Monday, November 12, 2007

The Four Pillars of a Distributed Web Strategy

earth_tech_small.jpgMy interest in distributed web businesses – web businesses that don’t reside on a single domain, but instead span across various web sites – stems from necessity.

While the long tail of the Web is getting longer, so is the percentage of overall pageviews absorbed by the head of that tail. If your site isn’t one of those elite sites at the head of the curve, you’re most likely losing ground every day.

In this environment, you either find ways to put your content / functionality / service in front of people where they are, or you wither away into irrelevance.

At a macro level, there are four broad strategies that can be undertaken to get distributed.


Widgets have been covered in excruciating detail on this blog. The short version: have a stable of Flash widgets available to your users that your makes your site’s best content and functionality available “to go,” at the whim of anybody who hits your site, and at the whim of anybody who comes across one of your widgets in the wild.

Here’s my list of best widget resources.

Toolbars / Extensions / Downloads

Not to sound idiotic (which this does), but another place that Internet users spend a lot of time is in their browser or on their desktop.

If you can convince your users to add a plug-in / toolbar / extension to their browser, your service is going to be front and center in these folks’ browsing experience. From a distributed perspective, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The challenge, of course, is that a download is a big obstacle to adoption. Not that this is an impossible task – StumbleUpon is a great example of a company that rode a browser extension to mass adoption, and eventually, an acquisition.

I’d also include downloadable clients in this bucket. Stuff like Last.FM’s audioscrobbler and Meetro’s IM client are both good examples of download powered distribution.


APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, allow outside developers build on top of your application, and typically involve creating modular blocks of your site’s functionality or content that can be called into use by other sites.

APIs are not as accessible as widgets, as only developers can make use of them. However, APIs can enable broad, site wide adoption of a web service. For example, when my employer decided to use the Yahoo! Maps API to add maps to our local business reviews channel, in one fell swoop we added about 1M Yahoo! maps to our site.

Facebook Apps

With more than 30M active profiles, and a unique opportunity to distribute your web application via the social fabric of existing networks of friends, Facebook has become a distribution channel all its own.

I was initially skeptical about some aspects of the Facebook platform – but no longer. I see a Facebook distribution strategy as an absolute must have for just about any consumer facing web app.

The best post that I’ve seen on Facebook App tips can be found on Inside Facebook.


While coverage of each of these four distribution buckets may not be appropriate for every consumer facing company, it’s interesting to take a look at some of the leaders in distributed business strategy and see what they’re doing in each area.

So is anybody knocking the ball out of the park on all of these distribution elements?

StumbleUpon has millions of downloads of their toolbar, but “only” 7,000 FB app users.

Adaptive Blue (review) has an impressive toolbar and stable of widgets, but no Facebook app or API that I could find.

Yelp has a newly released API, a stable of widgets, and a Facebook app (3,000 users).

The companies that seem to really have distributed business strategy down are some of the original MySpace era widget kings. Slide has massive traction on Facebook, massive widget traction on MySpace and elsewhere, and a toolbar.

Likewise, RockYou has massive Facebook traction, huge widget distribution, and a Facebook API.

Photobucket has incredible widget traction, a custom browser, and Facebook App (16K users).

Those looking to better understand best practices in terms of distributed business strategy would be well served to keep an eye on the things that these photo widget players are up to – though I wouldn’t necessarily copy these sorts of crass cloaking and spam tactics.

While I don’t believe that it’s nearly time to abandon home base entirely, I do think the importance of building and executing a distributed web strategy is growing. It will be fun to see which companies solve this, and if any of the monster destination properties show an interest in distribution (vs. aggregation).

Reposted from its original on Sexy Widget.

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