What’s a Widget and Why Do You Need One?

Q&A with Ori Soen, Founder & CEO of MuseStorm
What are Widgets?
Widgets – and their close cousins social applications, are small applications consumers put on their blogs, personal profile page (on a site like Facebook or MySpace), web start pages (like iGoogle or NetVibes), download or bookmark on a mobile phone to add interest and interactivity. Consumers use widgets to have ready access to and interact with content and information that is important to them, to express themselves, and to share content of importance to them with friends and other people who visit their blog or personal profile pages.
Why are they important?
More and more, people don’t start their web experience by visiting a search page like Google or Yahoo, but by visiting a social networking site like Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, or others. While away from their computers, people surf the web from their mobile phones. These trends mean that it is important to take branded web content and package it in a convenient “to go” format. Widgets and social applications allow companies to reach consumers where they are spending the majority of time online and to do so in a very low-cost way. Not only is the cost of creating the widget relatively low, it creates viral transmission of branded content through people sharing the widget or social application with their friends. This factor greatly reduces the cost of the media buy behind a widget-based marketing campaign.

How does one make a widget?
It’s important to realize why consumers might post your widget. It’s not because they like your brand or your creative. It’s because they like the content and value you provide. So the first step in making the widget is figuring out what content or information you want to include in your widget and how that content is useful to the kind of customer you want to target – all factors in creating traction with the end user. How-to videos, for example, are simple and easy to produce and are incredibly popular with all kinds of consumers. But in general, you can build a widget yourself, provided you are working from an easy-to-learn platform.
Should a programmer be hired?
Outside of using a platform like the MuseStorm Engagement Platform, companies have traditionally outsourced their widget building, because it can be technically challenging. However, programming is not a requirement with a platform like MuseStorm’s. We handle all the technology “heavy lifting”, allowing companies to spend the majority of their time and money focused on creating compelling content that will make their widget useful and different to the target customer.
What would be the main difference between a widget that a programmer and non-programmer can make?
Frankly, we’re not seeing a huge difference here. We do recommend that our clients invest a small amount of money developing a skin for their widget by hiring a creative resource skilled in Adobe Flash or Photoshop. If our client does not have these resources available, we’re happy to make a recommendation.
The reason programming doesn’t make a huge difference is that MuseStorm provides dynamic components that enable you to build two-way interactivity into your widget or social application. Since we allow you to “morph” the widget you created for the web into a Facebook or iPhone application, there is no need to hire a programmer trained in FBML (Facebook Markup Language) or with knowledge of the iPhone. Morphability is a capability unique to MuseStorm and gives companies reach into many more environments than they would ordinarily get were they to hire a programmer and attempt to develop their own widget on , or develop a widget using one of the consumer-oriented solutions that aren’t designed for the needs of companies and brands.
If the dynamic components we provide aren’t sufficient, you can extend the capabilities of our platform by hiring a Flash programmer to create additional functionality using Adobe Flash. This is a great option and allows you to build very high-end widgets with no limits to their functionality. One of our customers, a consulting firm called Enthiosys, makes a serious game called “Buy a Feature,” that enables customers to collaborate to determine the features to build into next-generation products. Enthiosys can use our platform in combination with outside programmers to create “Buy a Feature” inside a widget at a price that would not otherwise be affordable to them.
How “easy” is it for someone who is not technically inclined to make a widget – or maybe it’s not for them?
Very easy. Anyone can get started building a widget in less than 30 minutes. We offer all our clients hands-on training before they start using our environment – which looks and feels a lot like PowerPoint – though they’re not required to take the training.. We make it easy for marketing professionals to produce, manage, deliver, and analyze widgets and social applications into all kinds of social and viral environments. You don’t have to be technical. No knowledge of CSS or HTML or Adobe Flash is required.
What are the costs?
We price the MuseStorm Engagement Platform on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis just like other interactive media products. Our pricing is very competitive with most campaigns, starting at $20K. This price includes the cost of developing the widget and/or social application, placing it in media and providing access to our industry-leading analytics. Most competitive solutions for professionals that target agencies and professional marketers start charge you between $20,000 and $70,000 just to develop the widget or social application–never mind the cost of the media.
Give us one or two examples of successfully built widgets of non-famous companies. Meaning, not like a widget by TechCrunch or Apple.
We already mentioned Enthiosys, maker of Innovation Games, a set of serious games that are used by companies like Intuit, Google, and Qualcomm to determine what features to build into new products. Enthiosys/Innovation Games recently decided to reach out to iPhone users with a widget they built using the MuseStorm Platform. (We’re the only widget maker that allows you to build widgets for the iPhone in addition to Facebook, Bebo, OpenSocial, the web, and the desktop.)
Another great example is the Megadeth widget created by Image Entertainment, which handles the band’s tour DVD distribution and promotion. Image was able to easily and cost-effectively build a widget centered around Megadeth’s “Gigantour,” field it across the web and was very happy with the results – happy enough to extend the campaign.

Are widgets different than the free “content feeds” that Feedburner generates?

RSS feeds can be a source of content within a widget or social application. Some of the low-end products available in the market today enable you to enhance an RSS feed and make it pretty. Charlene Li at Forrester Research calls this “RSS in a Dress” not particularly engaging to consumers, since the novelty of this kind of widget has already worn off. We advise our customers to use RSS and services like Feedburner to burn a data feed to bring into their widget or social application — but remember that data and data alone is unlikely to be compelling to their audience. Content like video, slideshows, interactive content such as a poll and the ability to comment on what you are doing is the type of content consumers find far more compelling.
Any thing else?
Just a reminder that if your target audience is 18-34 year olds, widgets, social applications, and mobile applications should be a mainstay of your marketing plan. It’s becoming incredibly expensive to drive people to your website. Widgets, social applications, and mobile applications are a way to bring your offering to where people reside when they are online. We’re here to help your small business get started building a campaign that can make a difference.
Ori Soen founded MuseStorm in 2005. Apart from managing day-to-day operations, as CEO, he is focused on business development, sales, and building customer acceptance for MuseStorm as the professional way to widget.