Spencer Ante, Catherine Holahan and I wrote a story about widgets off of the Facebook news that looks at how this componetization could impact the next phase of the Web. In our reporting we saw how traditional companies like the NBA, CBS, and NBC are embracing these widgets (albeit some with caveats, like wanting to retain control)and how companies like Google and eBay are figuring out how to use them to their advantage too.
Google’s position was the most curious to me. At WidgetCon here in NYC last week, Christian Oestlien, Google business product manager, said the company is putting as much brainpower developing widgets as it is to search engines. Right now, Google has two plays with gadgets.
The first is iGoogle. That’s the service that you sign up to to use so that you can create your own personalized homepage where you can track news, your calendar, those kinds of things. The way your personalize it is by using gadgets, which is Google’s word for widgets. iGoogle was Google’s fastest growing service last year and Google is encouraging more developers to write gadgets through a recently announced financing program that provides seed and grant money to successful gadgets. The second big push Google is making is Gadget Ads, a service it’s testing now.
iGoogle is fundamentally different right now from Facebook. At Facebook, because the widgets are social, they’re inherently viral. Through your news feed, you can see what widgets friends are adding. And also you can get invites, though they’re limited to 10 a day. iGoogle is about the homepage, and about your personal experience. The gadgets can be public and you can share them via email, but that’s not the same thing. So, the question I keep wondering is does Google need to become more Facebook-like with its widget/gadget approach. And how would they do that? Maybe through the work it’s doing on with Carnegie Mellon to create a new social network? Does Google focus on being the place where developers create widgets simply for your personal use? That doesn’t seem that strong a place to be.