More Thoughts on Widgets

I reported a month ago about the Internet widgets on some of Samsung’s new TVs. On Wednesday, Intel and Yahoo! announced the Widget Channel that will let viewers add Internet content to their screens. It is to work not just with televisions, but other consumer electronic devices as well. The goal is to have developers write applications for these devices that can then access the content from the Widget Channel.

The Widget Channel will let you superimpose Web content on your TV screen.

Intel and Yahoo! hope to have a broad base of widgets available to users, drawing on a wide range of content. Not only will you be able to access Yahoo! content, but the partnership also hopes to include Blockbuster, eBay, and several TV network and movie channel Web sites as well.

So this raises the question: just because you can do it, is it a good idea? I know that there are many times that I have wondered about something while watching a TV show, and would certainly appreciate a way to get more information about it from the Web while I watch. Or I may be interested in the time or weather or stock market or a sports score. But I’m beginning to think that I’m not going to like this new world of widgets invading my TV.

First and foremost, television watching remains a group activity while Web surfing remains an individual activity. (How many times have you been at a party, and said, “Come on gang, let’s do some Google searches!”?) Just because there’s inf0rmation that I might want to see doesn’t mean that everyone else watching the television wants to see it, too. Now, this complaint does not apply to single-user consumer electronic devices, and I recognize that we may be headed that way for all television, but we’re not there yet.

But even more than the group/individual problem is what I call the “screen clutter” issue. It started with the network bug appearing near the start of a show, just to remind you which network you’re watching. Then the bugs stayed on screen longer and longer. Then the networks added little tickers that would run during a program to remind you of something. Now, there are entire little animated mini-series running across the bottom of the screen, promoting some program other than the one you’re watching. NBC’s Olympic “spots” were some of the worst offenders in this category that I’ve seen lately.

Look, I understand that we’re not watching the commercials and network promotional spots much anymore, thanks to TiVo. So I get it that the networks feel the need to use programming time for promotion. But I find it distracting and annoying, and it makes me want to give up on network programming and just stick to my bug-free movie rentals. So why would I want to go and put all sorts of visual distractors at the bottom of my TV screen on purpose?

Maybe in the attention deficient population as a whole, these widgets will be appealing, but I think most people will find that they get old very quickly. I think the product that is needed is an affordable, small, wireless tablet that individuals can use to access the Internet and control their entire home entertaiment system through an easy-to-use touchscreen interface, with hot buttons for key content such as weather or sports or financial news.

But please don’t clutter up my screen any more than it is already.