According to Wikipedia, a Web Widget is a portable chunk of code that can be installed and executed within any separate HTML-based web page by an end user without requiring additional compilation. They are akin to plugins or extensions in desktop applications.
Social networking sites such as YouTube and MySpace, as well as blogging engines have popularized the use of widgets as means by which millions of social networking aficionados share everything from music and video to various statistics of their web sites.
What made web widgets so popular is their ease of integration into various web sites and blogging platforms. Six Apart Inc., developers of TypePad, was one of the first to introduce a functionality by which widget designers could make it strikingly easy for TypePad users to integrate widgets into their blogs. Example of a widget is MyBlogLog's "View Reader Community" widget that you can find towards the bottom of the left sidebar of my blog.
Sites such as YouTube and iFilm.com have made widgets very easy to grab and put on any site. You can simply grab the HTML code for the widget and place it right on your site. Copying and pasting the HTML code is very simple as well. Take a look at how easy YouTube and iFilm made it for you to copy the HTML code to place a video on your site.
|YouTube Embed Mechanism||iFilm.com Embed Mechanism|
Surprisingly, affiliate programs have not caught on to the widget bandwagon -- yet. I strongly believe that this is the next direction for the Internet affiliate programs. One of the toughest challenges for today's merchants is getting their program noticed by super-affiliates, those affiliates capable of driving significant sales. Making it easy for them to grab a code widget, whether from the merchant's site or from another affiliate's site will make both, merchants' marketing job and affiliate implementation job so much easier.
Lawrence Coburn of sexywidget.com recently gave a great overview of the five characteristics that each widget should have in his post titled Building a Widget? Read this First. I fully agree with his analysis that every widget should have
1. Accessibility. Widgets must be formatted properly for the space they are designed to fit.
2. Customization. Widgets must be customizable by the webmaster to fit the overall look/feel of his site.
3. Content / Experience. Widgets must provide a good experience for the reader.
4. Branding. Widgets must offer branding to the merchant.
5. Sharing. Widgets must be easy to for the reader to copy from the site he is reading and place them on his own site.
The last point is the most important in my perspective since this feature allows viral marketing of the merchant's affiliate program. Yet very few merchant affiliate programs offer this capability. The easier merchants can make it for potential affiliates to become affiliates, the more affiliates they will have. Furthermore, any business that a new affiliate brings to the merchant via the widgets they copied from the original affiliate's site should be credited in terms of second-tier fees to the original affiliate. This will give affiliates plenty of financial incentives to display merchant's widgets on their sites.
Today, merchants create too many barriers in their attempt to sign up new affiliates. Widgets are perfect for breaking down these barriers. I expect many more widgets to become staples of mainstream affiliate programs in the months to come.