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Having re-branded its Personalized Home Page under the name "iGoogle" last month, Google is taking steps to maintain the momentum of this fast growing service.
Google Wednesday announced a new initiative called Google Gadget Ventures to encourage third-party gadget development by funding gadget-oriented business ventures.
"We've been hearing from a lot of gadget developers that they'd like to spend more time developing if they could, and we've been thinking about ways to help them do that," said Sep Kamvar, engineering lead for personalization, in a blog post. "To that end, we're happy to announce Google Gadget Ventures, a new pilot program that will help fund third-party gadget development and gadget-related businesses."
Gadgets, also known as widgets, are small software programs that can be added to customizable Web pages like iGoogle. They're easy to spot at social networking sites and online portals. They do things like present slide shows or perform other generally unimpressive but useful tasks.
Kamvar said Google would offer $5,000 grants for gadgets developers to improve existing gadgets and $100,000 seed investments for new gadget-related businesses. The catch is that the cash is available only to those with gadgets already garnering 250,000 page views per week or more.
In other words, those who have made one of many undistinguished To Do List gadgets should come up with a better idea before seeking funding.
Google said that it expects to make between 20 and 40 grants per year, and two to five seed investments per year.
Despite lingering doubts about the commercial prospects of gadgets, which are vulnerable to being blocked because of their parasitic nature, these small bits of code look more and more like a big business.
Companies like Slide and RockYou have seen their prospects brighten with Facebook's decision to open itself up as a platform, an act that promised an alternative to MySpace's habit of blocking certain widgets. And Internet metrics company comScore recently launched comScore Widget Metrix, a service to measure widget use across Web sites.
The rise of the gadget economy reflects the changing nature of software development. While developers still can and do write epic programs with millions of lines of code, Google wants to make it clear that there's a place in its ecosystem for those who can create much more modest applications.