When I was in business school, "widgets" were the term that we used to refer to units of a fictional product in case studies. Today, widgets are those smart little applications meant to be used as small utilities in a blog, operating system or web browser. A few months ago, SixApart launched Typepad Widgets to let Typepad bloggers add small pieces of functionality to their blog, from standard elements like site stats - to more unique "bling widgets" like Opinmind Quotables, a widget that gives readers a snapshot of an opinion expressed on your blog. Owners of Macs will be familiar with this concept, as Apple also built the idea of widgets into the OS X operating system. Their array of "dashboard widgets" is far larger than SixApart because it's built on an operating system, and most offer very cool things that you can do such as the "cloud.lic.io.us widget" that creates a tag cloud from your de.licio.us tags, or the Sudoku widget that lets you play the hugely popular game on your desktop. A large reason for the growth of Firefox has been the open architecture that allows users to add extensions (another type of widget) to make their Firefox experience more personal and more useful.
With Apple, Firefox and Typepad all using widgets as a way of enhancing user experiences, these growing mini-apps are also representing a great new marketing opportunity that some companies are already starting to take advantage of. Typepad's array of widgets are offered by companies that are primarily trying to increase their share of voice in the crowded market of social networking sites. Offering widgets allows them to gain free exposure on blog sidebars, and drive awareness and trial of their services from the growing ranks of Typepad bloggers. On Firefox, the most downloaded extensions offer an "uber-geek" status to the developers who create them, and generate viral word of mouth. Apple's Dashboard widget do the same, but can become even higher profile - with some past Apple ads even showcasing new and funky widgets in the ad. Whether it is replacing the 30 day trial that most software marketers use, or finding content nuggets to drive users to visit a new online services site - there are many opportunities these widgets provide. Now it's just up to smart marketers to find the right ways to use them.