A Widget or Two for Yahoo

Yahoo launched Widgets, an open invitation to developers to build fun and useful little applications that connect users to content.

Widgets came along with Yahoo’s acquisition of Pixoria, which the Internet media company announced on Monday. Pixoria created the Konfabulator platform for widget creation in 2000. Konfabulator is a JavaScript runtime engine for Windows and Mac OS X that lets developers create and run small files called Widgets. Yahoo is building APIs that will let Yahoo Widget users receive information from its massive stores of content without needing to open a Web browser.

“Widgets are basically whatever you want them to be,” said Pixoria founder Arlo Rose. Widgets are constructed via XML and can take advantage of user data, such as photos, Web content or system information. For example, the Seattle Traffic Cams Widget, built by Anthony Kirby, pulls images from the Washington state DOT Web site for the Puget Sound area. The eBay Feedback Watcher, created by William Warby, displays positive, negative and overall eBay feedback ratings; when a new piece of feedback is posted, it displays the new feedback with a clickable link to the eBay item.

Widgets make Web services calls to APIs to receive content. The Pixoria purchase is part of a larger move by Yahoo to become a major platform for developers.

Yahoo developers are working to build APIs for most of Yahoo’s content, said Tony Schneider, vice president of the Yahoo Developer Network. “We already have a range of APIs, the same ones we’re opening up anyway through the developers network,” he said. “By combining them with Konfabulator, we make it a lot easier for people. You don’t have to know how to program. You can extend widgets using XML and have them start talking to other services.”

Yahoo Widgets launched with four pre-built mini-applications that reside on the desktop and connect to Yahoo content: a picture frame that connects to images stored on Yahoo’s Flickr photo service; a search box; a stock ticker; and an up-to-the-minute weather report. The Widget-building Konfabulator application is available as a free download.

“Yahoo is about to offer an amazing wealth of Web APIs for people to access Yahoo data form sources other than a Web page,” Rose said. “It will extend to just about every piece of property Yahoo has.”

Such strategies offer an open invitation to developers to make creative use of data from Yahoo. In some ways it hearkens back to the “push” desktop applications of the late 1990s, such as PointCast, which provided streaming news feeds into a small desktop window.

“There definitely are some parallels in the old push,” Schneider said. “The browser is a pull medium. If you do push right, it’s powerful.” While push media can be annoying, Schneider said, the advantage of Widgets is that “you can now make these things yourself; it’s not just whatever the company decides to push to you.”

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