Let me preface this post by saying that I love widgets. I don’t know why it took so long for them to become available in any practical sense, and I can almost guarantee that in a few years we’ll look back in wonder at a time when our IP-connected devices didn’t pop up little traffic and weather widgets on command.
That said, widgets are walled gardens. You can access virtually anything with an IP connection, but widgets on non-Web devices set parameters based on what hardware, software and service providers want to make available. For example, on your laptop you can browse a million and one different sources for the latest weather in your zip code. With a weather widget, you only get the weather from whatever source or sources are programmed to feed into the pop-up window.
With weather, it’s hard to care about access to limited sources because one weather report is pretty similar to the next. However, the implications are broader when you look at other examples. What if Verizon created a news widget for FiOS that only delivered news from MSNBC and Fox News? Sure you can go elsewhere to get other news sources, including the FiOS channel guide. But just by offering such a widget, Verizon would create greater presence for MSNBC and Fox over other news sources. And unless required to open up its widget platform as a distribution pipe for other sources, Verizon could ultimately make good money by selecting vendors willing to write the biggest checks.
I bring this up because we’re likely headed into a period of TV interface wars, and widgets will certainly have a role to play. I’m thrilled looking ahead at what’s to come, and I don’t even mind the idea of a few walled gardens if they look cool and make my life easier. Still, it will be interesting to watch how widgets play out, and just what choices will be left up to me to make in the brave new IP world.