2012-07-08

The demise of iGoogle: is this the beginning of the end for widgets?

What's happening to iGoogle? - Web Search Help:

So I woke up this morning and found a warning on my home page.  iGoogle is going away it calmly announced.  November 2013, but earlier than that if you are using a 'mobile' device.

So that means my home page is going away.  I can finally give up on the idea that Google will come up with a decent iGoogle experience on the iPad, or even on my Android phone.  I may have just upgraded to a slightly larger 15" MacBook but it is still portable - it must be, I've just carried it from the UK to New Orleans ready for OSCELOT and Blackboard's annual 'world' conference.  In fact, thanks to United Airlines' upgrade programme I was even able to plug it in and use it for most of the flight.


So what am I going to miss about my home page?  I'll miss the "Lego men" theme but I can probably live without Expedia reminders which count me down to my next trip.  In fact, if they would only just say something more appropriate than "Enjoy your holiday" I might miss that gadget a bit more.  I have quick access to Google Reader but I increasingly find myself reading blogs on my phone these days - it just seems like the right thing to do on the tube (London's underground railway).  I'm not sure about Google bookmarks - I assume they're staying so I might have to make them my home page instead.  Finally, I'm not sure I've ever actually chatted to anyone through iGoogle.

So I'm over iGoogle, not as easily as Bookmark lists but nothing I can't handle.

Is this the end of widgets?


iGoogle was one of the more interesting widget platforms when it launched.  You can write your own widgets, get them published to their gadget list so that other users can download them and install them on their iGoogle page.  They're small, simpler than full-blown computer applications on the desktop, simpler and smaller than complete websites.  iGoogle is a platform which reduces the barrier to entry for all sorts of cool little apps.  It is particularly good for apps that allow you to access information stored on the web, especially if it is accessible by JSON or similar web services.

You may notice a strong resemblance to mobile apps.  Google certainly have and this is the main reason why iGoogle is going away.  It is no longer the right platform.  People with 15" screens organizing lots of widgets on their browser-based home page are an anachronism.  These days people organize their apps on 'home screens', flipping between them with gestures.  They don't need another platform.  Apple have already seen this coming, in fact, they are having a significant influence on the future.  There is already convergence in newer versions of Mac OS.

There's a lot of engineering involved in persuading browsers to act as a software platform.  The browser doesn't do it all for you (and plugins do not seem like the solution because they are browser specific).  There are a number of widget toolkits available for would-be portal engineers but the most popular portals tend to have their own widget implementations (just look at your LMS or Sharepoint).

For many years I've been watching the various widget specifications emerge from the W3C, lots of clever engineers are involved (those I know I hold in high regard) but I'm just beginning to get that sickening feeling that it is all going to have been a learning experience.  At the end of the process we may have a technically elegant, well-specified white elephant.

As someone who has spent many years developing software in the e-Learning sector I've always found it hard to draw the line between applied research which is solely for the purposes of education and applied research which is more generally applicable but is being driven by the e-Learning sector.  As a community, we often stretch the existing platforms and end up building out new frameworks only to have to throw stuff away as the market changes underneath us.  The web replaced HyperCard and Toolbook in just this way - some of the content got migrated but the elaborate courseware management systems (as we used to call them) all had to be thrown away.













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