Category: Widgets

AboutUs widget: Bringing a little chunk of editable AboutUs goodness to your site

120px-aboutuslogonew.pngYesterday, a number of us celebrated the 14th anniversary of a gift Ward Cunningham gave to the world, the Wiki. So today seemed like an appropriate day to celebrate a new gift that Ward—and his current company AboutUs—have given to the Web community. Something that features some of that same Wiki goodness and yet, brings something new to the table, the AboutUs widget.

What’s the AboutUs widget do? Quite simply, it provides a chunk of dynamically updated information about any Web site referenced in AboutUs to any blog—actually any site for that matter. Or, as the creators of the widget describe it:

The AboutUs Blog Widget embeds key information about any website in your post. A snippet of JavaScript, it adds a 63-character summary of the website, tags describing the site – called topics – and links to both their website and wiki page.

Whatever your blogging forte, the widget is a way for you to serve your readers better by providing an unobtrusive introduction to websites you’ve mentioned. The best part is, if you or your readers have ideas for improving this info, editing the AboutUs page updates the widget automatically.

AboutUs widget codeI’ve been using the widget for a few months in private beta—coincidentally one of the first posts to include it was about AboutUs—and I couldn’t be happier with its performance.

And now, you can use the widget, too. Just go to any AboutUs page and look in the right sidebar for the widget code.

What’s that? The site you want to feature doesn’t have an AboutUs page? It only takes a few seconds to add it. Just add it, provide a short description and some topics, and voila! Widget worthy.

But how did the this little piece of widget magic come about? That, my friends, is an interesting little story. Gather round and let me spin a little tale….

AboutUs Widget: The True Hollywood Portland-collaboration Story

Not so long ago, I was a wee bit frustrated. I wanted to provide additional information on the companies about which I was writing, but I didn’t want to keep repeating the same boilerplate over and over—and I wanted to make sure that it remained as fresh as possible.

What I wanted was something like the CrunchBase widget. Something simple and compact that provided necessary details about the company.

But there were a couple of problems with the CrunchBase widget as far as Silicon Florist was concerned. What were they? I’m glad you asked (because I’m going to tell you anyway).

First, most of the companies I write about aren’t in CrunchBase—and aren’t likely relevant to the majority of the CrunchBase population. Once they reach that level, they’re a bit above my pay grade. Second, an important part of the CrunchBase data set is “funding.” Given that most of the startups I profile are pre-funding side projects or garage gigs, that was a gap. Third, in my experience with CrunchBase—when I tried to edit the content for Vidoop to indicate that it was, in fact, a Portland company not a Tulsa company anymore—the updates weren’t “dynamic.” They required approval. Meaning, that the CrunchBase information could be incorrect for the time that the majority of the folks were reading the posts. Finally, as much as I loved the CrunchBase content, it simply wasn’t homegrown.

So that got me to thinking: maybe I should build a little database and widget of my own? A database that contained relevant details on the companies or projects that I write about. That contained the information I thought was relevant—and that I could edit on a moment’s notice so that it was always fresh.

And after about two seconds of thinking about the time and effort required to build and maintain that kind of resource, I smacked myself for even letting that thought enter my head. Or I noticed some shiny new Silicon Forest startup about which I could write.

Honestly, it’s a bit cloudy.

Besides, if I built it, it would only be available to me. And seriously, how useful is that? That’s right. Not very.

If only, I thought. If only there were some structured database of Web site information that I could access. Some set of data that was always up-to-date, that was easy to embed, and that had access to information on the types of companies and projects I tended to cover.

And if only it existed in the Silicon Forest. A homegrown solution, as it were.

If only.

And then, there I was standing at Portland Lunch 2.0. And there was Ward standing there.

And then it hit me.

AboutUs has a structured database of the Web site information I need. AboutUs is always up-to-date—and if it’s not, I can change it. I mean, it’s a wiki, right? And AboutUs has every single Web site ever—and if it doesn’t I could add it in a matter of seconds. Best of all? AboutUs is a homegrown Portland, Oregon, Silicon Forest production.

So, I walked up to Ward and said, “If you’ve got a second, I have an idea….”

And Ward was kind enough to listen. And we talked it through. And it turned out that there was something interesting for AboutUs there, too. It provided another way to distribute the AboutUs content to a variety of providers and a way to get folks back to AboutUs to edit and update their content.

Kismet.

So a few meetings, some note card sketches, and countless hours of coding that fell on someone else’s shoulders besides mine, and we have the first iteration of the AboutUs widget.

I can’t help but take pride in helping this little widget come into being—if only as being one of the sparks of the idea. And I couldn’t be happier to get the chance to work with the amazing AboutUs team—Ward Cunningham, Didip Kerabat, BJ Clark, Vinh Nguyen, and Jon Farr—to bring the idea to fruition.

This is still an early first step. And there’s room to improve. So give the AboutUs widget a shot. Embed it. Test it. Give me or them feedback about what you’d like to see.

We’ve already got some ideas on how we can improve it and what features can be added. But it would be great to hear from you—and to see you adding it to your blogs and Web sites.

At the very least, you’ll find the widgets a regular addition to Silicon Florist blog posts. Hopefully, they provide you with some relevant and meaningful information beyond my usual blather. And if not? You can always change them—unlike my blather.

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Iterasi gets more social with RSS feeds, widgets, and public pages

[Editor: Full disclosure, Iterasi is a client of mine, but I was not involved in this announcement.]

http://www.iterasi.net/user/siliconflorist?format=widgetN1Vancouver-based Iterasi, the service that allows you to create your own personal Wayback Machine, took a huge step forward in making its network of users more social, today, when they announced three major additions to their offering: public pages, RSS feeds, and widgets.

Josh Lowensohn at Webware broke the news:

Web page archiving tool Iterasi is getting a small but important update Tuesday morning. Users can now share their stream of archived pages with others as an RSS feed, letting anyone view their saved items either directly in their browser or in a feed-capturing tool like Google Reader or desktop e-mail clients.

In my opinion, these seemingly innocuous changes actually mark a decided change in Iterasi’s stance. With these features, Iterasi moves from being an interesting personal service toward becoming a valuable social service. And by embracing features that allow me to distribute my saved pages to a much, much wider audience, they gain the benefit of more people encountering their service.

I have found a great deal of value in being able to save pages for myself. But now that I have the option of sharing pages with folks? It opens a whole new realm of use for me. Like a more typical social bookmarking service.

Fringe benefits abound. With RSS feeds and widgets, Iterasi just increased its exposure exponentially. I’ve added the widget to this post and I’ll likely add it to the blog (once the Mac version is out and I can use the service regularly.) And, I’m adding the RSS feed to my lifestreaming services, like FriendFeed and Strands.

What’s more, by launching public pages, Iterasi has the potential to rapidly increase its online footprint for search engines and the like—like any other public-facing social network service.

Now, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. As with any new feature on a BETA product, there are some rough spots and some nice-to-haves that didn’t make the cut. There are some areas over which I would like to have control, like skinning the widget and dealing with the publishing function.

But as I’ve mentioned, I see this release as less about “features” and more about “vision.” It’s clear to me that Iterasi is taking a much more social stance. And that’s a very good thing.

To test drive the product, visit Iterasi. To see the public page in action or to get the widget code, please visit the Silicon Florist page on Iterasi.

Sidecar: Ridiculously easy feedback widget for products, blogs

[HTML1]A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to get a glimpse of Sidecar, a new widget from Portland-based widget wizards StepChange Group. The product is currently running in a small private beta with a couple of other Portland-based companies, Sandy and one other.

Sidecar, at its very most basic, is a simple survey widget. It was developed—with product managers in mind—as a way to make it easy for developers to embed surveys and feedback mechanisms within the interface of the Web-based apps they’re developing. The widget was specifically targeted at gathering feedback during the oft-cryptic and hectic “beta testing” cycle that every product experiences.

But, as we walked through the demo, I immediately saw the opportunity for it to do more. Much more.

I couldn’t help but think of all of its potential as a feedback mechanism, a means of managing context sensitive help, a supplemental page-ranking system (think “contextual Digg“), and—last but not least—the means for you (yes, you!) to truly engage in conversations with your users in a format that is easy for them and valuable for you.

That’s a lot to cram into a little widget. But I’m definitely seeing the potential. Even in this beta version.

So of course I piped up with, “You know, I could really see this being useful on my blog. Or any blog for that matter. Blogs get feedback via comments. But that’s post-by-post feedback. I could really use this to assess the impact of Silicon Florist, as a whole.”

So, I continued to beg and plead. (I could almost hear the engineering team cursing me.) And luckily, I was invited to the private beta. Then I saw Greg Rau’s presentation at Startupalooza, and I was convinced that I better get this thing deployed sooner rather than later. So, now, you can see the Sidecar widget running right now, over at the top of the Silicon Florist sidebar.

Feel free to bang on it.

Click to see the Sidecar admin screen fullsizeSidecar is simple. Ridiculously so. And that’s the best compliment I can give it. It took me less than five minutes to build that Silicon Florist widget—and that was with the not-ready-for-prime-time admin panel. The same thoughtful simplicity that informed the design of the widget interface clearly permeates the widget configuration tools, as well. (I’ve provided a screenshot of the beta admin screen for reference.)

There are a bevy of reports and dashboards, as well: feedback, pages, users, and widget-use metrics. But I can’t say much about those until there is actually some data from the widget.

The only downside to Sidecar, at this point, is the installation, which is still a bit geeky. Not overly geeky mind you, but it requires mucking with code. And while that will have little to no impact on the Web-app developer adoption, it may curtail adoption with a broader market. I’ll be interested to see how StepChange puts its simplicity-smarts into making the widget installation (WordPress widget or plugin, for example) as simple as widget creation and management.

I don’t have any word as to when the Sidecar beta goes from private to public beta, but I will be continuing to provide feedback to the StepChange team on issues I encounter and the features I would like to see. If you’d like to chime in, you have two ways: commenting on this post or, preferably, using the widget (hint, hint).

For more information on the widget, visit Sidecar. For more on the people behind Sidecar, visit StepChange.[

Portland widget startups on the cusp of something big

Portland is well-known as an creative town. Especially when it comes to marketing and advertising. It’s hard to avoid the moniker with a powerhouse like Wieden+Kennedy in town.

But, anyone who lives here realizes that it’s not just W+K. There are marketing and advertising agencies and boutiques of every size dotting the Portland corporate landscape.

Within that environment, it’s not surprising that marketing and advertising wend their way through the culture of the city. Lately, however, I’ve begun to see this marketing influence popping up in a rather unexpected—but extremely interesting—space: Portland’s Web startups. Specifically those startups that focus on widget development.

It seems that the heretofore lowly widget is taking on the role of something more than a cute small-footprint app. It’s beginning to appear that it may be more than just a way to serve up some content, remotely. Today, in fact, it’s becoming clear that the widget is starting to take on a very important role in the world of marketing communications as one of the most tangible means of interacting with customers.

And two Portland startups on the leading front of widget development have the potential to capitalize that trend.

Earlier this week, Portland-based SplashCast revealed that the company’s Facebook widgets for popular recording artists were outperforming traditional online advertisements. Well, that might be an understatement. SplashCast pegs that performance at “75 times better than the clickthrough rate of traditional banner ads.

Now, to put that in context, SplashCast is seeing about 3% clickthrough rates on those Facebook apps. And that 3% is 75 times better than banner ads are performing.

But, the dismal downfall of banner ads as a format is not the focus, here. The point is that banner ads are an accepted and prevalent format for advertising that don’t hold a candle to the performance of widgets.

Later in the week, SplashCast continued to tout this finding by beginning to describe their apps, not as widgets, but rather “social advertising”:

SplashCasting represents a new form of online marketing called social advertisements – tools marketers use to reach the growing demographic of social network site users.

Social advertising. I might have left it at that, had not another Portland-based widget-building startup taken a tangential and complementary position on the issue.

That startup is StepChange (conspiracy theorists may begin churning on the “companies named with a capital ‘s’ and capital ‘c'” theories, forthwith), a small consultancy that both develops widgets for a number of customers and has some widget-based side projects in the offing, as well.

StepChange is beginning to notice a similar trend. And StepChange’s insight only lends credence to the position that SplashCast is taking on the world of widgets:

While we’ve done some basic Flash/Feed widgets, most of our design and development work has been on Social Media Apps that function more like true “applications” – with our clients requiring a relatively high degree of administration, content management, targeting reporting and integration.

I think these kind of ‘super-widgets-turned-applications’ need a better name, so I’m going to start calling them Distributed Marketing Applications.

In my opinion, the position that StepChange and SplashCast are taking is one that makes absolute—if not completely obvious—sense: social media marketing should be, well, social.

Social media is about interactivity. And feedback. And conversations.

Traditional online advertising—with its dancing gifs and whack-a-mole come-ons—just isn’t cutting it anymore. Traditional advertising is not, for lack of a better term, “interactive.” It’s one way. It’s broadcast.

And those who are deeply engaged in social media are hesitant to consume—if not completely avoid—those grating and annoying advertising formats, leftover remnants from last century’s dotcom failures.

Today’s Web consumers are wanting more. And they’re wanting something with which they can interact.

Widgets—and by extension Portland’s widget developers—offer that interaction for users. They offer something more than broadcast. They offer the potential for communications that are far more interactive.

To put it quite plainly, widgets offer us a form of marketing communications that we, as those being marketed to, “can actually do something with.” And if Portland’s widget developers can crack that code for the untold billions interested in interacting with us as customers, then they stand to have marketing and advertising executives beating a path to their door.

StepChange’s Kevin Tate makes a bet:

I’m also willing to bet that, as more and more companies look to extend their existing sites and services into Social Media, we’re going to see a significant market need for these types of platforms.

I’m beginning to agree with him. And I’m excited to see Portland continue to serve its role as a creative town. And, as a leader in marketing and advertising for what could truly be the next generation of ads.

In case you missed it: Widgets at Portland Web Innovators

If you, like I, were unable to attend the Portland Web Innovators‘ get-together with StepChange, last night, fear not, gentle reader.

Justin Kistner of Metafluence has provided a thorough recap of the PDXWI event for your reading pleasure.

My biggest take away is that widgets are not just a fad, but rather an important stratification of content and services that will reshape the future landscape of the web.

For more, see Metafluence.

Reminder: Portland Web Innovators tonight

Join the Portland Web Innovators for their monthly gathering, tonight. The topic? Portland-based StepChange will be presenting on their experiences developing widgets, like CLIQ. The meeting begins at 7 PM and will be hosted by Nemo Design.

For more information on the event or to RSVP, see the Upcoming page. For more on the group, see Portland Web Innovators.

StepChange announces CLIQ, a dynamic, blogroll widget

Portland-based StepChange has revealed the fruits of their latest widget-development efforts: CLIQ, a “super blogroll” widget that allows bloggers to dynamically manage complementary blog content, based on relevance.

It’s constantly changing content from your blogging clique. Get it?

In order to help bloggers actively promote and share their content, CLIQ combines three distinct things to create a Social Platform for Blog Merchandising.

1. The CLIQ Widget – which features content across a CLIQ’s member blogs

2. The CLIQin Social Network – which lets bloggers join forces with their friends

3. Offermatica‘s Content Targeting Engine – which drives content features and relevance

As for that question on the tip of your tongue, “What makes it different that the thousands of other blogroll widgets out there?” the team offers:

CLIQ allows Bloggers to create their own groups of related and friendly blogs (“CLIQs”) – and to explicitly promote their posts across each other’s blogs according to popularity and relevance. It’s a merchandising tool for blog content, with a ‘social’ twist.

The widget is currently in limited release. Interested parties can register on the CLIQ site to see if they’re chosen to be allowed beyond the velvet rope.

If you get in, drop me a note and I’ll link it up. I’ll be the one standing outside in the rain, trying to bribe the bouncer with some mad Hamiltons.

Widgets: Portland Web Innovators October 3

Portland Web Innovators have announced the topic and date of their October meeting.

The topic? Widgets. The date? October 3rd.

The event will feature Kevin Tate of Step Change and will be hosted by Nemo Design.

For more information or to RSVP, visit the Upcoming page.

WordPress plugin: AJAX Search

Portland-based developer Matt King has released an AJAX search plugin for WordPress. It is currently available for download from his site.

Matt describes the inspiration for the WordPress AJAX plugin on his blog:

I use the Spotlight feature in OS X an awful lot. While some people would rather use things like Quicksilver, I like just hitting command+space and typing in what I’m looking for, be it a document or even an application I want to open.

That’s the inspiration for AJAX.search, a search system built on Prototype’s AJAX framework. It will make a call to a URL you specify and display the results under your search box like Spotlight (and now, like the search at Apple.com). From there you can hit the up or down arrow keys to select a result and then hit the enter key to visit the link.

For more information on the plugin, to see the search in action, or to download it for your WordPress blog, visit Matt King’s blog.

Vimeo releases Hubnut widget

Now, I know Vimeo (Connected Ventures) is based in New York, but did you know that they have a tie to the Rose City?

They do. The Community Director for Vimeo, Dalas Verdugo, lives here in good ol’ Portland. I think. I’ll have to admit, I can’t confirm that he lives here. (Chris Anderson, however, can.) But it certainly appears almost certain that he does.

He just posted a photo of IKEA Swedish meatballs. And everyone knows that Portland is still all gaga over the new IKEA. So, he lives here. Probably.

So there’s a tie.

Well, Vimeo just released a widget they’re calling Hubnut Projector (it was referred to as “Projector” when I originally posted; now they appear to be calling it “Hubnut”), that enables you to embed a series of Vimeo videos within a Web page. And since we’re all big fans of the embeddable media—like SplashCast—around here, I felt it worthy of a mention.

An example can be found, below. Scratch that. I tried to embed it and it appeared to conflict with the site template. An example can be found here.

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