Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion is widget-crazy, and he has a whole series of articles to prove it. What am I talking about? Widgets are little applications designed to be inserted into people’s start pages at Google and similar portals as well as into MySpace pages, blogs or normal websites. Widgets can do everything from display headlines to play music to show a little calculator or clock.
Why should campaigns care? First, as Rubel explains, widgets allow people to customize start pages on their favorite sites to an unprecedented extent. Start pages can become such a rich experience that users spend less and less time on other sites. Instead, they tend to view other websites’ content on their own start pages, with RSS providing the transmission mechanism. More and more, content is becoming separated from presentation, and your words can show up in contexts that readers control, not you. If you’re not distributing your words in a format that others can use (i.e., RSS), you run the risk of missing some readers entirely.
Second, publishers such as newspaper sites and television networks are beginning to compete for start page subscribers in a rerun of the late ’90s portal wars. Some larger organizations, particularly membership-based ones, may want to consider letting their readers set up pages on their sites so that the organization becomes the reader’s default page their entry point into the web. And, organizations can look at creating their own widgets, to do what I’m not sure (figuring that out is your homework assignment).
We’re just seeing the beginning of the potential of RSS, since widgets and similar applications can use and display RSS feeds without the user even having to know what an RSS feed IS. Soon, the majority of web readers may be consuming the contents of feeds without being aware of it, and an organization or campaign without RSS will be missing a significant channel to spread its message. Here’s a nice overview of RSS to get you started.