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Make widget

August 30, 2006

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.


Very useful concept, but there would definately need to be some security concerns addressed.

I could envision someone posting a spreadsheet widget of confidential customer data to the web...whoops wrong database.

Posted by: Earl at August 30, 2006 02:09 PM

Cute little bookshop!

Where's the non-fiction section?

For that matter where's the porn section or is the opening page the porn section?

Posted by: Mike Drips at August 30, 2006 02:27 PM

Good idea, but they'd have to do it before content production shifts completely to the web.

Posted by: Kingsley Joseph at August 30, 2006 02:40 PM

Interesting thoughts. But why are you so keen for Apple and Microsoft to do it rather than actual web based apps? Would you want them to control this space? Could they manage it?
And are the elements of, say, a spreadsheet static or dynamic? If dynamic, how are they going to update if they have been uploaded to a server?
Surely it falls to online apps to provide widgetising tools? Any app can do this, its akin to an 'export' function, i.e. a save in a specific format.
What I'd like to see are the Nings an the Dabbles of this web offering widget tools. Then we'd see something.
Sure, the OS's can produce their own tools, but don't make the mistake of assuming I'm only using desktop tools.

Posted by: Ivan Pope at August 30, 2006 07:02 PM


I'm keen for Apple and Microsoft to do it just because it would make my life a little easier. I have no doubt that, eventually, online apps will take over, but for the moment (and for the next few years, at least) I and most other people will do most of our work on desktop apps. But I'm all for web-based apps innovating in this area as well - and I wish them success. It's good to remember, though, that most customers don't have any particular ideology on the matter; they'll go with the whatever involves the least hassle (and cost).


Posted by: Nick Carr at August 30, 2006 09:48 PM

Agreed, I'd like everyone to make widgeting easy. I think in a few short years we won't really know whether an app is online or offline. Certainly, as you say, most people won't care.

Posted by: Ivan Pope at August 31, 2006 05:32 AM

You will be able to make your own widgets in the next version of Mac OS X (Leopard). Check out apple.com and go to the OS X section and look for the Leopard sneak preview.

Posted by: Joe Blow at September 1, 2006 11:21 AM

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