Widgets and the Web's Amputation Ward

TechCrunch has a thing,or a place, called the Deadpool. It’s where social media companies go when they shut down. A look at TechCrunch posts tagged deadpool shows two arrivals so far this year: EventVue, and Yahoo’s Shopping API.

I’d say that these two closings are rather different things. Although each sees the end of a web service, only one sees the end of a company. EventVue is no more, while Yahoo lives on to… well, probably to close more services, among other things.

Yahoo shutting down an API is more like an amputation than a death. Amputations may be gruesome, but the patient is still alive, and may be in better health after the operation.

I want to focus on a couple of recent amputations, each at and by a different widget company. One of the companies is Sprout, which I seem to be moved to cover around this time every year. Two years ago, widgets were hot, and Sprout particularly hot and fresh, drawing quotes such as “SproutBuilder is going to explode the world of widgets on the web.”

Sprout Builder was launched as a freemium service. A year later, in January 2009, the free part (almost) went away. Now the Sprout Builder subscription service is now more. This was pointed out in a comment on this blog by Sumit Chachra (who I find to be the CTO of Tivix, a social media platform for nonprofits).

Sprout Builder is an example of the Amputation Ward, rather than to the Deadpool, because Sprout the Company still exists. What is Sprout now? Its home page answers that question as follows. “Sprout technology allows brands to engage their audiences across the social graph.” I won’t dig into what that actually means – at least not right now.

The current post is more about the amputation of Sprout Builder. Sprout’s blog post, which was published yesterday (i.e. on a US holiday), refers to a “service transition.”

One of the toughest decisions that a start-up faces is where to focus its efforts and resources. Sprout Builder was our first product and has always been near and dear to our hearts. More importantly, we value the customers who have gotten us to where we are today. However, we have made the hard decision to shut down the Sprout Builder subscription service to focus on our enterprise product lines. The only service level that we will continue to offer for Sprout Builder is geared towards enterprise customers. The cost is $2999 a year.

There hasn’t been a lot of coverage of the amputation yet. But a post by Heather Gardner-Madras has already drawn a few comments, all to say the least disappointed with the impending disappearance of sprouts by subscription.

Clearspring is the other service-amputating widget company. Clearspring blogged the news under the title: AddThis, our universal sharing platform. The first half of the post is indeed about AddThis, which Clearspring acquired in 2008. Then:

As AddThis now supports widget sharing, today we’re also announcing our plans to deprecate our original Clearspring Launchpad platform in April of 2010. After that point, the original Launchpad widget-sharing platform will no longer be available and AddThis will be our one sharing platform. Widgets will continue to run until the beginning of 2011. All the while, we will continue to improve the ability of AddThis to share embeddable content…

For long-time Launchpad users, we realize that there are some steps required to transition… We’ve put together comprehensive documentation to help you move from Launchpad to AddThis. We’ve also setup an area on our forum.

Some of the reaction to the deprecation/amputation is on the forum. I won’t link there, since it requires login. A post at Widgetmatic states that those using the Launchpad platform have some transition work, or some broken web pages, ahead of them.

Let’s take a look at some of the differences and similarities between these two amputations. The obvious similarity is that each involves a company that used to be in the widget business, and now downplays the term widget. Sprout seems to have purged the very term from its system. Clearspring is amputating its “widget platform” to focus on its “sharing platform.” I’d say that the idea of a widget, in the sense of a chunk of code that can be embedded on web sites, is alive and well, but that the term has fallen from favor.

The main difference between the amputations relates to market segments. Sprout is cutting off its smaller customers, in order to concentrate on enterprise clients. Clearspring seems to want to keep its customers, and to transition them to its favored platform.

Some Clearspring users will indeed transition to AddThis. Some will transition to a platform offered by a different provider, perhaps reasoning that Clearspring has pulled one platform from under them and might pull another. Yet other Clearspring users will simply let their widgets die on deprecation day.

I come into the last of these groups. I got very excited when I found that it was possible to use Clearspring widgets at WordPress.com, an environment hostile to many widgets. I’m inclined to be relieved that my excitement died down, and that I didn’t get heavily into developing Clearspring widgets for others to use at WordPress.com.

So that was a first visit to the web’s amputation ward. I hope that it wasn’t too gruesome. I also hope that it illustrates the difference between the amputation ward and the deadpool.

Lala Playlist Widget Revisited

Lala continues to be the music site I use the most. I haven’t used its playlist feature much, but I did create a playlist this week, and I did embed it in the previous post.

I couldn’t remember how to embed a Lala playlist in WordPress,com, did a Google search, and then found that I myself had posted an example months ago. I didn’t post step-by-step instructions on how to do so, and I didn’t get round to posting such instructions, even when a commenter asked for them. I’m glad to say that the commenter, Chris Martins, took the initiative and posted instructions once he worked it out.

Widget Strategist

I’ve owned the domain widgetstrategist.com for a couple of minutes now. I should provide some content. Since it’s currently more of an umbrella for my widget-related services than a service in its own right, it doesn’t yet need its own site, and so it points to this very post.

There are currently four services under the Widget Strategist umbrella. Two are currently available, and the other two will be available soon (i.e. before the end of 2008).

  • Wijard combines widget and business card (hence wijard) so that people can present the same image and information on their web sites and from the cards they give out in the real world. You can order your own wijard now, and that seems like a good idea, given the current offer of free shipping on the cards.
  • Springrolled is a service allowing bloggers to use widgets not readily available at their blogs. The demand for this service is illustrated by the demand for the Library Thing widget at WordPress.com. Indeed, providing a WordPress.com-compatible version of that widget is likely to be the first offering available from Springrolled.
  • Widgets are still rather new to many readers and writers of the web. Introducing and explaining widgets is an important part of Widget Strategist and of every service under the umbrella. Explaining widgets is also under the umbrella as a service in its own right. If widgets are a part of your business, you could use help explaining widgets to your customers or other stakeholders, and you like what you see of my word at Springrolled* and elsewhere, consider engaging my services.
  • Finally, you will soon be able to engage my services on widget strategy for your organization. I will not push this service until I am satisfied with my portfolio of posts, widgets, and other work illustrating my qualification for it (but please feel free to contact me about this service in the meantime).

*Examples of widget-explaining at Springrolled include:

By the way, please also contact me if you have anything to say about the compulsion to buy domains. Is there a name for this condition? Treatment? I’m glad I own widgetstategist.com, but feel that it should be the last domain I buy… at least this year.

Meta-Widget: Clearspring Chronicles

This widget is:

[clearspring_widget title=”Widget” wid=”491f55764d73b3af” pid=”491f6c29e2ba5ff0″ width=”450″ height=”400″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Clearspring Meta-Widget

I’ve been getting up to speed on Clearspring, the widget platform, mainly because it’s one of the services on which I’m building my about-to-be-launched startup Wijard. There are some speedbumps. One of the bumps is that there are three different types of Launchpad for a widget. A bigger bump is that the differences between aren’t explained in a way that’s clear to me.

The constructive thing to do, I decided, was to make a start on an explanation that would be clear to me, and to people who think like me. The appropriate thing to do was to put the explanation in a widget. So here’s the widget. If I make any changes, I need to make them only once, in the widget itself, rather than in the multiple posts in which I’ve included the explanation.

[clearspring_widget title=”Widget” wid=”490d1016dac1a889″ pid=”490dd8eff564d30b” width=”400″ height=”700″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Lala Playlist Widget

In a couple of separate recent posts about web music services, I noted that I like Lala, and that the Grooveshark widget uses the Clearspring platform to work on the widget-wary WordPress.com.

Well, it turns out that Lala has a widget that uses Clearspring, including the still-not-documented clearspring_widget shortcode. Here’s a playlist with the first few tracks I added to my Lala collection.

[clearspring_widget title=”Lala Playlist Widget” wid=”48f4e8b6f7fe2a43″ pid=”48fe97b591fdb6b7″ width=”300″ height=”254″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Clearspring Widgets at WordPress.com

The previous post provides an example of a Grooveshark music widget on this WordPress.com blog. It also notes that Clearspring’s widget platform is involved. How do I know that? Because the code generated by Grooveshark for WordPress.com includes the shortcode: clearspring_widget.

The existence of the clearspring_widget shortcode was news to me. It might also be news to whoever maintains the FAQ: What are the WordPress shortcodes?

If you’re interested enough in WordPress.com to have read this far, you’ll probably agree with me that this is news of the big and good variety. You might even forgive me for pointing out that Automattic seem to have taken the advice I offered Automattic 11 months ago: Make a wide variety of widgets available. Partnering with a trusted “widget broker” might be the best way to do this.

Having said that, I can’t claim to be breaking this news, given a post two months ago by Justin of Clearspring: when you post an ad-free Clearspring widget to a WordPress.com blog it will now show the entire widget inside of a blog post. But I didn’t see Justin’s post until I went looking for it this evening.

I certainly didn’t see the Clearspring shortcode mentioned over at WordPress.com, and I can’t find any reference to it in the official blog, in the FAQ, or in the forums. Guess I’ll mention it in the forums myself now.

By the way, other interesting Clearspring reading includes: their White Paper: What’s a Widget and Why is it Important? and the Wikipedia entry on Clearspring (which is where I found the logo at the top of this post).

Music on WordPress.com, via Grooveshark and Clearspring

Grooveshark is the easiest way to discover, share, and listen to music online. That’s according to… Grooveshark. If you’d prefer an opinion from a different source, you might go to Mashable, where Leslie Poston tells of her two-year relationship with Grooveshark, and of her favorable first impression of its new way to add customizable music widgets to your blog, Web page, or social networking site.

A music widget, you say? Will it work at WordPress.com, which strips out code from many external widgets (because they use Javascript or other code that might pose a security threat). Well, I tried it, and it did work. I posted from Grooveshark and then edited the resulting (draft) post; I didn’t see a way to get code for pasting in to WordPress.com. It turns out that the Grooveshark widget runs on the Clearspring widget platform and… but that deserves its own post.

Anyway, as an example of a Grooveshark music widget at WordPress.com, here’s Nick Drake, doing “Time Has Told Me,” with Richard Thompson on electric guitar. At least, I hope it is. There has been some widgety weirdness during the writing of this post.

[clearspring_widget title=”Grooveshark Widget: Chameleon” wid=”48f3ef6c29317865″ pid=”48f7e7584c65c13d” width=”400″ height=”300″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]