Widget distribution networks are becoming a popular vehicle for major content distributors to get their content in context in weblogs, personal Web pages, portals and other content outlets. The New York Times joins the list of self-service widget distributors today with the beta launch of its Times Widgets feature. Using a simple point-and-click online form anyone can select NYT headlines from any of their more than 10,000 topical RSS feeds and get code that you can insert into your favorite publishing software or enjoy a one-click insert into iGoogle, Blogger, Vox or Netvibes. The net result is a display of recent headlines from one or more feeds, each with its own tabbed display. The popular Gigya widget distribution service provides the widget plumbing for Times Widgets, which promises that more platforms can be added as instant-add options soon enough.
It's a great positioning for the NYT's RSS feed content, which is popular enough with RSS enthusiasts but not necessarily getting the referral links out to the pages of news enthusiasts as quickly as news organizations would like. The problem is a familiar one: even with a very simple feed like RSS, only a small percentage of people are willing to do the minor heavy lifting to put an RSS feed into a useful place. Feeds are great, but the technologies to get them into useful places easily have been lagging. Widgets make it easy to manage feeds as part of a published page, ensuring not just the exposure of content but the ability to do more things with a widget payload over time.
It will also make it easier for the NYT to get come data as to which people using widgets are worth approaching to be advertising partners as well: there's nothing to say that money-making content cannnot be in those widget payloads, after all. Moves like the Times Widgets beta are examples of how publishers can use widget distribution technologies to open doors both to referral links and to advertising partners that can add value to their brands in a far more cost-effective way than traditional business development efforts. Not a bad deal for just a little bit of development effort. Kudos, folks, the building may have to go but with efforts like this there are good reasons to hope that mainstream news content can find its most valuable contexts more efficiently than ever.