Wednesday, February 13

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Remember back in the day when browser plug-ins were all the rage? This was when browsers could barely read formatted text tables and animated images, so third parties sprung up with all kinds of small applications that could be added to your browser. Want to view videos on a page? Install one of 15 different video plug-ins (most custom to only one type of video file type). Want to listen to streaming audio? Different plug-ins. You needed to install separate ones to do all kinds of things that we take for granted now: view PDF files, play interactive games, spin a 3-D product, have a live chat, and so on.

Netscape and IE had a running battle of plug-in wars as leverage for browser share domination. Funny thing is that Firefox (way out on the limb of the Netscape family evolution tree) is still at it with almost 2,000 "Add Ons."

But most of these plug-in developers failed to have much longevity and have disappeared. You could argue that Adobe (Acrobat PDF, Flash) and Apple (QuickTime) are pretty much the only ones left standing. Their products basically absorbed the functionality offered by everyone else, tied it to their software development applications, and wiped out an entire industry.

Which made me think that the explosion of widgets for social network sites is the same situation. Users want to pimp out their personal pages instead of their browsers. And software developers/amateur coders are rushing to meet that demand.

Facebook offers 15,908 widgets as of today. It was about half that a month ago. The OpenSocial standards being pushed by Google, which allows development of widgets that work across social network sites, will cause exponential growth of more vendors and apps. Not that I really need to choose from 152 different ways to "poke" my friends. So expect mass consolidation in the near future as the best ones go viral, establish themselves with a mass audience, and succeed.

Eventually users will decide which widget functionalities are fads and which are useful enough to keep around. These will be absorbed into the social network sites as part of their templates, just like web browsers absorbed the most useful plug ins into their core code. And some day you can tell your grandkids about how you had to find and install Superwall before you could remind your friends about the Saturday night kegger.

Next up will be an explosion of cell phone applications, as Google's Android mobile operating system catches on and allows developers to create small apps that work across phones/carriers. Start working on your catchy name for those apps now.

1 comment:

Akash said...

This made me laugh out loud. And of course coincidentally I just got off a call with our media partners where we have concepts with streaming video and how it cannot fit into a 30K banner.