Niall Kennedy has been on a roll in the past couple of weeks. He has a blog post entitled Brands will be widgetized, but who is the author? which tackles the interesting problem of widgets, branding and customer confusion. He writes
Sites with personal user data placed behind a username and password may be
subject to new types of phishing attacks from the widget web. A user will likely
locate your service's widget through the widget provider's directory, searching
for terms such as "Gmail" and "eBay" to access their latest mail messages or
watched auction items. These widgets will prompt the user for their login
information before delivering personalized information from each service,
leaving the trust of a brand in the hands of a third-party developer who may or
may not act in the best interest of the data provider.
If Google Mail and eBay worked directly with the large widget producers to
establish certified or trusted widget status they could reduce opportunities
available for third party widgets offering enticing functionality to send
messages to a remote server with collected user data. The trusted, certified, or
verified seals provided by each widget platform is one way to ensure users
receive the official product and not a knock-off.
This issue has been rattling around in my head ever since I wrote a Flickr gadget and a Blufr gadget for Windows Live Spaces. After all, I don't work for either company yet here I am writing gadgets that are being used by hundreds of users in their name. Who ends up getting the taint if my gadget is buggy or causes some problems for the user? Me or Flickr? What happens if legitimate looking gadgets like mine are actually fronts for phishing attacks? How can Flickr protect their users and their brand from malicious or just plain sloppy developers? I like the idea of the major widget galleries like Windows Live Gallery, Yahoo! Widget Gallery and Spring Widgets coming up with a notion of trusted or certified gadgets but it seems like an unfortunate hoop that web sites now need to jump through to police their brands on the various widgets sites on the Web. Reminds me of trademark holders having to rush to register their brand name as a domain whenever new TLDs are opened up.
PS: This is one of the reasons you don't see a bunch of Windows Live gadgets out there today. The brand dilution and phishing problem is a real one that worries lots of folks over here.