There are many interesting similarities between widgets and RSS:

  1. Fantastically flexible distributed technology
  2. A boon for information junkies and power users
  3. Difficult to explain to a non-geek
  4. Name is complete opaque to average, mainstream users
  5. Difficult for average, mainstream users to understand why it’s so cool
  6. Huge technical savviness barrier for average, mainstream user adoption

Erick Schonfeld has an interview with Netvibes CEO Tariq Krim about the future of widgets, which is mostly laudatory, as most posts about widgets are, although Erick does take an interesting look at some of the current limitations with widgets (and at what will happen to online advertising).

But I was struck by how widgets, like RSS, are really more of a boon for online publishers than for average folks. Widgets, like RSS, are great for syndicating information, or in the case of widgets, also application functions. But for average users, they are only useful for aggregating on a start page, and really, how often do most people change their start pages?

The inability of anyone to explain widgets or RSS in terms that the average person can understand is really striking. Here’s Erick’s definition of a widget:

Let’s begin by understanding what widgets are. The reason we are seeing widgets all over the place is because the Web has become programmable. It is now possible to separate the underlying data of the Web from the presentation of that data, which means that one Website’s data can be presented anywhere

It’s a great definition, but most people I know outside of my blogging life would have no idea what this means.

Interestingly, Jeremy Zawodny had a post today on why he hates widgets, including concerns over security and site performance (e.g. crashed TechCrunch).

One exception to the mainstream limitation with widgets might be the younger, more tech savvy generation that is used to programming their MySpace pages. But for the average person over 30, there’s a good chance that widgets, like RSS, will remain a black box, not worth opening.

Now, none of this means that widgets, like RSS, won’t revolutionize the world of web publishing (although I’m skeptical of Tariq Krim prediction that widgets will kill web pages) — it’s just that it will be transparent to the average web user.