[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.
Sidecar 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).