Why Widgets Dont Work
Posted by iBlog on May 13, 2008
We knew widgets had gotten overhyped when we learned of the launch of a Widget Marketing Assn. When a marketing tool leaps from obscurity to cottage industry with its own trade group in just a few months, a bubble is surely brewing. Deep in your heart, dear marketer, you know this is true.
It didn’t take long for the fad to take flight. Widgets are small, easy-to-forward bundles of software that let users play with graphics and information online. Apple (AAPL) included a version of widgets in a 2005 operating system update, and suddenly Mac computer users could easily check weather forecasts or stock quotes from little flashy icons. The marketing world really began to take notice in May, 2007, when Facebook announced any software coder could easily build widgets for its vast online social network.
Ah, the dream! Marketers suddenly had a new way to reach the millions of computer users, especially desirable young consumers, who spend more time inside Facebook and other social networks than traditional, stodgy Web sites. The idea was simple: Create a cool widget, add your advertising message, and hope users pass them virally to all their friends.
Receive, Hunt, Do
But marketers are making a big mistake if they think widgets will help them build deep inroads with this demographic. To understand why, consider the mindset of the people spending time spiffing up their profiles and socializing online.
They are doing, not hunting, and you’ll have a hard time reaching them when they’re in this mode. There are three modes, or mindsets, people take on when they use interactive communications: receiving, hunting, and doing. You receive a phone call. You hunt for a book at the library. You take an action—say, writing an article such as this.
The history of the Web is a transition between these phases. Back in the mid-1990s, most people were happy to “receive” information on the Web. Content (meaning Web sites) was king, and so AOL, EarthLink (ELNK), and marketers responded by trying to create “sticky” Web portals where people would spend long stretches, returning often.
By 2000, the Web expanded, and millions of Web sites meant we all got lost. So consumers entered “hunt” mode, and Google (GOOG) arose as a powerful search engine helping us rapidly find stock quotes or sneakers for sale.
But “do” is where the Web is headed in 2008. Millions of people—mostly the under-35 demographic—have signed up for Facebook, MySpace (NWS), and Twitter. They are leaving single Web sites behind and becoming immersed in social media. Now Internet users can create, contribute, network, edit, share, even steal online, and pass it to hundreds of friends or colleagues. Google Docs helps you edit spreadsheets; Mint.com watches your bank and credit-card balances; Twitter lets you track the thoughts of friends.
Diversion vs. “Core Conversation”
The entire mindset of a person engaged on MySpace or LinkedIn is different from that of a hunter on a search engine. A Google user is walking into a store. A Facebook user is walking into a bar.
A clever widget is nothing more than a jukebox in the back of the social throng, a nice diversion, but really not part of the core conversation