Widget stands for the physicality of industrial production, for flawless repetition and for uniformity of demand. It’s a pretty durable image because it’s busy crossing over into the new economy where it’s become symbolic of a different set of forces/ the atomisation of business processes and application logic. Marketers, as usual, are at the sharp end.
Widgets, in this new world, are tiny pieces of software, mini-programs that you can velcro into your blog or onto your PC desktop. They have limited, well-defined functions: such as displaying photographs from your Flickr account or fetching the latest forecast from Accuweather. There’s no real limit to the richness and usefulness of a widget: if it can be coded, it can be delivered in a widget.
Widget makers hope that by allowing you to “tear off” bits of their site for your own use you’ll be reminded they exist and come back more often. You’ll encourage others too. Widget makers are colonising your site, drawing it into their network, recruiting you to their sales team.
Widget users hope that a handful of clever widgets will brighten an otherwise dull blog or profile and widget-management tools such as Snipperoo are evolving to help site owners keep their widgets under control. Marketers think this is cool because it offers another opportunity for “engagement”. It’s a kind of software devolution: functions will execute where they’re needed. Much of this is driven by the geek passion for reuse. Why develop a mapping function when there’s a perfectly good one over at Yahoo!? Why code a lead generation tool when Salesforce.com has a great one at the other end of a Web services query? Out of this trend will grow an economy.
Applications have lost their boundaries. They reach into multiple systems and platforms: usually for data, sometimes for functionality. These code snippets are lighting up the edges of the internet. The edge, increasingly, is where the action is. Widgets are a symptom of the fecundity of code in the 2.0 era and where code goes, brands will follow.