not yet a widget revolution

i'm a widget believer - but that's mostly a hunch. Sitting in the Widgety Goodness (WGUK07) conference today, my experience is as much of absence as of goodness, even though I agree with Ivan the organizer that widgets will change everything. The geek in me is interested in the distribution mechanisms and the API's - but where's the sense of social relevance? Maybe we've got to wait a while before a new danah boyd can write about the cultural significance of widgets.

Which is a shame. Because surely, surely, this user-powered collaging of the web landscape will have some impact on power relationships online. Isn't that why people are getting excited about Open Social (even though WGUK07 speaker Ankur Shah explained why this is still more hype than reality).

wguk07 logo

The overwhelming perspective seems to be 'how can we as digital agencies use this for the client brand'? Fair enough - but missing the wider impact. To be fair, speakers like Russell Davies put a lot of emphasis on utility, on how a widget can tell me something useful i didn't know. Even better, Russell put it up a gear by reintroducing the idea of fun, and pointed to embodied / offline examples like the Sharkrunner game . (Note: like Charlie Leadbeater i suspect that Alternate Reality Games have a lot to teach us about tools for social change).

When I was at Amnesty we launched irrepressible.info with a widget that allows you to undermine censorship by publishing fragments of censored material on your site. MAPLight.org said they would use NetSquared funds to create customized ‘widgets’ showing campaign contributions and votes in U.S. Congress, updated in real-time. And Steve Bridger has already blogged about a widget response network for emergencies like Darfur and Chad . Maybe when we run the Social Innovation Camp (details coming soon) we'll follow Channel 4's example and run a widget category. As widgets become more widely used I'm sure we'll see widget-based social innovation - and that'll really pump up the goodness in Widgety Goodness.

UPDATE: for interesting posts from other participants, check out the post-conference feeds at  the Widgety Goodness backnetwork .

widgets for action: the 'Make Your Mark' Facebook application

The Make Your Mark Facebook application helps people to make their ideas happen. At least, we hope so. A chance collision with the Facebook app developers at Inuda set us wondering how we could make the most of people's networks in a way that turns enterprising ideas in to actions.

The basic idea is simple; fill out a form for 'I want to...' and 'I need...' and your wants/needs will feed through to your friendship network, and out from there. The viral part should kick in when someone reading your idea thinks 'i can't help with that but i know someone who can' - so we made it easy to share wants/needs with your friends. Networking and connecting is at the heart of making ideas happen.

MYM Facebook app screenshot 1

We've been through several (rapid!) iterations while developing the app, and our guiding mantra is 'share your idea, get help with the things you need, help others make their ideas happen'. We've now decided to open it up via a global view that's visible to all Facebook users. Because the app is being developed for the Make Your Mark campaign we want to inspire the kind of mentoring that research shows is so critical to getting an idea off the ground. The evidence also suggests that it's important for people with an enterprising idea to take small steps quickly (before getting overwhelmed by all the reasons it would never work :), so the app is designed to encourage folk to act on an idea one step at a time.

MYM Facebook app screenshot 2

So far we haven't promoted the app - it's spread itself from our beta test group of 20 or so to about 250 users. It's been a useful experiment, but the results so far suggest we need to re-tune / rethink before it hits the bullseye. In theory, we should have more suggestions than needs, and more needs than users - but the usage graph slopes the other way (although that puts us in good company judging by the long, long tail of Facebook Causes). The quality of ideas and responses is very variable, and we need to work on our pitch because it looks like a chunk of people don't 'get' what it's about.

I was heartened to read about the RSA Networks Prototype which is trying to work the same kind of trick for the long-established RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce). That process adopted similar principles of "propose, discuss, and support" to lie behind their social networking experiment, which is so far restricted to the Society's Fellows. There's a common drive in the two projects to surface ideas and draw others in to making them happen by a mixture of pledging and leveraging of the social graph (as you might say).

But can we emulate the scale of the Stanford Facebook class teams who reached 1 million users in 30 days! ? The interview with the 'KissMe ' and 'Send Hotness ' team members is fascinating, with talk of maths formulas and viral tuning, and i certainly wish i had more of those kind of skills. And (of course) one of the main themes is 'simplify, simplify , simplify'. So simplicity and hotness are great - but is it possible to design something that goes viral yet delivers real world impact? As an early step in the evolution of social action networks , the Make Your Mark Facebook application has some way to go. Please try it, if you're a Facebook user. And all comments and suggestions about our strategy and technique are welcome!

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