I just used Parallels to install Windows Vista on my MacBook Pro, and I noticed that by default the Windows software had gadgets on the desktop. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! are all pushing gadgets.
In order to to make it easy to navigate the sea of gadgets, and with the hope of becoming the default provider, many of these companies are showing popularity or distribution statistics of gadgets and videos, while also making it easy to syndicate them and easy to consume them (via personalized home pages, desktop widgets, site inclusion, and sidebar widgets).
This means 2 things for publishers: a cheap way to get huge distribution and brand loyalty, and easy access to human filtered interesting content.
Today Freebase launched, which is attempting to create a useful semantic web of human knowledge, similar to Google Base. As upstarts and established companies fight for distribution and trust more information will be publicly available from third party sites. Marketers can use toolbars, statistics, APIs, custom topical search engines, Yahoo! Pipes, widgets, and other mashups to create and package useful niche content and tools by aggregating data from these sources.
Some people are using the APIs to provide a more useful version of the original, like Alexaholic, while others are focused on creating profitable ad networks such as Auction Ads. One of my affiliates recently created this mashup. You can keep up with mashups and widgets at Mashable and Sexy Widget.
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