Last Friday I visited Six Apart‘s headquarters in San Francisco to talk about widgets with Byrne Reese. Byrne is the former product manager of TypePad, currently a product manager of Movable Type, and a developer of plugins and widgets used in both products. Byrne and I talked about the current state of widgets in Six Apart’s four blogging products: TypePad, Movable Type, LiveJournal, and Vox.
Our 25-minute conversation about Six Apart widgets is available as a 11 MB audio download. I will summarize a few highlights from our conversation below.
TypePad is a hosted blog service with basic and advanced templates available to authors depending on their paid subscription level. Basic templates take advantage of a drag-and-drop sidebar manager, letting blog authors insert and rearrange widgets from the TypePad widget directory without directly editing the underlying template HTML. TypePad accounts at the Pro level or above can edit their template HTML directly through TypePad advanced templates, placing any widget code anywhere on their pages.
TypePad authors can browse available widgets in the TypePad widget directory from the TypePad admin interface or select a compatible widget from TypePad partner site Widgetbox. Widget publishers can add widget content directly from their site using the TypePad widget API and a valid partner service key.
Web feeds and advertising widgets are the most popular widgets on TypePad. Authors like to make money, and they like to integrate content from across multiple sites of interest or other areas of online activity such as their latest photos on Flickr or a music playlist from Last.fm.
Byrne developed the Sidebar Manager plugin for Movable Type, integrating the drag-and-drop simplicity of module management into the administrative interface of self-hosted Movable Type software. The Sidebar manager plugin was built into Movable Type’s core code starting with version 3.3. Movable Type treats widgets as a special type of template module, grouping appropriate sidebar content for your blog homepage, category listings, or individual entry pages.
Movable Type plugins allow third-parties to integrate content and functionality directly into the blogging application and output their content directly into each generated HTML page. Movable Type supports static generation of blog files using Perl, or dynamically generated pages using PHP (or both), letting plugin and widget developers utilize available features to create the best possible integration experience.
Byrne has not seen many developers taking advantage of the plugin + widget management features of Movable Type, but perhaps it’s just an education hurdle.
External widgets can only be added to LiveJournal after the code is reviewed and approved by Six Apart staff. The best way to get whitelisted for inclusion on LiveJournal is to initiate a partner discussion with the Six Apart business development team.
Vox is a closed system and a very controlled environment, and only Six Apart authored widgets are currently available on this new blogging system. Vox may open up in the future to allow third party widget content in its author admin interface.
These are just some of the topics covered in my 25-minute podcast with Byrne Reese of Six Apart. Listen to the full audio to hear our thoughts on popular widgets, widget business models, and what widget functionality we might expect from Six Apart in the future.
I hope to make this type of developer interview a regular feature, providing direct information about developing widgets on popular widget platforms.