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July 26, 2005

Why Yahoo! buying Konfabulator is more than just about widgets

By Charlene Li

I’ve been on a plane all day (I’m now in hot, muggy Boston) and have been itching to write about Konfabulator’s acquisition by Yahoo!. I’ve been using Konfabulator for the past few months (since I’m not on an Apple) and have been tinkering with a few of the widgets. Widgets are little mini-applications that have primarily one purpose – to get for example, a mosquito report or reports your latest feedback rating on eBay. So why would I want a whole bunch of little things cluttering my desktop? That’s exactly what I was asking as I’ve been adding and deleting widgets the past few weeks!

The problem is I already know what the ultimate widget would be me – something that would get me up and out the door in the mornings. I’d pull together a weather widget, calendar widget, traffic widget and to do widget into one nice neat little app, and then feed it with all of the RSS data streams that I deem relevant. There’s only one small problem -- I don’t know JavaScript! So I am at the mercy of app developers who I hope will take pity on my discombobulated mornings and write the darn app!

But why should I have to wait for developers to do this? This is where I think Yahoo! gets very, very interesting with Konfabulator. As a developer tool, it may have some interesting potential for developing neat interfaces into Yahoo!’s vast stores of content and information. But if Yahoo! can put the power of widget creation into the hands of end-users, it would give us end users the power to not only create custom content streams a la RSS and MyYahoo!, but also allow us to filter, distribute, and combine that data in any way we see fit. There’s already precedence for this in the enterprise space, where JotSpot has taken wikis and built applications on top of classic wiki infrastructure. Proposed RSS extensions from Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. will provide additional structure around which widgets can be built – think shopping alerts.

And even if I never get around to writing the ultimate, personal application, I bet there is someone out there who’s also a busy, working mom/dad AND has some JavaScript skills who wrote a similar program for themselves and shares it in the Widget Gallery. And how about setting up a marketplace where I could write out the specs for my custom widget and put it out for bid?

So this is more than just about little widgets - I think it's potentially taking the power of application development out of the hands of "big" companies. Think of it as open source for the masses.

You can download and try out Konfabulator, which has already been renamed Yahoo! Widgets at widgets.yahoo.com.

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Comments

Mark Sigal

My knee jerk on the acquisition is that it is less about Yahoo providing enduser consumers "fully baked" widgets and more driven by Yahoo's desire to build a committed developer community by continuing to enhance their APIs and provide lots of "consumer" applications for web apps developers. This is right out of the Microsoft playbook (never a bad thing). Win the developer community to win the consumer. As a consumer, I am eager to see both what Yahoo does with this and how Google, Microsoft, eBay and Amazon keep pace.

Brian

So funny you mention the marketplace idea - I was just about to send an email to developer list at my company offering $20 bucks for widget that let's me do a simple task with one click that normally takes 20 clicks in Windows.

Manish

Yahoo! is clearly putting a lot of effort in taking a lead in user-created content. It is becoming apparent to most of us that user-created content is where web 2.0 action is. E-commerce, auctions and search have happened and will continue to drive huge revenue. But the user-created content combined with different things from wikis to widgets to music to pages is where things are getting really interesting. So, yes I'd agree with your thesis that morphing these widgets for end-user "programming" is where the mojo is.

Matt de Ganon

Konfabulator seems to be in line with Semel's idea of Yahoo as a media outlet/studio. Yahoo! seems to realize that there will forever be alternate avenues to receive content like that which it has on the site. Lloyd Braun's addition supports this, as he is a classic TV and film agent/packager/development exec. Movies and television are the ultimate joint ventures.

While Yahoo! does not directly monetize Konfabulator -- as of yet -- it is one more way to engage people off-site (can you say Desktop Applications), get these developers to use Yahoo! content or licensed content (instead of the thousands of other sources a developer can go to). This provides one more connection to the service. Since these Widgets are useful and potentially viral, and now they are available from Yahoo!, it is one more way of keeping the user close.

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