In the last few weeks things have been fairly quiet here on the blog mostly because I’ve been doing some traveling and because I’ve been working with Sprout Inc. the company that makes Sprout Builder. Sprout Builder is a tool that allows designers to build rich, and engaging online experiences without writing a single line of code. This is made possible through a drag and drop interface that makes Builder perfect for building widgets, but it’s also great for anythingÂ from building micro-sites to rapid prototyping.
Sprout Builder is a toolkit that sits on an extensible platform such that Sprout will ultimately offer several levels of service. The Sprout Builder is the simplest level to use, but don’t be fooled by the word “simple” because it’s quite powerful. The next level up is called Sprout Engage and we use this internally to create our own widgets and widgets for our clients. This level is not yet available directly to the public, but will be before too long. The good news is that you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of first tier of Sprout Builder and there’s also a limited free version.
Here’s a simple Widget that Pepsi created with the tool:
One of the most popular applications of Sprout is to create highly customized Facebook Fan pages. One of the criticisms of Facebook is that it’s hard to personalize your page so that it doesn’t feel like a generic Facebook page. Sprout’s solve this problem by letting you create completely customized pages with everything from rss feeds, to slide shows, videos and more. Go here to learn learn more about customizing your Facebook page with Sprout Builder.
I think a lot about how we experience the web and recently I’ve been trying to understand how to make choices about the means by which we deliver online experiences. Part of the backdrop for this exploration is an ongoing debate about whether the future of online experience will be mediated by operating systems or browsers. If that’s of interest, you might check out the Aurora Concept Browser that I helped launch for Adaptive Path. In this post, I’ll be sharing a collection of thoughts about how widgets, apps, and gadgets fit into this debate.
Here’s 3 ideas that underlie my thinking:
BRING IT TO ME: In the past almost all our interactions online involved going out to get stuff. Today, online experience is increasingly about having the stuff we want come to us. In order to make this happen we usually need to start by going somewhere online, but this initial investment allows the majority of interactions to then come to us.
LESS MOVEMENT EQUALS MORE EFFICIENCY: Interaction pattern libraries are full of best practices to quickly get people with full shopping carts checked out, but there are also opportunities to increase conversion by simply bringing transactions to customers rather than making the customer go where the transaction is. This builds on the idea above, and underlying it is the fact that proximity increases the speed of interactions and thereby efficiency. Psychologically, I sense that part of what drives this is a sense of urgency created by proximity.
LITTLE WINDOW EATS BIG WINDOW: The metaphor of the window is a powerful one when it comes to online experience. With the rise of AJAX and Flash widgets we’ve seen how windows can open up within a web-page (a window itself) that enables an interaction to take place without leaving that page. Widgets and gadgets can take this even further by bringing fully immersive experiences to the old picture-in-picture experience. Today the balance between the small window and the big window is less stable and the small windows seem to have the potential to take over the bigger ones. I sometimes think of this as the rise of the dashboard.
Definitions & Unique Value Propositions
Here’s a quick look at what widgets, apps, and gadgets are with an eye towards identifying their respective unique value propositions:
WIDGETS: TheseÂ started as windows within an webpage experience that allowed users to see into the web while staying where we are (the picture in picture metaphor). They started in the single-service model, but are increasingly complex, interactive, and immersive.
GADGETS: These are usually working as single-service widgets but they only work in defined contexts. In a way they are half way between widgets and apps that are located within the browser.
APPS: These are typically stand alone experiences that exist outside the browser, and thus benefit from less (or, different) competition. While it’s hard to get on the desktop, there’s less competition once you’re there.
Despite differences between Widgets, Gadgets and Apps, they are all evolving to become more social. Following this, they will increasingly tap into your networks through OpenID, Facebook Connect, and other systems. This will allow such tools to serve up more relevant content. Finally, the same technology that underlies widgets will enable increasingly social online advertisements. I’ll discuss this last point in more detail soon.