In an interesting post yesterday, Chris Anderson discussed how the YouTube model of syndicated video (upload your file to YouTube, then embed the video, with its supporting application, in your own site) could be extended:
Now imagine the same model working for data. Rather than me posting static jpeg charts and links to Excel spreadsheet files, what if I could post data the way I post videos: as an embedded mini-app that simply displays the data in a useful way, allowing readers to manipulate or copy it at will? … That’s what I want. Not an online spreadsheet that simply replicates what Excel already does perfectly well on my laptop, but small spreadsheet elements that I can paste into a blog post in the form of a specific data set or graph. The fact that they’re hosted elsewhere is what would make them simple enough to use, just as embedding YouTube video is so head-slapping easy today.
That makes a load of sense. But why not take it one step further? I’d like Apple and Microsoft to build into their OSes a universal “Make Widget” command. So you right click on a spreadsheet or a chart or a movie or a slide show or a presentation (or whatever), choose “Make Widget” from the contextual menu, and a widget is automatically created and uploaded to a web server (owned by Apple or Microsoft), and you’re given a simple URL to paste into your blog or site.
In one fell swoop, the OS giants would make the publishing of content and mini-applications butt-simple while also disintermediating go-betweens like YouTube and Google. I don’t know how the economics would work – you’d have to charge for storage above a certain level, I guess, or incorporate some kind of advertising – but I’m sure they could figure out something. And the competitive benefits would be substantial.
UPDATE: On a related note, Amazon today introduced a retail store widget that allows you to embed a custom shop into your blog or site. It has its shortcomings – as Mitch Ratcliffe describes, the customization options are extremely limited – but it has a lot of potential. And, yes, there is now a Rough Type Store for your shopping pleasure. Call it user-generated consumerism.