Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Industry Note: Viral Funpacks

Yesterday, Paul left a great comment making fun of 2.0 "strategy" mentioning "viral funpacks".

It was pretty hilarious. But also pretty insightful. Why? Because the realization is slowly dawning in the Valley and other assorted 2.0 scenes of the world that "widgets" are the next big thing.

In no small part, this is due to the revolutionary Myspace music player - the widget that made Myspace more 2.0 than 2.0, by exploding the social value proposition.

Now, the problem with this setup is simple. "Widget" is about as Valley a word as you can get. It cuts to the big problem at the heart of 2.0: a handful of old geeks and beancounters trying (and largely failing) to invest in cool services consumers luv; a bunch of hipsters trying (and failing) to revolutionize mass markets with radical management innovation.

"Widget", let's recall, is a term to reflect the banality of business: the generic, homogeneous, standardized, meaningless "product" churned out by industrial era business.

Calling the microchunked components of a new breed of radically innovative services, then, which connect consumers socially and culturally "widgets" is just setting the stage for (yet another) round of 2.0 funding gone awry.

"Viral funpacks", as hilarious as it is, gets much closer to the truth of what these things are supposed to be (and I'm sure Paul and the rest of us fading hipsters will appreciate the layers of Kafkaesque irony in this).

Now, I'm not suggesting we call these things "viral funpacks" always and everywhere (I shudder at the thought of balding venture guys asking just a bit too seriously "how will your viral funpacks scale??"); but I am suggesting we stop calling them widgets, so we can try and think a lil more deeply about why they are economically powerful.

-- umair // 12:34 PM // 7 comments


Valley types who use 'widget' are not referring to the 'generic manufacturing product' of biz-consultant usage, but a graphical control element in a user-interface.

This sense is sometimes said to be derived by contracting 'window gadget', but I suspect that's a a post-coinage rationalization.

Among computer geeks, 'widgets' are kind of cool. The breakthrough platforms (like the Mac, Hypercard, web forms) have always offered an interesting menu of 'widgets'.

This GUI-based definition is far more prevalent on the web, at least as indicated by a [define:widget] Google search.

So it may be an insider term -- but not really the banal one you're criticizing. I think it will be hard to displace -- regardless of its businessy use, it's kind of a fun-sounding, toyish word to most listeners.

But, if you can come up with a better term, that new term could probably also be a new business name in the space.
// Blogger Gojomo // 8:18 PM

Hey Gojomo,

Fun term for geeks etc - not so fun for consumers - who are at the heart of it.

Also note the GUI sense of widget doesn't capture what the Valley kru is talking about.

Thx for the comment.
// Blogger umair // 8:33 PM

I guess it depends on your ear. I'm a computer and economics geek (so doubly familiar with prior uses of 'widget'), but even my inner naive consumer thinks 'widget' sounds kinda 'fun': like gadget and fidget, something you play and tinker/build with. It would be interesting to do a poll of young non-technical consumers, to see how they hear it.

Thanks for the blog & chances to comment!
// Blogger Gojomo // 9:39 PM

I have no problems with "widgets", but they can't compete with the sheer awesomeness of "viral funpacks". At least until people start taking the term seriously (probably around the middle of next week.)
// Blogger phil jones // 10:08 PM

These mini-apps are also known as �plug-ins� (especially in the wiki world)
// Anonymous stevegall // 4:02 AM


How far can widget's go? Clearly we haewn't even started.

Some issues:
1. they are hard to use
2. they can conflict with each other (all those JS calls fighting from pre-emption rights!)
3. boy do they make web-pages ugyl

What's geat about them:
1. they let a user define their own experience (much more so that netflakes/pagevibes lets you do)

What I expect to see:
1. widget-management firms, including people packaging widgets together for particular end-user segments
2. widget-certification
3. web pages that don't load because of widgets
// Anonymous azeem // 9:52 AM

I think we should wire office buildings with big pipes or lasers and offer office apps to the last mile.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 4:55 AM

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