Widgets Live! wrap-up

Yesterday’s Widgets Live! conference was a success! Over 200 people involved in the widget ecosystem came together to discuss the current state of the industry, show off their work, meet new people, and learn new things. There were two big takeaways for attendees: we’re just getting started and the widget world is a bit too fractured.

Highlights from the day

  • Arlo Rose talked about getting a call from a friend at Apple after a meeting discussion “steamrolling” his product and small company, Konfabulator. Apple later released Dashboard.
  • Fox Interactive Media launched Spring Widgets, a new desktop and web-based widget hybrid. I wrote about SpringBox last month, trying to track down lots of information about the team and its history. It was fun to finally meet all of them at the conference.
  • Alex Russell talked about creating the right user experience within your widget using existing best practices.
  • Tariq Krim showed off support for Google Universal Gadgets inside Netvibes personal homepages.
  • NVIDIA acquired PortalPlayer in the morning, making our hardware widgets session a bit more interesting.
  • Freewebs announced Mooglets will be released under a MIT license, creating new possibilities for enterprise deployments and more.

The start of something big

Most speakers and attendees agreed the industry is just getting started, and tackling some of the big problems that have held back user growth and adoption. The main audience of widgets has no idea how to author a web page, and are more interested in displaying their name in glitter or pictures of cute puppies than their stock portfolio. MySpace is a major deployment platform and has created many accessory companies. The new Spring Widgets will be deployed on the websites of Fox television stations, showing the weather, traffic, and upcoming TV shows for your local area. It’s populist yet focused content located alongside where you already consume that information in other mediums.

The creation and uses of widgets has surprised even their creators. Adam Sah of Google noticed nurses were using an allowable blood loss calculator on their homepage and Meebo has seen their chat widget Meebo Me used as a homework helper between parents, students, and teachers on assignment websites. Release, observe, rev.

Differences of naming, markup

Widgets, gadgets, modules, startlets, page components, web badges, and “stuff” were the talk of the show. The divergent naming choices of deployment endpoints is a hint at the current disconnect and incompatibility of the various widget systems and their respective containers. Developers need to create widgets for each specific system, wrapping their content in the appropriate manifest file or tying into the special JavaScript functionality of one system or the other.

In some cases custom development is a good thing, such as using Quartz rendering on a Mac or Windows Presentation Foundation on a PC to help your widget match the look and feel of its environment. Each widget system differs in its manifest and communication with other widgets on the page, or data communicated by the platform.

Connecting the industry

The most rewarding aspect of the conference for me was connecting major players from across the industry. The 9-hour intensive challenged perceptions of what users and developers want from widget content and end point and shared the experience of people involved in the widget space daily. A few people I spoke with mentioned how discussions at the conference changed their strategy, so hopefully we’ll now see cool developments a bit faster and more on target than before.

I moderated the homepage widgets panel, but the conversations between session participants Google, Microsoft, and Netvibes didn’t end on stage. After our session all three leaders of their respective products continued comparing notes in the break room and exchanged contact information. Success! That’s exactly what I had in mind and in a single moment the effort of putting on a conference seemed worth it.