How to write widgets that work

First-ever widget conference offers up advice for widgeteers

Dorian Benkoil
2 min read

Today in New York, about 150 advertising, media, finance, research, and coding professionals gathered for WidgetCon, claimed to be the first-ever conference devoted solely to Web widget applications. Some of the day was spent determining what a "widget" even is. For example, Chris Cunningham, VP of sales at FreeWebs, the Web page creation company that hosted the conference, emphatically said something is not a true widget if it's downloaded to a desktop. A short while later, a presenter from FIMlabs' Spring Widgets, part of Fox Interactive, talked proudly of the tens of thousands of downloads for one of their popular applications.

Nevertheless, we gleaned some good tips that we think are valid for anyone who's going to create widgets:

  • Consider the widget's "life cycle." Once they're launched, you may have to bear the freight of them forever. This is especially important if you've got Flash or video or some other heavy application that hits your servers every time someone accesses the widget. The success of a viral widget can become a cost to you, and that cost may continue well beyond what you'd planned if the widget's use spreads and grows.
  • Make your widget a one-click installation to every major platform (Facebook, Google, MSN, and so on).
  • If you'll be selling ads on the widget, make sure there's seamless integration with an ad server.
  • Consider search engine optimization. Ed Anuff, CEO of Widgetbox, talked about optimizing widgets for search engines, though he wasn't very specific about how it's done.

Freewebs President Shervin Pishevar offered the following rules, which are deceptively simple to understand but can be very complicated to get just right:

  • "Keep it Simple, Stupid." Don't overcomplicate the widget; make it easy to use, intuitive, and easy to explain to users.
  • "Bring the Bling." People love to personalize and have to feel they own the app. Allow for that.
  • "Speak Dog." Make sure you talk the language of the community that you want to use the widget. If you don't understand the community, it won't be authentic, and the widget won't be viral.
  • "Eat Your Own Dog Food." Be part of the community. See above.
  • "Color Outside the Lines." Repackage what's already out there in a new way.
  • "Be contagious." Allow someone to use your widget to connect with others, and make sure there's a call to action.
  • "Be Useful." Make sure the widget is something people will want to use.

Guest correspondent Dorian Benkoil is a senior consultant at Teeming Media and a former editor of CNET's small business section.