Functionality

Posted in Development, Web
Update (1/7/2006)

I should have mentioned long ago that DBW has changed their policy on P2P widgets. More details.

How do you get this traffic graph over the first two weeks of July? Write a Dashboard widget, apparently.

My Azureus Dashboard Widget has been downloaded over 2300 times in only a few days, according to my logs, without being listed on Apple’s widget page or on DashboardWidgets.com. (We’ll come back to that.) It has, however, been posted on VersionTracker and MacUpdate. From there, I suppose, a Digg user saw it and posted it; it shot onto Digg’s front page. Someone else added it to del.icio.us; before long it was on the popular links page. It got posted on The Unofficial Apple Weblog and DownloadSquad.

A lot of the feedback I’m getting has a common theme. One e‐mail said, “I rarely find widgets useful but this one is an exception. Great work!” A comment on VersionTracker states, “I knew Dashboard could do more than show me the weather.” TUAW said, “For the most part, I think widgets that merely serve as a Dashboard face for a non‐Dashboard program are useless. Not the case with this one…” It’s gratifying to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that most widgets don’t do anything.

The Dashboard Programming Guide has a section on design conventions:

Design your widget to have a discrete functionality. It should require no explanation or configuration. Instead of creating a widget that does three things, try creating three widgets that do one thing each. This makes each task discrete and lets your users choose what is useful for them.

I agree with the idea of a widget doing one thing well. The problem I have is that a lot of widgets I see seem to do zero things well, or one thing poorly.

Half of all widgets I come across either (a) check your GMail account or (b) count down to some event, like the Longhorn launch date or Burning Man. The redundant efforts are disheartening. A large chunk of the remaining widgets simply duplicate some sort of functionality that’s present in a web browser. I think the Wikipedia widget is very well done, and obviously there are those who find it valuable, but I don’t get it. I have a web browser for visiting web sites. Others recreate old video games, or display webcam images, or show album art. These are among the most popular widgets in Apple’s directory, but they’re not enough to keep plenty of Tiger users from disabling the dashboard entirely with utilities like DashOnOff.

As I mentioned earlier, my widget has not been added to Apple’s directory or to DashboardWidgets.com. I submitted to both sites on Thursday. I don’t know the status of the Apple submission, but late Thursday night I got an e‐mail from DBW:

Uh oh, I’m really sorry about this Andrew but we can’t accept that widget. It’s DBW policy to reject all P2P-related content. Again, I’m very sorry :(

I wrote back:

Might I respectfully inquire as to the rationale of this rule? My widget is not a BitTorrent client, nor does it condone or in anyway simplify the process of copyright infringement. All of the items in my screenshot, for example, are legal downloads.

Do you fear legal retribution? From whom? If it were legally precarious to host BitTorrent *clients* for download, many web sites would be in trouble, including some of your competitors. And, as I’ve stated, my widget isn’t even a BitTorrent client. It’s useless without Azureus, which is downloaded elsewhere.

I’m pressing on this issue only because I’ve put a lot of hard work into this widget and I’m proud of it. DBW is where I go for widgets, and I know I’m not the only one, and I feel like my widget deserves to be seen, downloaded, and judged by the DBW community.

I’m not sure how tall the organizational ladder is over there, and I appreciate how polite and apologetic you’ve been, but it seems to me that policies can be changed, or at least handled on a case‐by‐case basis. Without knowing your rationale it’s hard not to view this decision as arbitrary.

I didn’t get a reply until today:

We decided early on that we did not want to promote piracy in any way, choosing to exclude widgets related to P2P, BitTorrent, etc. While the items in the screenshot are legal downloads, the main use (though usually unpublished) for BitTorrent is illegal downloading.

Again, I’m very sorry about this. I completely understand the amount of work that goes into a widget, especially one as complex as yours. Sadly, though, we just can’t accept it.

I’m not going to get into the BitTorrent controversy, nor will I enumerate the many legitimate uses for BT. Others have said it better. But I’d like to higlight this widget as an example of the sort of thing that passes through DBW’s submission gauntlet: it displays Goku (from Dragon Ball Z). That’s it.

There’s a whole section full of “decorative” widgets at DashboardWidgets.com. Somehow I have the feeling that this isn’t what Apple had in mind when they created Dashboard. I don’t mean to pick on the Dragon Ball widget’s author. I do, however, wish to ask the DBW staff why their moral objection to piracy is seemingly more important than a moral objection to mediocrity.

My widget does not encourage or condone piracy. More to the point, though, it does something. It solves a problem. It’s not perfect — I’ve got a whole lot of stuff to fix/add for version 0.2 — but it is among the most ambitious widgets I’ve seen. It took forever to write and went through about eight or nine different versions of limited release before I deemed it good enough to release to the public.

I am not mad at the DBW staff; my contact with them has been cordial. But I did want to let people know why my widget isn’t on their site and leave it up to each individual to decide whether or not my widget’s exclusion is unfair.

Update: After I used Apple’s feedback form to complain about the fact that one cannot check on the status of a pending submission, Apple wrote a rather snooty message back:

Due to the amount of submissions we recieve, we do not have the bandwidth to contact submitters directly. When you submit your software, your submission is subject to review. Apple reserves the right to omit, edit, or reject submissions.

We chose not to highlight Azureus as it supports BitTorrent (which could possibly be used for illegal file sharing).

I never really expected Apple to accept my submission, but it stings nonetheless.

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