Widget Analytics – Measuring the widgets in the wild

Helping web analysts navigate the measurement and tracking of widgets.

Widgets versus Applications – what’s the difference?

Posted by widgetgirl on March 24, 2008

Clearspring_Facebook

What is the difference between a widget versus a Facebook application – and now a MySpace application? This question comes up a lot when working with our customer base and other peers in the industry. Widgets (and I am going to focus on web widgets here) are stand alone applications that are sharable and can run on any web page as long as you have an internet connection and a browser (I am sure someone will debate me on this – and in the Social Media Standards committee we are debating these same topics). The main thing to note here is that a widget can stand on its own inside or outside of Facebook or MySpace, but there are benefits to also tapping into what these platforms can offer as they can make your widget much more viral in how they are shared and spread in those environments. For this post, I am going to focus on Facebook as the newly launched MySpace apps are still maturing (and I spend a lot more time on Facebook than MySpace).

A Facebook application is an application that is registered on Facebook and can take advantage of all of the FB features that their platform supports (and keep it mind that it does not have to be a widget). For example, FB Apps have the following features:

  1. Left navigation inclusion – a persistent link on the user’s navigation bar (this is on a user’s profile page) .
  2. Canvas page – allows the user to see your content on a separate page from their profile in a larger canvas area.
  3. Profile – the application is added directly on to the profile page for display and usage.
  4. Friend Requests – at the end of a successful application add, most applications (if configured to do so), will redirect you to an “invite your friends” page. Note: be wary of those that pre-select all of your friends – or those applications where you have to share with your friends to see the results of some quiz or poll. My friend Rich has a great story (I was a personal witness) of accidentally hitting “see results” for a quiz (which was actually a Trojan horse version of an “Invite Friends” button).
  5. News Feed and Mini Feed – notifications are sent to your friends news feed and mini feed upon adding and removing an application. What the heck is the news or mini feed you may ask? These are both “feeds” into your profile page or “Facebook Home page” that tell you what your friends are up to. If you or your friends add applications, this is where the notification will appear.

So if you are a frequent Facebook user (like myself), then you have probably stumbled across all of these – even if you didn’t know it. The interesting aspect of working with FB Apps is that there are a lot of variances to understand with respect to widget analytics. There are a few different things to be aware of:

  1. FB has two different ways that a widget can be shared within FB – 1) “Add Application” from the application’s canvas page and 2) natively grabbing the widget from another user’s profile page. The former example is how the widget (or app – keep in mind that I am assuming that the app IS a widget) can be spread without using the sharing tools provided by the widget serving platform. The latter is completely dependent upon using the services of the widget serving platform. The result here is that the widget placement that gets the credit for spreading the widget is either going to be a centralized registered application – OR – a specific user’s profile. The granularity between the two options can be critical if you as a marketer are trying to identify a power user who is causing your widget to get grabbed a lot.
  2. Click to activate – just because your widget is being viewed each time a visitor views their profile page, does not mean that your widget analytics data is incrementing in lock step.  FB requires that the visitor “click to activate” the widget before it will load in the content and make outbound connections to send tracking data. Other social networks do not behave this way, so it is a critical nuance to be aware of when analyzing your widget metrics for Facebook.

Not all social networks are alike. In fact, you may find that the analytics reported for views of your widget will FAR EXCEED that of another network – yet the same two networks will show opposite trends for how often and how many times your widget is grabbed or spread.  In many cases, this is dependent on tapping into the “social graph” or lack of social graph of many of these networks.  Those that easily hook into your “friends” and invite them to join the same application (or widget) will generally behave different than just waiting for someone to grab your widget on a static page. Pros and cons to each.  The shrewd marketer will combine these efforts to build a marketing campaign that works effectively across all metrics – views, grabs and interactivity.

What are you noticing that is different between social networks?  Do you see behavior that is completely different from one site to another?  Segmentation is the key in understanding how to measure success in your widget campaign.  Different metrics will apply for different networks depending on their behavior.

Check out my favorite widget of the week – Clear Channel launched a new Jonas Brothers widget that promotes the band’s songs, including a new release. Enjoy!

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2 Responses to “Widgets versus Applications – what’s the difference?”

  1. Great explanation. Thanks Jodi!

  2. Ryan Gahl said

    Great read! We have a slighty different take on widgets, and that is, we believe an application can be made completely with widgets, and itself is simply a composite widget, which can in turn be embedded/extended/modified. That’s the fundamental theory behind our WebWidgetry framework (everything is a widget, and everything is embeddable to the nth level).

    Granted, you are talking about Facebook stuff whereas I’m referring to a more general architecture, however I think my couple of posts on this topic are relevant to your discussion…

    http://blog.widgetsandmashups.com/2007/07/widgets-are-applications-without.html

    http://blog.widgetsandmashups.com/2007/09/components-vs-widgets-or-contextual.html

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