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Archive for August, 2007

Two New Analytics Reports

Friday, August 31st, 2007

We get lots of great requests for new reports (keep ‘em coming). We collect a ton of data, and have a team pretty much always working on figuring out how to bubble it up through our analytics reporting interface. We’ve added two new reports as part of a system upgrade:

  • Computer Information report: This report shows details on Operating System, Browser Types and Flash Versions. Pretty useful info for folks with large widget campaigns and ongoing decisions to make about which tools to use, and which environments to target.
  • Live Traffic Profile: This new reporting view shows Views and Unique Viewers over the last 48 hours for a widget. This is a great way to keep up with the latest near-real-time info on what’s going on with a widget. (We hope it also gives you an idea of the kind of crazy fast backend data processing we’re doing to give this kind of a live picture)

Here’s a quick glimpse of the live traffic report…

live traffic

And this is generally what the computer info looks like…

screenshot

You can see some more screenshots and read all about the different reports here, in our docs.

Have fun!

 

Viral Sharing Services: Doubleplusgood

Friday, August 31st, 2007

We’re constantly working to improve and augment the “edge sharing” services we provide as part of the Clearspring platform — the tools that allow end users to directly grab widgets from wherever they find them, and share them to as many different target destinations as possible. For the uninitiated, by distributing your widget through the Clearspring platform, it gets all these capabilities for free (technically and financially). We’re happy to announce some improvements in our recent system update:

  • Smart Menu: The menu of available services we present to end users will automatically prioritize the current site, making it even easier for users to share widgets within the network where they find them.
  • New Supported Destinations: We’ve added support for some new services:
    • Xanga
    • Eons
    • Blogger Sidebar
    • Typepad Sidebar
  • A new Facebook feature: more in a later post
  • Progressive loading: The sharing service menu now loads progressively. This removes any barriers to serving your virally-enabled widgets through the major ad networks.

This brings the whole list of shared services up another notch, and we’ll keep going; we’ve got lots more integrations in the development pipe.

The whole list of supported destinations at this point, by the way, is:

  • Facebook
  • Myspace
  • iGoogle
  • Microsoft Live
  • Netvibes
  • Pageflakes
  • Xanga
  • Webwag
  • Friendster
  • Eons
  • Blogger (post and side bar)
  • TypePad (post and side bar)

Pretty cool, huh?

New Screenshot Features

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

As part of a release this week, we rolled out an upgrade to our screenshot/preview image features for your widgets. It’s not a huge feature, but we’re pretty excited about it since it ’s been pretty commonly requested by our users (and we love user requests).

First, the basic context. When you register your widget, we take a screenshot of it (using the configuration it’s specified with). We use this screenshot when we need to show images of your widget. This includes when we show it to you in the console, but also when we publish your widget to various galleries (automatically, of course). There are several different sizes for the image we need, unfortunately, as many of the destinations have totally different standards here. So, the whole situation is a little more complicated than it needs to be.

What we’ve added is the ability for you to control, with a pretty high degree of granularity, these images. You can crop and size each image however you’d like, and you can even specify your own image URLs if you want to do things like show company logos. All in all, this set of features should let you do just about all you’d need to with respect to controlling your widget’s image representation.

Check it out in the Widget Console (Make It -> Screenshots), and let us know in the forums what you think.

Happy widgeting!

Grab Buttons and Gossip

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

For those of you into celebrity gossip (I know that widget developers are the target demographic, of course), the Daily Blabber widget is here. It has been spreading around the web after being seeded on the iVillage homepage (bottom right).

Though it’s great being able to keep up with the latest on Brangelina (the Clearspring studio team is loyal to Jen, if you’re wondering), on this project the team enjoyed some experimentation with the treatment of the “grab it” button. This simple little UI element — the way your widget allows users to get a copy for themseves — is one of the most critical parts of any widget design. Without it, and without it being enticing enough to click, the widget is just a stationary thing that a visitor can’t carry with them. In this case, a simple periodic “bounce” of the button and a popup bubble on hover really help encourage the user to take a look. This simple widget is definitely more about content than application functionality, which is all the more reason to make the grab prompt as effective as possible. In any case, the Flash team had fun with it, and like all of the widgets we work on, this widget uses the Clearspring backend — super-scalable distribution, sharing services, and tracking. Give it a shot with your own widgets.

Happy Widgeting

BarCamp DC this Weekend

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Just a quick reminder that BarCamp DC is this weekend. We’re all really looking forward to it — for those of you that will be there, see you Saturday!

Widget Best Practices

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

“What are the key aspects of a successful widget strategy?” That’s a great, and not totally straightforward, question. We’ve distilled a few of the things we’ve learned into a summary resource in our docs tree; we hope you find it useful. We’ve also pulled it out here for the sake of easy-reading (the doc version is the one that will stay up-to-date, so feel free to bookmark that one). Any comments? Let us know!

Clearspring Recommendations

Here are a few of our own recommendations, not just on technical specifics, but on overall approach as well.

Choosing a Widget Type

Deciding what type of web widget to build is important; not all types of widgets will work on all destinations. If you are targeting Social Networks, you will want the content of your widget to be as “viral” as possible, encouraging users to grab it for themselves (using the edge services such as those from Clearspring). You’ll also most likely want to build your widget in Flash, since some of the popular social networks do not allow javascript content.

Widgets targeted for Start Pages work best if they are designed as utilities (e.g., weather,
calculators, web services adhsboards, etc) or are based on RSS content feeds. When targeting blogs, it often depends on the type of blogs; many different types of widgets may be a good fit. You can
usually build widgets for Start Pages and Blogs in Flash or HTML, with or without Javascript.

Check out the Drop Target Matrix for a full list of the widget technologies supported by the major destinations.

Generally, there are a few broad audience segments you can think about when deciding how to target your widget:

  • Bloggers or other providers that want to augment their content.
  • Social networkers looking for ways to show personal expression.
  • Start page users that want utility.

Sizing your Widget

Different sizes work better in different environments. Though your widget will be usable across the web, you will likely have a target audience in mind. The table below presents some recommendations on widget sizes, based on where you are targetting your widget.

destination recommended widget size
(width x height in px)
Blogs 160 x 300 (Sidebar)
Social Networks 160 x 300 (Profile / Post)
Start Pages 400 x 300

We have generally found that a size of 300×250 will work in the most destinations, although is obviously not optimized for some.

Note that if you do plan to ad-serve your widget as a means of promotion, you should observe IAB design and sizing guidelines.

Your Widget’s Functionality

You can build a widget to support almost any feature you can imagine. RSS
feed readers, Games, Video Players, Audio Players, Profile Badges, Photos, Slideshows, and any number of specific end-user applications. Some general recommendations on making your web widget well-behaved:

  • For maximum reliability, consider what the default widget behavior
    is, as well as the “empty” behavior when no data is available from a server.
  • Do not auto-play video and audio.
  • Make all URL references absolute — relative references will only work on your own site.
  • Pay attention to and design around MySpace’s link-out limitations early in your design process.
  • Use mouse-over effects to highlight to the user that the widget is interactive, and not just an image.
  • Open links in new windows. Loading URLs in the existing window will avoid pop-up blockers, but will cause the entire website to load in the
    widget window if it is wrapped inside a div or iframe.

Effective Seeding Strategies

Seeding your widget, giving users a place from which to grab it, is one of the most critical parts of your widget strategy. Some general recommendations:

  • Avoid posting the widget in typical ad-blind-spot areas (e.g. the right rail)
  • Place the actual widget, and not a screenshot, on your seeding location.
  • Communicate clearly that the widget is interactive, and encourage users to grab it, without assuming they will recognize it as such without actually clicking on it.
  • Publish your widget to as many Widget Galleries as possible, and actively maintain your profile in these Galleries. (Clearspring can do this publication automatically)

Managing your Widget Over Time

Once it’s out in the wild, it’s not over!

  • Use analytics tracking (such as Clearspring’s) to keep track of key performance indicators:
    • Audience Extension: The percent of widget traffic coming from outside of your own domain vs. within your domain
    • Velocity: How often the number of widget locations doubles in size
    • Viral Hubs: The sites or pages that are the most influential in attracting viewers to grab your widget and share it amongst each other
  • Realize that you can change the content of your widget even after it’s deployed, especially if you are using a configuration mechanism such as Clearspring’s. As long as you do not change sizing, or fundamentally alter the purpose of the widget, dynamically updating content is a proven effective way to keep your users engaged and to encourage to keep your widget on their page.

Recipes for Business Success

In general, there a few key things to keep in mind with respect to your overall widget strategy.

  • Keep it simple
  • Use compelling content
  • Make it an app, not an add
  • Make it social
  • Seed it in context with your content
  • Keep it fresh by updating it frequently
  • Track it’s spread

Additional Recommendations

Lots of folks have been thinking and discussing the topic of “what makes an effective widget”, not just us. Here are a few resources from around the web that you might find useful in this regard:

Web Resources List for Developers

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

As part of our ongoing work on our documentation, we’ve created a list of web resources that folks might find useful as they are developing widgets. Obviously there are tons of great resources out there, too many to mention, but we’ve picked a few of our current favorites. We’ll be adding to this list over time — check it out, and let us know if you find it useful.

Data Sharing Summit

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Happily and with much interest, some of the Clearspring team will be heading over to CA in a month or so for the Data Sharing Summit. This is a pseudo-formal meeting, with stated objective:

The goal of the Data Sharing Summit is to get a number of the key players, developers and platforms in the social networking, blogging and associated ’social software’ platforms togeher in one room and hash out a bunch of key issues:

  • interop testing between disparate systems
  • standardized schemas, protocols and APIs
  • mapping to proprietary platforms
  • on-going efforts, including worldwide meetings

Should be fun, kudos to Marc Canter for kicking it off and Kaliya Hamlin for heading up the organization as well.

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