Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, November 27, 2006

Digital Content Distribution Made Easy: Web Widgets - What They Are How They Can Bring New Life To Your Blog - Video Guide

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Web widgets are tiny web applications that allow online publishers to easily distribute their content in a way that facilitates snappy integration by other blogs and web sites.


In this video guide to web widgets I introduce you to these easy to use, highly interactive micro-applications that can be easily embedded in most any kind of site.

In the Web 2.0 landscape, bland-looking, text-only blogs are having a hard time competing with the increasing number of blogs and news sites integrating slide-shows, scrolling news, videos, polls, and other visual and interactive information widgets.

Grabbing a little bit of code from YouTube or your video sharing site of choice, and dropping it into a blog post has now become something that anyone can do, without any knowledge of coding and all of that geeky stuff us mere mortals weren't born knowing how to do.

Just as 2006 has been the year of video, 2007 promises to be the year of web widgets.

Web widgets are every bit as easy to embed into your blog as internet video clips. With a simple cut and paste of a ready-made code snippet any video clip or widget can be easily integrated into most sites, while providing value added information, interactivity and characterization to any web destination.

With the sudden emergence of this new widgets marketplace, a growing number of widgets clearing-houses have geared up to take advantage of the rapidly increasing demand for this new, highly modular type of digital content.

Blogging is all about reaching out to and interacting with people through the social web - web widgets allow you to enhance and build upon that interactivity further, providing rich, always up-to-date information components on the very topics and themes you specialize on.

So what are web widgets, and what can you do with them?

In this web widgets video guide, I introduce you to some of the best and most useful widgets out there, show you where you can find them, and how can you quickly and easily integrate them into your blog.

I am also going to show you some of these web widgets in action, allowing you to get a taste for the variety and typology of solutions available out there and letting you select the ones most fitting for your audience needs.

Find out which web widgets promise to become unique valuable additions to your existing content and which ones are the distribution hubs to use to find and integrate these new interactive content components into your site.

Web Widgets Video Guide

The following video guide has been put together to introduce you to the idea of what web widgets are, and how they can be of service to small online independent publishers.

The good news is, if you already know what widgets are, or how to embed them, you can skip straight ahead to the end, where I introduce my personal top five web widgets.

Otherwise, sit back and let me guide you through the following information:

  1. What is a web widget? In which I talk you through the basics of web widgets, and the difference they can make to your blog or website.
  2. Blog integration. Where I show you the end result of a dull, text-based blog brought to life by some really useful, great looking digital content courtesy of web widgets.
  3. Widgets clearing-houses. Where I take you through the places you can get hold of widgets to put in your blog, the vast content distribution clearing-houses serving up widgets, including the two two key players - WidgetBox and Google Gadgets.
  4. How to integrate widgets into your blog. Here I show you exactly how to get a web widget's digital content embedded easily into your blog post, using both WidgetBox and Google Gadgets.
  5. My personal top five web widgets. Where I take you through some the most-effective and richly-featured widgets out there.

NB - viewers with fast internet connections (of 1Mbps or faster) may like to try out the high quality version of the video hosted at Brightcove.

An overview - what are web widgets?

Web Widgets are micro-applications serving up rich digital content that you can embed directly into your blog, just as easily as you would an internet video player. When you're writing a blog post, all you have to do is go to one of the content distribution services offering widgets (there is a full list at the bottom of this page), pick out a useful widget, and copy and paste its code into your blog.

It's also possible to embed them into your web page, or into social networking pages like MySpace, and if you don't want web widgets actually in your blog or site posts, you can place them anywhere in your blog's template - in the header or the sidebar, so that they stay there regardless of the latest update to your blog.

But what do widgets actually do?

There are already hundreds if not thousands of web widgets that are available for immediate use, and they cover a vast range of functions, from games and virtual pets to more functional uses, such as miniature chat rooms, maps, reader polls, RSS readers and multiple choice polls. If you can think of any type of digital content you'd like to add to your blog or website, chances are someone has made a widget, or is in the process of making one, to satisfy your need.

How widgets can bring life to your blog

When you start writing a blog you enter into a dialogue. Let's face it, if you were only interested in keeping a personal, secret diary, there would really be little need to publish it to the world. So key to blogging is interaction, interaction with the people you hope will keep coming back, maybe leaving some comments, and telling their friends to check you out along the way.

The more relevant, well-tuned content you can bring to those site visitors, the more chance you have of building a lasting relationship with them.

Web widgets are a great opportunity to help you to engage with your audience.But the selection process is crucial. Used badly, they are at best decoration, and at worst a distraction.

Imagine the impact of a Pacman game widget embedded into a serious politically engaged blog about the crisis in Iraq. In this case, the widget has added nothing to the content, but it has probably dropped at least a few visitors estimation of the blogger's taste and reliability as a serious news source.

On the other hand, well placed, well selected widgets can add value to the content already there in your text and images. Using the widgets featured in this video guide, I am going to demonstrate how each could function to not only bring life to your blog, but also to enhance and provide greater value to the content that you are publishing.

Web widgets in action

  • YouTube Video Library

    Whether you are actively engaged in making your own screencasts, video mash-ups or vlogs, or you want to draw down the rich video content from across the web, this is a tool that allows you to display a content library of YouTube videos.

    Let's say you are writing a post about a particular subject, and have in your YouTube account a selection of videos related to this very subject. What better way to add value to your content than to give your readers a chance to scan through your collection there and then, from within your blog post, and find other related media?

    Or maybe you decide that you'd like to have your complete collection sitting in the sidebar of your blog, so that regardless of which post your visitor is looking at, they can check out all of the videos you have published through YouTube.

    Either way, you have given your site visitor a quick way to access information relevant to them as someone interested in the blog they are reading, and widgets have made this digital content distribution as easy as copy and pasting a single line of code.

    Get the YouTube Videos Widget at WidgetBox.

  • Technorati Search Feed

    Another key aspect of blogging is making connections between what you're writing and the wider blogosphere. Blogs are very often rich webs of quotation, drawing on sources from across the web to make their points. A blog with no links is like a car with no fuel - it isn't going to get very far.

    But there's only so much linking a blogger has time to do. That's where the Technorati Blog post tracker can come in useful.

    Technorati is a blog search tengine that is constantly being updated by blogs all across the web. Every time someone uses a keyword or tag that you have chosen in your search, Technorati is updated. With the Technorati widget, you can enter a search term related to the content of your blog, and it will update every 60 seconds with the latest entries from the blogosphere matching your key word(s).

    This is a great way of linking your blog post to the very latest words being written on the subject, and what's great is that even after five years, if someone were to find your blog post in your archives, the dynamic links from Technorati would be as fresh as the day you wrote your post. Your blog post gains new life serving as more than just a reflection on the moment, but rather a node in a larger network, a point of rich digital content distribution that is constantly updating itself within a given context.

    In an example below, I have Technorati searching for the term "web widgets" for me.

    Get the Technorati Blog Post Tracker from Widgetbox.

  • Google PageRank

    This is a simple widget that doesn't look like it's doing very much, but it is dynamic nevertheless, and lets site visitors (or potential advertisers) know how important your blog is, via Google PageRank, an index of a site's popularity built on how many other web pages link back to it.

    While it isn't the best looking or most exciting widget, it does make for a useful addition to your sidebar.

    Get the Google Pagerank Badge at Widgetbox.

  • Polldaddy Reader Poll

    Polldaddy offer an easy solution to bloggers or social network users to present their visitors with simple, easy to customize, good looking multiple choice polls like the one you can see below.

    This is a great opportunity to get feedback from your site visitors, without asking for the commitment of writing a comment (with the often lengthy form to fill in). It also means that site visitors can get a feel for how other people responded, entering into something bigger than a single response to a single blogger. This automatically brings your readers into a communal activity, and gives both you and them valuable feedback.

    Get the Polldaddy Poll Widget at Widgetbox.

  • Wikipedia Widget

    Wikipedia is a great resource, and a fantastic site to link to when you want to clarify a difficult or unusual word, term or an idea in your blog. In our work at Master New Media, the editors often send links out to wikipedia for those words that might not be so clear to everyone, and its a free and easy way to add depth to your blog posts.

    The Wikipedia widget, then, is a great way of letting your readers decide for themselves. By supplying a compact Wikipedia widget for your readers, maybe at the end of your blog post for instance, you give them the chance to clarify anything they aren't sure about, or to expand on something interesting they've picked up by jumping directly to a wikipedia entry from your blog. This is one of several great reference tools available at Google gadgets.

    Get the Wikipedia Search & Go Widget from Google Gadgets.

My Top Five Widgets

In addition to the widgets mentioned above, I ended the video guide by listing my top five widgets. Here they are, with a brief introduction to each.

  1. Bitty Browser

    The Bitty Browser widget, available from WidgetBox is a great way to give visitors to your blog the chance to look something up on another site without leaving your post for dead. Very often sending your readers away with profusion of in-text links can mean that they forget to come back, and you can find yourself with blog posts that nobody ever reaches the end of.

    Bitty Browser gives bloggers a chance at keeping their visitors on-site without even having to open a new tab on their browser. That aside, as you can set the Bitty Browser's homepage, it's a great way of referring directly to content on another web page and letting visitors check it out in the context of your blog post. Again, you are no longer a lone voice serving up a single portion of opinion, but rather a node in a network of digital content distribution, a gateway to contextualized online information.

  2. Flixn

    The Flixn video widget, also available through WidgetBox gives your site visitors the perfect opportunity to leave you a video comment, send out a video email to a friend telling them how cool your blog post is, or even record a vlog entry on the fly, while being able to refer directly to the great content that inspired it. This adds an easy to use, but impressive addition to any blog, and would be particularly well suited to video-based and vlog sites, bringing in an easy way to capture user-generated content in the spur of the moment.

  3. Grazr RSS Aggregator

    By adding the Grazr widget, again available through WidgetBox, to your blog, you are opening up an opportunity for your visitors to tap into a whole new universe of content, whether it be your own or off-site.

    By creating your own custom RSS feeds, you allow your visitors to cherry pick rich, highly relevant sources of news and information from around the web, tailor made by you to fit their tastes. Let's say, for example, that you decided to set up your blog on independent publishing and media, and thought that you might like to include Robin Good's latest news feeds - just throw the RSS link into Grazr, and you have a constantly updated source of news direct from the source, like the one featured below. Once again widgets transform your blog into a source of rich content distribution that goes beyond the single post you have presented to your visitors.

  4. GoodWidgets photo-sharing widgets

    Displaying your Flickr photo-sets or a visual portfolio of your work usually either involves sending your viewers off-site or else embedding static images into your blog post. GoodWidgets have come up with some impressive alternatives that make sharing your images an interactive experience familiar to anyone that has ever thumbed through a pack of photos, or flicked through a photo album.

    These well presented, nicely designed widgets offer not only the chance to make your images look great, but also the opportunity to save space (and download times), as an alternative to supplying image after image in a row, which very often confounds and irritates site visitors on slower internet connections.

    The two examples discussed in the video are this photo album:

    And this stack of photo images:

    Both, and a further slide show option are available from GoodWidgets website.

  5. Blinkx.TV video wall

    Blinkx.TVis an excellent video search tool that scours the entire internet for video content, just as regular search engines do for text. When it has done so, it produces a beautiful wall of video, which can be scanned over with the mouse to highlight, zoom in on and reveal further details about a particular video that has caught the eye of your site visitor.

    By clearly tagging your videos in the first place, and then running a search on the tag you have used - or else simply searching all of the content out there on the web - Blinkx.TV's widget offers you a visually arresting way of indexing great video content directly relevant to your blog post or entire blog. What Blinkx adds to this simple act of content distribution is a beautiful aesthetic that will wow your site visitors.

  6. Blinkx.TV's widget is available directly from their site and can be accessed by running a search, selecting "Wall It", and copying the code that appears at the bottom of the video.

    Digital Content Distribution Made Easy

    I hope I have managed to demonstrate to you that web widgets can indeed be - in the right hands - best friends in enhancing and providing extra value to the content you small independent publishers' write or syndicate.

    Keep in mind, that while there are a great many funny widgets out there that seem to serve no serious professional purpose, there are just as many great widgets that you can embed into your site with the same ease required to cut and paste content from two different documents.

    With due diligence, research and some content design intelligence you really can transform your online web site or blog into a uniquely powerful hub of digital content focussing on a very specific niche topic-audience.

    Web widgets can indeed significantly enhance your visitors' user experience while providign an additional and updated level layer of extra information.

    While web widgets aren't going to make bad content good, they can provide high-quality complementary content and a range of means for personalizing and interacting with it - something that users increasingly appreciate and crave for.

    As the web evolves further into a truly multimedia experience, rather than a super-charged, hyper-linked facsimile of print media, web widgets give non-technical bloggers and small independent publishers the means to extend, enrich and expose their and other people's content in new and effective ways.

    Give widgets a chance to make digital content distribution and integration a new and powerful aspect of your online publishing experience.

    Additional Resources

    If you've been inspired to put some widgets to use, you might want to visit:

    Michael Pick -
Readers' Comments    
2008-09-17 03:10:07


Nice Video guide on web widgets. I will definitely refer this blog to my colleagues.

2007-02-17 08:12:21


what about you forgot about this very nice site

2006-12-25 15:02:02

Doug Caldwell

Excellent article, very informative. It demonstrates many aspects of the webwidgets. I will cite this blog on my blog as a reference to others to try webwidgets. And I will put more on my blog shortly.
By the way: If there are too many webwidgets and/or ads the blog seems to take forever to load. If it's not fast, it could be skipped by some readers.

posted by Michael Pick on Monday, November 27 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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