Where's Your Widget?

One of the most interesting aspects of the econtent world today are widgets: third-party applications that companies build to embed into major content platforms. Used by companies to build a brand and share ideas, applications are an overlooked way to deliver content.

For example, there are thousands of Facebook applications, which are a great way to build your brand. These applications let users add features that are not part of the Facebook-developed interface. Recognizing that people want to add additional features, the Facebook Platform is the initiative that developers from around the world use to build new applications for the Facebook site. As an open platform, Facebook allows anybody to create applications to help friends share information in different ways; there are currently some 10,000 applications available.

The best applications for marketers to consider are the ones that help promote the sorts of products and services their companies sell. One of my personal favorites is the Cities I’ve Visited application from TripAdvisor, an incredibly large online community for travelers. The application displays a map on users’ Facebook pages where they can stick virtual thumbtacks in the cities they’ve visited. Sharing stories is half the fun of travel, and Cities I’ve Visited lets travelers quickly create an interactive map to facilitate sharing and comparing those stories with friends. Cities I’ve Visited covers more than 20,000 destinations. Since I’m on the road a lot, I also appreciate it as a great way for me to keep track of my own world travel. Since TripAdvisor’s business is providing unbiased hotel reviews, destination photos, and travel advice, the Cities I’ve Visited Facebook application is a perfect marketing tool for the company.

Remarkably, more than 5 million people have added Cities I’ve Visited to their Facebook profiles. Since typical users have hundreds of friends, the exposure for TripAdvisor is enormous.

Another platform for third-party applications is the Apple iPhone. Many content providers jumped in and built applications that were ready for the new iPhone 3G model on July 11, 2008. Applications are available from The New York Times, AP, FOX News, and several dozen others.

The incredibly quick adoption of applications by iPhone users demonstrates that being part of the applications store at the start is important. Tap Tap Revenge, a game released on the iPhone by Tapulous, immediately became the No. 1 free game on the iPhone. It was downloaded by 200,000 people in just the first 3 days of availability. On the second day of release, 25,000 people entered a Tap Tap Revenge tournament. And within a month it reached 1 million users. Wow. What an amazing success.

Another opportunity applications provide is a way for content providers to reach new audiences. Games can offer indie musicians an opportunity to gain exposure. The music industry has completely transformed in the past decade. Artists used to have to go to traditional publishers to get music out there. Then MySpace provided a way to self-publish music. Now a game application (that is downloaded by more than a million people in a month) offers a new way for an indie band to get noticed, by a potentially brand new audience, in a very big way.

SpeakerCraft is another company that was quick out of the gate with an iPhone application. SpeakerCraft created an application that transforms an iPhone into a remote control unit that can be used to access a home theater and multiroom audio system. You walk through the front door of your house, reach into your pocket, and start playing your favorite tunes from your home audio system with your iPhone. The SpeakerCraft interface operates like other iPhone applications, so it is intuitive. Your playlist, artists, and songs are all displayed on your iPhone, right alongside volume and other controls.

Third-party applications on platforms like Facebook and the iPhone provide important new avenues for content providers and application developers. However, this is scary new territory for a lot of traditional companies because of a perceived loss of control. Many organizations are scared of providing content within an application that is itself delivered via another company because they don’t like being three steps removed from a customer. However, the companies that will win in environments like Facebook and the iPhone, with tens of millions of users, will be those who don’t mind losing a bit of control in return for access to potentially millions of new users.