Waiting for the killer widget

Back in the old days of Web 2.0 and real estate, during 2007, widgets were heralded as the little things that would change everything. They would end search. Make destination websites obsolete. Give users complete control. Coming off well in a meeting was as simple as saying something like:

We need to be thinking about widgets as a cross-channel, viral vehicle for leveraging synergies to distribute content in game-changing ways.”

Many proclaimed the advent of the “widget economy.”

Today, two years later, widgets have become a significant part of the online real estate environment. Realtors can now drop all sorts of things into their websites and blogs: Stats and listings from Trulia, Market Data from Altos Research, and dozens of other odds and ends. This sort of quick, easy and free content has been an effective distribution vehicle for many online companies and has enabled agents and brokers to add value to their sites.

But real estate widgets have not fulfilled their promise, which I still believe is considerable, for a couple reasons:

  1. They are almost exclusively browser based, as opposed to residing on the desktop. This means that while the widget creator may get distribution for its content on other websites, they are not extending their reach beyond the browser, which is where I think the real opportunity lies (Coldwell Banker did take the lead here early on with its desktop listings widget, but it is limited – so far – by being tied to the Yahoo! Widgets platform).
  2. Most widgets were not designed to deliver actionable information. In other words, while they are effective as eye candy, teasers or distribution vehicles, they do not contain enough content to sustain repeat usage or provide the user with enough information to make a decision.

But I think this pattern will be broken — soon. They launch of Adobe AIR earlier this year has paved the way for truly compelling Internet applications that reside on the desktop. Brands from Pizza Hut to NASDAQ now have a meaningful footprint on consumer desktops using this technology.

Someone in real estate will nail this before the end of the year. It may even be a real estate company. Here are some ideas I have for what a truly killer desktop real estate widget might look like:

  1. An open house widget that alerts the user to opens meeting their criteria. The user gets property details, but also fly-outs for a map, comps, and a value estimate
  2. A home search/alert widget tied to a full MLS feed. Properties appear in real time and can be dragged and dropped into shareable folders
  3. A “Neighbors” widget tied to boundary files offered by Zillow that pings the user when someone in their neighborhood Tweets, blogs, create an online profile, posts a Yelp review or otherwise surfaces online. This one’s complicated, but I’d love to see someone tie social activity online to neighborhoods

I’m interested in ideas you may have. Or perhaps you’ve seen something that approaches this already that I have missed?  Let me know.

Brian Boero