Last night I went to the first Boston Web Innovators dinner, focused on the topic of widgets. The event was organized by David Beisel and held at the Cambridge offices of Venrock. The concept of the evening was to pick a theme for discussion and have a smaller gathering (10-15) than at the normal WebInno demo & networking events, which have grown quite large. Among those in attendance there seemed to be a range of familiarity with widgets; including those actively building and marketing them, to those trying to understand how to market and monetize them, or just wondering if 2007 will be the year of the widget. A few highlights and thoughts:

  • David Cutler of Oddcast gave a short overview of widgets and talked about a few successful widgets like Southwest Airlines' Ding!. As with many new technologies, the terminology can be a little confusing. There are web, desktop and mobile widgets, other terms like badges, and an array of technologies to build them. Jon from GuildCafe shared some his experiences in building widgets.
  • There was some discussion about how to monetize them. Jon expressed skepticism (and I agree) about whether embedding advertising would turn off many potential users. Although, as was mentioned, there are services like WeatherBug that are ad supported. I'd venture that there is a difference between ads shown only to me versus ads that run on a public facing page or social network profile. At a minimum the ads would have to be well targeted, or slide into the content like an intro ad to a video.
  • Widgets on the web further complicate how to measure and analyze traffic. Fred Wilson blogged about the topic today on overcounting widget hits. For example, we've built badges for that allow fans or bands to list their upcoming shows on their blogs or sites, and for a while even Fred ran it on his badge-covered blog (when it was sporting even more bling). We served a lot of badge "views" but certainly those hits aren't equal to a view on our site directly. Is there a reasonable way to discount those views? On some sites the widget may be front and center, and on others buried among many others.
  • After discussion by the full table it broke into more informal conversations. Always interesting since the WebInno events draw a bright crowd, but most of my chatting wasn't about widgets per se, other than some thoughts on Apollo, Silverlight and what to make of JavaFX. </ul>