fatigue: Piczo sees tough times
Once promising startup Piczo (aimed at teens, girls mainly) is seeing a slowdown in growth, and as a result has had some downsizing and layoffs. Maybe there are too many players in the space, or they didn’t differentiate.

Advertisements: Google to sell ads on YouTube
YouTube, a social network is a Google property that is going to monetize by selling ads, there’s a great opportunity to gain the TV advertising dollars if they can demonstrate success.

User Experience: Facebook ads Flash
With the added ability to add flash applications added to Facebook, an improved experience could result from members watching or interacting using rich media, games, or video.

Sensationalism: Fox blasts Facebook
Fox fires off a hot title to get readers, please friends, no website is going to rule over the other, there are no absolutes, no zero sum game.

User Experience: Design features keep Facebook organized
In an effort to constantly improve it’s clean looking user experience, Facebook is creating a tabbed based experience to organize a members wall, about, and photos section.

If I’ve missed anything, let me know, I’ll be happy to add it to the next digest.

Notes from Sean O’Driscoll’s Webinar on Social Media and Communities hosted by SAP Salon


Social Map by Sean O'Driscoll

(Above Graphic: Sean’s suggests that word of mouth will travel through networks at different speeds, and with different accuracy depending on the network. He lists many attributes that will impact the speed of sharing)

Sean O’Driscoll, who did a fantastic job, who has extensive experience managing the Microsoft MVP program has struck out on his own and has launched his own consulting shop Community Group Therapy.

SAP Salon: Social Media and Online Communities

Key highlights:

  • To be an effective community professional, you need to walk the talk and use the tools
  • Google is not a search engine, it’s a reputation tracker
  • Sean scored high on search engine results for Microsoft Support after a bad story was on
  • Admits there are many buzzwords, yet many forget to look at the bigger picture
  • Rather than focusing on the Techcrunch/Scoble “Shiny Diamond” to develop a social media strategy
  • The 5 P’s of Social Media: People, Places, Process, Platform, Patterns
  • Process is potentially the most important P –but often overlooked
  • There are more smarter people about your product outside of your company
  • It’s good and horrible news that it’s easy to publish. Many fractures due to lack of strategy.
  • Google is the enemy of brand loyalty, if I can find the answer to a question not on your corporate property
  • Most advocates and influencers are not
    helping to help a brand, they are helping other users.
  • “Pay it forward” a good model and metaphor how a community works
  • Participation:
  • Impacts to busienss: Customer Service and Support, Sales and Marketing, Innovation and Product Development
  • You can’t own the message and the audience is going to change it on their own
  • Word of Mouth has been a key driver why people buy what they buy, now with access to information through social tools greatly impacts this
  • Engagement is about brand inclusion, making sure people have their voiced involved
  • We’ve all seen ugly babies but never had one. We’ve strong attraction to our own products. Uses a MS open source as a case study
  • Beta is not early enough to get your community involved
  • If you want raving fans, get affinity, talks about Harley Davidson
  • Influencer Framework in Web 1.0: Envision and develop, test and release, and sell and support
  • Suggests that social aspect of employees were only in sell and support aspect, not other areas
  • Sean had an executive champion, Steve Ballmer
  • Social graph: as a business strategy we should think about it as
  • For some reason, webex auto-showed webcams (powerbook users?) which was a potential major hazard for those who did not know they were being streamed at their desk. This needs to be fixed, could be a major embarrassment for folks.

    Also the chat room in the webex client was very active, I saw Kevin Marks, Marita, Pistachio and others chiming away. The organizer said this chat room was the one of the most active they’ve ever seen. Twitter was a big recruiter.

    There are several graphics that I could not effectively blog to text, I’ll link to the slides if they are published.

    When I live blog webinars or conferences (even doing screen grabs), not only does it help everyone else, but it helps me to get smarter. Writing really helps to cement knowledge to actionable work.

    Thanks Sean and thanks SAP for hosting this!

    Tagged SAP Salon

    What’s on my mind?


    New to reading me and want a hundred word summary? Sam Lawrence of Jive Software has compiled tag clouds of 10 bloggers he reads and has done a quick and dirty analysis of what we frequently talk about.

    What’s a tag cloud? It’s a collection of terms or keywords found in content or vernacular. It looks like he’s using IBM’s many eyes software to compile the cloud, which shows the heavier weighted or frequent terms in larger font. The cloud is comprised of words that aren’t necessarily in my wordpress categories, so it appears to be crawling and analyzing text.

    While tag clouds certainly are interesting, not everyone agrees they are helpful such as expert Thomas Vanderwal, Brian has the story.