I went to Brighton the other week to talk at Ivan's widgety goodness thing. It wasn't on the pier unfortunately but it was still rather splendid.
I've found myself mostly doing the same presentation all year, which has become slightly depressing, so I was grateful for the opportunity to think of something different to say. It meant though that it was a bit woolly, because I can never really work out what I think until I've started saying it and it takes a few runs through for it to come together, but I think there was some stuff in there worth writing down. The problem of course with writing down your presentation is that it gets a bit leaden on the page, as opposed to the stage. And very long. So I've divided it into four posts. So here we go:
I had to confess to being a little uncertain about what widgets actually were. And I was glad to know it wasn't just me, always everyone speaking spent some time offering a definition. I know that widgets are those things on the right of m'blog, little windows of content from elsewhere but, talking to Ivan, it was clear that he also wanted to embrace the whole idea of mashing things up, of social software and things like Facebook Apps, and of the commercial possibilities for all that. Will widgets kill advertising? All that kind of stuff. So, in the absence of having any larger point I thought I'd talk about two problems for the widget industry that occurred to me, and two opportunities.
Problem One is about value creation versus value extraction, and what's going to be differentiating and therefore, er, valuable.
It's clear that online/digital is going to fundamentally change marketing communications. It's going to destroy any advertising type that's primarily concerned with deals, timeliness, functionality, availability and that kind of thing. Anything to do with information will be replaced by digital stuff's ability to get more of the right kind of information to the right kind of people more quickly. Classified. Finance ads. Sale information. Directories. All of that will be devoured by clever code, good data and mobile phones. And whoever gets that rightest, soonest will make huge buckets of money.
But I'm not so sure it'll replace this stuff. The stuff that acts to add ideas and images to things. (I'm starting to think of this as 'pre-experience design' but that's a post for another day.) How will this perfect world of social advertising sell me perfume? Because perfume is the perfect example of a mostly information-free product, a product that's built almost entirely from imagery, association and ideas. Certainly a widget on my phone might tell me that a particular brand is on sale as I pass a retailer, and a community widget might tell me 60% of my friends on Facebook use a particular fragrance and I guess you could even do something with a flickr widget and show me pictures that remind all sorts of people of a particular scent or something. But I don't think you can replicate that old-fashioned brand stuff of connecting ideas and images to things. And though I'm firmly convinced that all sorts of media vehicles will be killed by our keen-ness to not watch loads of crap ads I don't think things like Vogue are going anywhere either. Because they're the vehicle for this kind of stuff. And there's something about a physical magazine.
This, of course, runs counter to the conventional online advertising dream that when everyone's empowered with perfect information and sharing everything with their community then all the branding con-artists will be out of a job. Or more likely they'll be lined up against the SuperWall and shot, just after the PR people and Andrew Keen. But I'm think that's one of those techno-utopian singularities that won't come to pass. There's this notion that attaching imagery, ideas and stories to a product is somehow a trick and that once we're all sufficiently melded with our technology we'll awaken from our idiocy and only buy things based on the material cost of goods. Or something. Anyway. I don't think we live in that rational a world. People like buying things that embody ideas wrapped around a physical product, and that they'll pay extra for that. And that that's fun and good.
But I could be wrong. I'm not that committed to this point, I mostly need it to so there's Two Problems to balance out the Two Opportunities. Let's not waste any more time on it. This is going to be long enough as it is.