Widgets are cool little applications that Internet users add to their Facebook page or their blog to jazz them up. Widget maker Slide claims to attract 134 million unique visitors a month. Something is definitely happening and mar

keters are jumping on the opportunity to take viral marketing to a whole new level. Here is a sure sign that widgets are hot. The burgeoning widget industry held its first conference, WidgetCon, in New York in July. As the organizers put it, “Widgets are small applications that provide functionality and content online, distributed through a potentially vast number of websites.” Marketers did not miss a beat in putting widgets to work for their brands and products: “[Widgets] also represent an entirely new way of looking at advertising. Unlike almost all other online ads, widgets are uploaded onto sites (personal sites, profile pages, blogs) by consumers themselves. They are pulled by their audience, instead of pushed by marketers.” In other words, viral marketing has reached a whole new level. Freewebs, a web hosting company recently converted to widgets, and incidentally the organizer of WidgetCon, considers itself a trailblazer in that area. “The second a person takes a widget to his or her individual web page, what was once an ad, becomes content. Today’s users are speaking for the brand by adding these widgets to their personal websites,” recently declared Chris Cunningham, vice-president of Freewebs Advertising. Among Freewebs’ clients are Cingular, Paramount Pictures, Reebok and Adidas. In a recent campaign for the movie Number 23 featuring Jim Carrey, Freewebs designed a widget that “manipulated bits of the users’ personal information to show them the ubiquity of the number 23 in their own lives.” There is debate about who invented the first widget. Widgify, a blog devoted to the phenomenon, argues that hit counters placed on web sites were the original thing. A San Jose Mercury News story asserts that RockYou “launched the first widget, a slide show application, on Nov. 14, 2005, and promoted the free service by posting six messages over two weeks in a MySpace forum,” attracting 6 million users in the process. According to the same story, “ComScore found that about 24 percent of Internet users had seen a RockYou widget in the past year”. This is one more indication that widgets are a big draw for Internet users who want to personalize their page without reinventing the wheel. Where does an Internet user turn to find widgets? One place is Widgetbox, a directory for widgets that work with “TypePad, WordPress, Blogger, MySpace as well as most other blogs, sidebars or websites. No plug-ins are needed, and they”re free!” Freewebs members can also download items from its Widget Bank. RockYou has a wide variety of slideshows, avatars, countdown timers, games, horoscopes and more. Slide is another destination providing mostly slide show widgets to MySpace users and others. Its numbers are going through the roof. One of the latest arrivals on this market is gbox. Its widget enables users to build musical wish lists, post them on their page and wait for the presents to pour in. If you want to add a search engine to your site, head over to Eurekster and create your own swicki. Nearly 100,000 users have now done just that. One of them is Eurekster’s vice president of marketing Britta Meyer. “I created a swicki about surfing in Half Moon Bay. I can email it to my friends or publish it on Widgetbox,” she said. “When they accumulate traffic, you can monetize them or sell them on eBay.” There are widgets for everyone. Expectant mothers can add a “baby countdown” widget on their web site and watch the baby grow as the days go by. This is one of the most popular items on Widgetbox at the moment. People wanting to personalize their pages and marketers looking for new ways to engage consumers are all crazy about widgets. Isabelle Boucq, for Atelier   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at editorial@atelier-us.com