Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

UPDATED: Widget Mania Trips a Cascade of Data...and Spyware

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 9, 2007

I love all the widgets that are coming out. There are some excellent services that offer search, headlines, and many other services.

Web site owners can customize these widgets and drop the Javascript code onto their servers. When a visitor comes to their site, part of the page occupied by the widget loads data, text, or images. You can see a widget in action in my side column showing recent visitors and their photos.

Widgets can be tiny, for example, at the end of my posts you can see how many blog responses Technorati has found to each article. And it is easy to make them yourself, I'll probably put together an SVW headlines widget that other sites can use.

But I wonder about the extra load on servers and bandwidth around the Internet as thousands of new types of widgets offer various services, and are deployed on tens of millions of web pages. Each time a widget containing page is viewed in a web browser, it collects data to display in that page.

So, in the above example, Technorati initiates a search for related blog posts whether it was requested or not. This creates a load on Technorati servers which slows down the user experience for anyone initiating a manual search. And it also taxes data bandwidth to move data that wasn't directly requested.

This could add up to a "load" tax on the overall Internet as widget mania proliferates.

Update: Widget Performance and Spyware issues...

I was discussing widgets with Josh Hallett at the Newcomm Forum. Josh is an excellent example of what I call a "media engineer," he has built web sites for many large media companies, such as the New York Times, using publishing platforms such as Movable Type and Wordpress.

Josh pointed out that using a lot of widgets can compromise the performance of your web pages. "You are at the mercy of the widget publisher. If they are having a bad day and their server is down, your page won't load in the right way."

Josh also noted that the widget publisher gets a lot of useful data from each web page it is on. Granted, not every widget publisher is going to be mining that data but it is there nonetheless. That means the widget publisher could collect a lot of information on readers, IP addresses, etc.

BTW, this is exactly why I was against running advertising networks on my site when I first started publishing because of this spyware issue. The advertising networks such as Google AdSense don't pay much AND they collect a lot of data on my users.

Google (and other ad networks) can triangulate data from many sources and collect an amazing amount of information on users as they move from site to site and as each web page load triggers another data stream. The same is true for the widget publishers.

[Doesn't this mean that Google should be able to figure out who is running a spam site and who is committing click fraud to a fairly high degree...? Maybe Google's figures on click fraud are fairly accurate.]

...

Here is Josh's excellent blog Hyku.

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