Quote IconIf 2006 was all about social networks, user-generated content and YouTube, then it’s a fair bet that 2007 will be about further personalizing life online. Already, portals like Google and Yahoo! offer customizable pages. Want to see a calendar, learn a new word-of-the-day and check local windsurfing conditions all from your homepage? No problem, you have thousands of widgets to choose from. And the fact that they’re so intuitive has made the features very popular. “The Google personal homepage is the fastest-growing Google product,” says Marissa Mayer, the company’s vice president of “search products and user experience.” “This market is going to be very large.”

Welcome, Year of the Widget - Newsweek | December 21, 2006

Quote IconMr. Kawasaki refers to widgets as “digital bling.” (Mr. Kawasaki’s blog, How to Change the World, is among the 50 most popular blogs, according to the ranking site Technorati.) He says he enjoys experimenting with new widgets on his blog, but is wary of getting carried away. “I don’t intend to be Mr. T, but I don’t want to be Audrey Hepburn, either, with just a string of pearls,” he said.

Some Bling for Your Blog - New York Times | January 18, 2007

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“Widgets pull content or services from some other place on the Web, and put it into your personal page,” said Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures in Manhattan.

Typically, they’re built with Flash software from Adobe, or the JavaScript programming language, which ensures that they work with most Web browsers. Mr. Wilson’s blog, A VC (avc.blogs.com), displays one of the Web’s largest widget collections, including a photo album from the site Flickr and others that highlight his music collection.

Some Bling for Your Blog - New York Times | January 18, 2007

"The comScore data is among the first to measure the reach of companies such as Slide Inc., RockYou Inc. and PictureTrail Inc., which create applications known as widgets that consumers can use to produce videos, photo slideshows and music playlists. These individual pieces of content can then be posted on blogs and social-networking sites such as MySpace, a unit of News Corp., NWS 1.13% and Facebook. So far, Slide and other widget makers have earned money mostly by selling ads on their own sites, but have found it difficult to generate revenue from the content created using their services and displayed on other sites."

'Widgets' May Snag More Ads - WSJ.com | June 13, 2007

The headline says "Business Helps Yellowstone," but the article body says “Of the $70,600 required [to plow the South gate], the [Teton] county tourism board offered to pay $56,000, while the local chamber kicked in $14,600.” The remainder was kicked in by a linens-supply company and a restaurant group.

Not to spoil a compelling narrative, but…

Counties are (state) government entities, and like all government entities, counties are funded by taxes. In this case, the Teton County tourism board is funded by the “Tax you don’t pay,” a 2% lodging tax levied on guests at local hotels, motels, and rental properties. The “Tax you don’t pay" moniker was coined by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce's PAC, Citizens for a Sustainable Community, which was created to advocate for the lodging tax.

Why would a collective of job creators like the JH Chamber of Commerce be in favor of new taxes? Well, here are a few reasons:

  • Revenues raised by the lodging tax are pre-allocated: 60% must be spent on promotion, 30% on visitor services, and 10% on the general fund;
  • Funds dedicated to promotion are allocated by the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Joint Powers board, an appointed group of “volunteers,” the majority of whom must come from the travel and tourism industry;
  • The tourism board (which is chaired by a former president of the chamber of commerce) funds the chamber to the tune of $350,000 annually, which happens to be the same amount allocated to the “general fund.”

In short, the lodging tax amounts to a publicly funded, privately administered means for Jackson Hole’s tourism industry to promote their services. Thus, an article ostensibly about private business gamely picking up sequester-imposed slack could also be read as an article about private business using public funds to pay for services that, were it not for lobbying by the business’s publicly-funded trade organization, would have been performed by the government. This isn’t a story about private business picking up public slack; this is a story about private business lobbying for a public tax to subsidize a private trade organization which then allocates the tax’s proceeds for the benefit of the organization’s membership. And lest you pity the hoteliers whose ventures would fail in the absence of such “help,” consider that per capital personal income in Teton County is amongst the highest in the nation, behind New York and just ahead of Marin. So it goes.

Lesson 1. Taxes are terrible, except when they’re used by private actors to promote private business.

Lesson 2. Private businesses can pick up the slack created by smaller government, so long as those businesses are supported by government funds.

Lesson 3. The narratives we believe are no more than stories: elided, incomplete, and misleading. Forge your beliefs accordingly.