Your Widget Bill of RightsYour Ning Network
Whether you’re an individual entrepreneur or company, there are some things that widgets – or embeddable video players, photo slideshows, music/podcast players, and badges – should do for you.
1. Your widgets should be branded for you.
The proliferation of different widgets today – especially video players – makes it essential for you to take the time and effort to brand your player or widget.
To get a sense of what I’m talking about, spend a few minutes drinking from the firehose of different video players on NewTeeVee, a blog about the online video industry. After a couple of pages, you’ll see what I mean.
And that’s just one category of widgets. Add photos and music into the mix and it’s an virtual cornucopia of players and widgets out there.
This is both a blessing and a curse for you, the online brand.
It’s a blessing insofar as there are services, like Ning, that enable you to watermark your widgets for your social network or website incredibly fast and easily.
However, it’s a curse if you are not watermarking your widgets today, as your videos, photos, music, and podcasts are getting lost in a sea of widget companies trying to build their brands with your content.
Widgets and players should be branded for you. To illustrate my point, here’s a video from The Veloist:
This video player is watermarked for The Veloist with their logo.
This watermarked logo links back to The Veloist at their own domain name. The embed link comes from The Veloist at their own domain name. The share link takes you back to The Veloist at their own domain name.
This is straight out of the YouTube playbook. Not a bad path to follow as you carve out your own little slice of the online world.
Let’s compare this against a video infrastructure provider that’s aimed at publishers, or online brands. I’m not trying to call Brightcove out here specifically, but here’s a branded video on their service:
This is a slick video player for sure. I like it. However, if I’m trying to build my online brand, I’m not sure how this player helps me achieve my goals. Specifically:
- The video player is primarily branded for Brightcove. The icon in the bottom right is Brightcove’s logo. The About link from the menu is about Brightcove. On the rollover, when I click on the link to see More Videos, it’s prompting me to click through to Brightcove to see more videos from Brightcove. The embed code is from Brightcove.
- Only when I rollover and look in the upper left hand corner do I see the title of the video and who provided it. Unfortunately, those links don’t work. If I’m trying to build up a base of people who love Savar Media (the provider of this video), how does all this Brightcove branding or sending people to Brightcove help me? Even with great syndication economics, I’m not sure.
- Partnering with a video-specific partner cuts off my options to create a full fledged social network in the future with multiple features and widgets all consistently branded for me. This approach looks at video in a vacuum. It will work for some, but for online brands that are looking to expand into multiple features, I’m not sure it’s the best path.
- I do have the ability with Brightcove to customize my player by changing the color and options on my player. However, these are cosmetic changes that don’t get to the heart of the matter: I want to use my widgets to drive people to my online brand. I want them to have a relationship with me, not Brightcove. Even if I’m happy sharing the spotlight, I want options that tilt the balance of power to me, not them.
Again, this is no knock to Brightcove, but as you evaluate technology alternatives for your network, blog, or website (including Ning!), if they don’t enable you to put your brand front and center, enable integrated branding across all of your widgets now and in the future, and, most importantly, enable widgets to link back to your network or site, you should probably keep looking around at the alternatives.
2. Your widgets should link back to something that you create, own, or can control.
You might be asking yourself, “But why are links back to your own site important? There are a ton of companies out there that are building their entire business model around a network of widgets and will make money by advertising in these widgets. If they are doing it, why does it matter if I’m using my videos, photos, or music widgets to drive people to a website, blog, or social network?”
David Hornik did a nice summary of The Widget Economy last month. In it, he highlights two types of widgets: symbiotic and parasitic. Symbiotic widgets benefit both the host service (like MySpace or Facebook) as well as the widget provider. Parasitic widgets, on the other hand, feed off the host service to their own benefit.
The problem is that you can’t necessarily trust the host services to be able to tell the difference.
Host companies are still feeling out what is going to work for them. As one closes down, another opens up.
Widgets should be viewed as a means to an end, not the end itself.
As you enter into the Wild West of Widgets, it’s a smart move to have something tangible to which you are driving people and generating page views you control. Ideally, it’s a place you generate revenue independently of widget host services like MySpace. This doesn’t preclude you from making money from your widgets too, but it’s certainly downside protection if generating revenue from widgets ceases to be an option.
3. Your widget should be embeddable by anyone everywhere.
If your goal is to build your online brand with video, photos, or music and you have links back to your network or site from your widgets, then I can’t think of a good reason to limit where your videos, photos, or music are embedded. And the options for viral distribution via embedding just got a whole lot better.
So, let them be free.
In the end, your site or network will be much, much stronger and more profitable than if you try to limit the spread of your widgets around the web.
Let me provide an simplistic example to make the point. Two services, same video:
YouTube created $1.65 billion dollars of value off the Chronicles of Narina video in no small part because they enabled the option to embed that video around the web. Embedding was the gas. The video was the match. Funny or Die just did the same thing.
On the other hand, NBC, the owner of the Chronicles of Narina video, not only took that video off YouTube, but today posts it on their own site with no option for fans to embed it anywhere else.
They certainly have a higher level of control, but they’ve created nowhere near the value of an online brand that effectively uses branded widgets to drive adoption of a new network or social website and enjoys the advertising revenue that ensues.
I think that they are missing a great opportunity. With your Widget Bill of Rights, the good news is that you don’t have to experience the same fate.