An interview with the Widget King

Last year, Hawaii-based ChipIn launched its “social ecommerce” service designed to help individuals connect with people in their social network for collection of money for a personal cause, to purchase a gift, or for community fundraising.

In recent months, the business has morphed into a “distributed fundraising widget management company”. Shel Israel blogged about this following a breakfast meeting he had with Carnet Williams, CEO at ChipIn, last December.

Now, if you want to find out how the ChipIn widget works, then you should read Beth Kanter’s case study, who incidentally interviewed Carnet in his pre-ChipIn days.

I think that distributed widget fundraising is a hugely important development and is set to sky-rocket this year… something I asked Carnet.

Do you agree that 2007 will be the Year of the Widget?

Yes! But I have a caveat on the term ‘widget’. I think in 2007 we will see a trend moving away from pure consumer-based widgets that act more like banner ads, and see the rise of the “smart” widgets – actual mini-applications that are embedded on both websites and desktops.

We are moving towards a more business-oriented rationale for widgets. Some good examples are the widget to access and upload your files. It also plays mp3’s. This is a widget that serves a clear business purpose. That is where we wanted to position ChipIn – as a transactional widget that helps collect money. We will soon move beyond just tracking the collection of money, and onto tracking many different actions.

How do widgets offer a brand-building opportunity for not-for-profits?

When we think of widgets, we should be thinking of online branding and advocacy. It is not just the widget or the donations that not-for-profits should be seeking, but building a network of advocates that will carry a particular message. If the message is compelling, the donations will follow. Not-for-profits have an amazing ability to harness the power of their constituents’ social network through well-designed widgets that offer compelling value (content, actions, etc).

What is the blueprint for a successful widget strategy?

Just like selling your organisation’s mission, a widget strategy must start with a compelling message / reason to create a widget in the first place. It must cater to the stakeholder who is going to carry that widget around with them. It has to offer value in terms of changing content and help an organisation’s advocate make their case for support.

Definitely check out Beth Kanter’s Sharing Foundation case study, mentioned above [and listen to Nick Booth’s podcast of Beth talking about her widget fundraising].

How do you measure the effectiveness of a widget?

We look at the number of widgets created, how many times they are viewed, and most importantly, we track the parent-child relationship between widgets. This allows us to track the word-of-mouth impact a widget is having, and the best advocates at spreading the message.

Can you identify some successful distributed fundraising activities and blog-raising campaigns?

DonorsChoose ran a great widget campaign last year to get bloggers to support school projects. I think they were one of the first not-for-profits to jump into this space themselves.

There are other campaigns running now, such as Network for Good’s campaign.

What are the main barriers to the adoption and spread of widgets (e.g. those sites which operate as ‘walled gardens’)?

I think the main barrier is going to be a crowded space and widgets that do not provide tangible value. For example, widgets that are just fancy banner ads will get old and tired very quickly for users.

The web is now all about user-generated content and changing content. Widgets need to follow this trend and provide a robust and rich media channel between the organisation and their supporters.

The walled gardens of the larger social media sites (MySpace, TypePad) will be an issue for groups, but we [ChipIn] are working to provide an aggregated approach to this problem by working with the larger sites to allow our system to work across the board. Everyone is always holding their breath to see what MySpace is going to do… but the desktop widgets may take some pressure off.

What’s behind the repositioning of your product as a Widget Management System?

Very simple. We had so many clients asking us for the platform that it made sense for us to shift our business from a consumer-facing product, to a back-end widget platform. We designed our core system to integrate very easily with our clients’ payment systems.

So, we are poised to fundamentally change the way online fundraising and advocacy will work within social media. We want to go far beyond just fundraising and see that as measurable benefit of our system. We want to see ChipIn become an online organising tool unlike anything else seen before. You’ll see a totally new and revamped ChipIn in the next month or so!!

(Wow… is this something for Comic Relief to try, perhaps?)