I chose to investigate widgets, mainly because I wanted to know what in tarnation these things were, and how they could possibly be useful. So I went to yourminis.com and springwidgets.com to get a sense of this tool. After an hour plus of noodling around, here’s what I’ve picked up:
What’s a widget?
Since neither site provided a definition, I consulted Wikipedia, and found this one:
“A web widget is a portable chunk of code that can be installed and executed within any separate HTML-based web page by an end user without requiring additional compilation. They are akin to plugins or extensions in desktop applications.”
Okay, I get that, now on to how useful and helpful a widget could be.
Back to the sites. Both allow the user to browse widgets from a twenty or so categories, among them Business, Food, Video, Entertainment; if you see one you like, you can copy it or download it to your blog, share with a friend (or twenty), and of course, comment on it. Helpful (read:serious) ones include Simply Hired (job ads), Calendar, Notepad. For fun & entertainment, widgets abound: Etch-a-Sketch, games, previews and countdowns to TV shows and movies, or any number of homemade videos, which are by far the majority. These come in various shades of taste. I liked the electric guitar version of Pachelbel’s Canon on YouTube, played by an anonymous, baseball-capped youth in a bedroom. It’s a swell example of the (relative) democracy of the Internet, and the ease of widget creation.
To make your blog into a widget, each of these sites provides a way to “widgetize” your content. Oh boy! Yourminis directions were full of techno-babble, while Springwidget spoke to the novice; enter your blog URL, select whether you are sharing RSS, audio, or video feeds, add it to one of their categories, and presto, your deathless prose is added to the cyber galaxy.
So, is this really useful, and how could it be used in the library setting?
Useful? Hard to say. Searching for widgets on trad topics like Shakespeare, George W. Bush, Iraq, and Gun Control, and various drugs, I came up empty-handed on Yourminis (the #1 winner). The International category was littered with “Good News” widgets in many languages-sounds good, especially if you like Christian evangelist news…Under News, you might find the CNN headlines widget, but first you’d wade through Countdown, where you can set up a countdown clock to an important event in the future (like, your Birthday! Hows that for earthshaking news?), or Chatterzone, where you can learn what inane things “celebrities” are up to. I’m losing faith, here…
So it looks to me like widgets (or at least these sites) won’t be helpful for traditional areas of study, unless students produce and post some themselves. But they’re already doing that on YouTube, and probably looking there, too.