Meebo: Chat rooms are so 1998

I’m having some trouble getting excited about the announcement that Meebo Rooms can now be easily embedded into websites and blog pages (you could embed them before, apparently, but it wasn’t easy). I get the fact that Meebo.com makes it easy to chat, and I know that its Web-based IM service is hugely popular — particularly with people who have instant messaging blocked at work or school, as many of us do.

But the whole “embedded chat room” thing just doesn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because there have been — and are — dozens of companies doing pretty much the same thing, including 3bubbles.com (remember them?), Gabbly, Mobber and a whack of others with equally ridiculous and forgettable names. Heck, my friend Brent Ashley whipped up an Ajax chat room widget back in 2002 called BlogChat. It’s not technically that hard (no offense, Brent), so what is compelling about it?

I guess like Pete Cashmore, who wrote about 3bubbles when it came out, I just don’t get the whole dedicated chat room idea. Most of the chat room apps I’ve tried on various sites (including mine) wind up filled with idiots, or are ghost towns where there hasn’t been a chat message for weeks, and the last one was someone typing “Hi, is anyone here?” I could see it for a dedicated situation such as a conference or some other compelling event, but how many of those could there be?

Facebook: the awkward teenager

Kara Swisher, who writes for All Things D, had a couple of posts on Facebook recently that got me thinking again about the social-networking site. In the first one, Kara said that using Facebook often seems like “children’s hour,” because of all the goofy applications and widgets that your friends and acquaintances are constantly adding (and trying to get you to add as well).

Sometimes it’s the Fun Wall widget or the Super-Poke app or the Top Friends feature, and sometimes it’s an invitation to take a quiz, or have a vampire fight, or even to pop someone’s (virtual) zits. As Kara says in her post:

“What [founder Mark] Zuckerberg and the widget-makers have wrought is mostly silly, useless and time-wasting and the kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children.”

In her second post on the topic, Kara talks about how easy it is to do silly things with your friends or members of a Facebook group, but how surprisingly difficult it is to do some of the more serious things you might want to do — such as create interactive features just for that group, or email everyone.

In a lot of ways, Facebook.com is in a kind of awkward teenage phase at the moment. It started as a network for university and high-school students, and a lot of those users continue to be devoted to it, so a lot of the goofier apps and widgets probably appeal to (and are designed to appeal to) them. To the growing numbers of older, professional users however, those widgets are just irritating and silly, and they get in the way of making more serious use of the site.

It’s a bit like a club that used to be an after-hours hangout for teenagers suddenly deciding to open itself up to the general public, and then all kinds of forty-somethings start showing up, complaining about how the lights are too dim, or the orange shag carpeting is irritating, and then get all shirty when some club kid comes up and offers them some E or starts dancing on the table.

Whether Facebook can manage the transition remains to be seen — and it’s worth remembering that the Facebook f8 platform, which caused the explosion of widgets, is only a few months old. It’s possible that some of the goofier ones will die off, as the site evolves into something a little more useful than the Saturday afternoon yuk-fest it occasionally seems to be.

Of course, the site has to figure out what to do about getting more funding too, not to mention the little traffic dip that Om Malik seems to have noticed in the latest comScore numbers. And Jason Calacanis has a reality check for those who think Facebook is a) going to crush Google, b) is worth $100-billion, etc.

Update:

Mike Arrington has a different take on the Facebook traffic numbers at TechCrunch. And Kara says that sources have told her Google could swoop in to make some kind of deal with Facebook involving ads and possibly an ownership stake — and they also say it could come soon, possibly in the next 24 hours. Om says that the traffic dip is just seasonal, which a number of commenters on various posts (including Mike’s) have mentioned as well.

The widgetization of the Web continues

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Outside of the geek-o-sphere, the term widget is often used interchangeably with words like gizmo or gadget or doodad (or the somewhat less popular doohickey) or thingamajig. All of these terms are used to describe a device or thing that either doesn’t have a name — or at least not one that is easily remembered — or whose existence may actually be in question, as in “why don’t they invent a widget that…” etc.

snipshot_e41187jogq87.jpgAs more and more people set up their “digital me” sites, whether they are blogs or MySpace pages or Facebook sites, widgets are becoming the machinery that allows media and content of all kinds to be easily distributed (see my column in Thursday’s Globe and Mail about Facebook’s F8 platform). Bands allow their music to be embedded — or widgetized — in webpages, and broadcast networks such as CBS are experimenting with allowing their video to be turned into widgets. Companies like Brightcove are trying to turn widgets into micro-economies, with ads and interactive features that try to turn widget browsers into buyers.

In an attempt to quantify the “widgetization” of the Web, traffic measurement firm comScore has launched a widget-tracking service. According to its analysis, photo-related widgets are at the top of the heap traffic-wise, with Slide being number one with more than 117 million unique users in April, or almost 14 per cent of the available Internet audience. RockYou, which recently launched a Facebook widget, came second with 82 million (the survey measured only widgets based on Flash and didn’t track desktop widgets).

Update:

Om Malik at GigaOm has a good post on the topic of widgets, and says comScore’s attempt to measure widgets has a number of flaws (comScore’s methodology being one of them) and the whole thing strikes him as a bit of a jellybean contest.

CBS extends its content further

After announcing deals recently with everyone from AOL and Microsoft to CNet and Joost — and fresh from its acquisition of Howard Lindzon’s brain with the Wallstrip deal — CBS Interactive continues to roll out its distribution strategy. From MediaPost:

CBS Interactive said its month-old, ad-supported CBS Audience Network, previously known as the CBS Interactive Audience Network, has added 13 partners in the social- and community-network realms.

The agreements are designed to empower the embedding of clips from CBS shows into user profiles, Web sites, blogs, wikis, widgets and community pages.”

New partners include Matt Mullenweg’s WordPress, Clearspring (a widget creation network), Goowy Media, Ning, RockYou, Slide, VideoEgg and others. Smart strategy, I think. Jeff Jarvis has more — and he’s right that CBS probably means “embed” where it says “mash” on the widget.

A note about my love of widgets

Just a quick administrative note to mention that I’ve been doing some housecleaning on the blog as far as widgets — and other plugins and add-ons, such as analytical tools — are concerned, because I’ve had a few comments from my faithful readership (thanks, Mom) about slow loading times, and the fact that occasionally the blog will just hang and not load at all.

I have a passion for widgets, and so I tend to load up on them whenever I come across one. If I’m reading a blog like Fred Wilson‘s or someone else who has a new widget or plugin — like Dead 2.0, which is where I came across the “democracy” poll plugin for WordPress — I have to download it and try it out. Unfortunately, though, some widgets are in beta or not hosted on robust servers, and so the blog will hang while it is waiting for a response.

I’ve removed the BlogMap widget and the Yahoo Finance widget for that reason, plus I got rid of the Swicki search I had because no one seemed to use it. I got rid of the GoodBlogs widget too, but then I put it back because I think it’s a worthwhile project so I’m going to cut them some slack when it comes to the response time from their servers.

I also axed the Google ads, in part because it was an experiment and in part because I only made about $2.50 in the past month or so (my friend Markus Frind of Plenty of Fish could probably tell me how to maximize that, but I’m really not that interested in the money at this point). I also trimmed the analytics that I had loading, like CrazyEgg — which is cool, but not really designed for a blog like mine — and Blogbeat, which was great but it has been bought by Feedburner and I’m waiting to see how that’s going to change the service. I still have Google Analytics and MyBlogLog and Statcounter.

If you notice the blog still loading slowly, please let me know — and if you come across any cool widgets, let me know about that too 🙂