What is a widget?

Written by: Emile Givogue in Web Technology

A customer once asked me: “What is a widget?”  After a few minutes of struggling to explain, I decided it might a good subject for a seminar.

Wikipedia offers the following etymology for the word widget: “Blend of window and gadget, coined by George S. Kaufman in his play ‘Beggar on Horseback’ (1924);” In summation, “any mini application that can be embedded into a second application or platform”.

There are several types of platforms: there are various web platforms such iGoogle and MyYahoo! Facebook and Friendster are examples of social web platforms and examples of desktop platforms are Google desktop and Apple desktop.  The iPhone could also be considered a platform.

And that all kind of makes sense, but what are they actually? Are they of any value?  Does your company really need to publish one?  They are not only important, but a crucial stepping stone in the evolution of the internet, maybe even the beginning of Web 3.0

It was not that long ago that the internet, at least to most users, was nothing more then a slew of webpages scattered across the world.  If you wanted to know the weather, you went to weathernetwork.com.  If you wanted to find the latest hockey news, you visited nhl.com.  As time has gone by, Google, a search engine, allows you to find exactly what you are actually looking for.  Web 2.0 technologies allow websites to be more than just word documents published to the world.

“The times, they are a changing” is a timeless lyric, for the web is slowly transforming into a sea of platforms of all types.  Facebook is one big platform for anyone to publish their life and stay connected to others.  Google and MyYahoo allow you to configure your own personal homepage with only the information you want to see.  This is where widgets come in.

Why would a user want to jump around from page to page to find all of the information they want when Google can place all of that information on one page.  There are Google widgets for the weather and the NHL.  You can even sign up to place these widgets on your own page.

Does everyone need a widget?  Not necessarily.  Most businesses or personal information site would gain little from having a widget.  After all, why would anyone want anything from SilenceIT.ca on their Facebook homepage.  Anyone who offers an online service should pay attention because the days of offering the use of an online currency calculator in exchange for Google advertising are coming to an end and if you do not get with the times, you’ll be left behind.