Nine Ways to Widget Wisdom

Widgets are so omnipresent these days, I thought everyone knew about these nifty little gizmos that are springing up willy-nilly all over the web. So, I was taken aback recently by a savvy financial journalist who had no idea what they were, or what to do. I took her to the front of our James Gang site and showed her our lineup of 4 widgets showcasing creative content that we develop. She was very hesitant to touch them, but I told her they wouldn’t bite — Go ahead and scroll the tiny sidebar to read the content, or click on the body of them to go to the site! She had never noticed widgets, and really didn’t understand why I was so excited about them. Well, that opened the door for me to spout off on all the wonders of widgets and how she could use them on her financial blog to spread the word and give millions of people easy access to her content…

Let me share with you my Nine Ways to Widget Wisdom: And why you should get wise to them!

1. Widgets make Content Portable
Do you have a daily blog in an RSS feed that you want to share with others? Widgets — also known as Gadgets or Blidgets etc. — are a wonderful way to enable people to share your feed content with others. It makes your content, and your brand, portable. If a site visitor sees a widget they like, they can pick it up and put it on their website or blog in the blink of an eye. It’s as easy as plugging in a snippet of HTML code — which you can usually find via the link under most widgets. There are many widget companies springing up all over the web. We have used SpringWidgets, WidgetBox, and the more tech savvy Google Gadgets (for programmers only).

2. Widgets are Free Advertising
Ask any site owner if they’d put an ad for your company on their site, for free, and you’d likely get a blank-faced stare, if not a rude reply. The great thing about widgets is that they are essentially mini-ads for your site. If your widget delivers useful functionality, relevant content or a fun experience, website owners will put them on their site and not charge you anything. Widgets are a silent salesmen that can expand your audience and drive traffic to your site. It’s up to you to decide how you will monetize that traffic!

3. Widgets help people Embrace your Brand
We’ve been working in the online content creation business since the pioneering days of 1995. From the very beginning, we believed that our clients would generate the best buzz and develop a loyal audience if they would provide engaging content, rather than just serving up an ad or a web brochure. Widgets are right in sync with our original philosophy. If you show me an ad, chances are I will ignore it, and even make my screen smaller so I don’t have to look at it! But show me a fun and useful widget that delivers relevant content (game, calculator, or real-time weather updates), and I may just fall in love… and embrace your brand.. and put it on my site, or on my desktop. Widgets let users engage in your product and build brand equity at the same time.

4. Widgets are a Window

mybloglog widget image If you have visited any social networking sites you’ve probably seen these little boxes that have people’s faces in them (see photo image of widget on the left). You may not have known these were widgets. As registered visitors come to the site their avatars or photos are shown in a widget window. Many sites use them to foster a stronger sense of community. Certainly in the social Blog world they are extremely popular. But it’s a double-edged sword. To some they are an invasion of privacy. To others, they make networking and schmoozing on the web, tangible and fun. They do provide a real-time, transparent window into who is visiting the site. But you have to decide if that is something your visitors will appreciate or not. On our Office-Politics.com site, where anonymity is critical, I wager we’d lose 99% of our traffic instantly… And yet, when I visit a site and recognize friends and fellow publishers, I can see why this little widget is gaining in popularity.

5. Widgets come in All Sizes
Widgets come in all sizes. But the real beauty of them is that they can be easily customized to fit into almost any website by anyone! So if the widget you want is wide, but you have a skinny sidebar, applications like SpringWidget
will allow you to customize it to fit your site (of course you have to go to the original widget company that made it), and then at the click of a button… Voila! You have the code that makes it fit snugly into your site. You’ll grasp what I’m saying if you go here and try it for yourself. Just put in different numbers for the height and width, click, and see it change before your eyes. You copy the code they provide and paste it into your website HTML.

6. Widgets have No Red Tape
Widgets can be picked up and used by anyone without asking for permission. You don’t even need to say, “Pretty please.” By posting a widget, the creator is giving you permission to use their content on your website or blog for free. There are some exceptions where people charge for widgets, but we are skeptical whether they will be a success. Widgets follow on the heels of the Open Source movement, which encourages free sharing of content.

7. Widgets are Easy to Build
You don’t need to be a programmer (except if you use Google Gadgets). If you publish an RSS feed from your blog. and know how to make an image, you can create your own widget in under 5 minutes. Feedburner makes it super easy with Springwidgets. And there are tons of other widget solutions exploding on the web.

8. Widgets are the Next Wave
As you’ll read in this Washington Post article “Wave of Widgets Spreads on the Web”, big money is behind the wave of widgets sweeping the web: “Though widget technology is too new to be turning a profit, some high-profile investors apparently see the potential. Last month, Clearspring pulled in funding from AOL icons Ted Leonsis, Steve Case and Miles Gilburne along with Bethesda-based Novak Biddle Venture Partners, bringing the company’s total financing to $7.5 million. Mark Jung of Fox Interactive Media, which owns a dozen Internet properties including MySpace.com, became chairman of the board. And in one of last year’s largest local venture-capital deals, Freewebs got $11 million…” The financial wizards will figure out how to make money from them I’m sure, but in the meantime they are a super cool toy to help you disseminate your content on the web, and drive traffic to your site.

9. Now, you are Widget Wise. Have fun!
Now that you are widget wise, you’ll see there are tons of widget available — and new ones springing up every day. If you are the Widget creator, you can create wonderful and imaginative widgets, with just a little extra effort. You don’t need to be stuck in the standard template mode. Enlist the help of a programmer or designer to stretch the limits of your technical knowledge. Get inspired by visiting widget sites to look at the huge range of widget designs out there. With a little programming help, you are limited only by your own imagination!

RSS publishers of every stripe, Game creators — and product-based companies that use games to entertain their audience — will love Widgets. As I’ve noted above, they are a great way to spread the word. We publish the daily definition and cartoon for our invented word game Verbotomy.com using WidgetBox, as it allowed us to include a daily image of the cartoon. (Below is a photo of the widget. Click here to get the code.)

Don’t let your widget wisdom go to waste… Get a widget working for you — before everyone else wises up to their marketing power! And send me news of your favorite widgets.

We have the microphone. And it’s Live.

I just returned from a Blogging conference in Chicago. I’ve been active on the web since 94/95, but I’ve only been blogging since ’06. This blog thing is different, and powerful, and its’ influence is growing. I wanted to learn more about who these fellow bloggers were. Liz Strauss, the main driver behind the conference, wrote about the SOBcon event in the Blog Herald. Liz is so right and she said it so well. “The people in that room had great brains attached to their hearts.”

At SOBcon, Liz assembled a group of ‘change agents’ in one room. I know as I sat there listening to everyone speak, I wondered if they understood the power that they wield. We are the new media. Increasingly newspapers turn to blogs to check the pulse of what is going on in the world.

On the plane ride to SOBcon, in Chicago, I sat beside Ron, a 60-year old businessman. We got to chatting and he railed on and on about corruption in the pharmaceutical and financial industries. Ron was mad at the injustices he had seen throughout his career and that he was seeing now. He wanted someone to stand up and tell the truth about how individual shareholders were getting fleeced, how drugs were being marketed aggressively without proper testing, and unnecessary deaths were resulting. I said, “You should write a blog. You could speak out about all these wrongs you are telling me. You could help to change things. It could become a real passion for you and launch you into a whole new career as an advocate for shareholder’s rights. Give it some thought.”

Ron pulled out the newspaper and showed me specific news stories, and told me lurid back stories on some of the newsmakers. He continued to complain, bitterly at times. Finally I said, “You should write a blog. You’d be perfect for it.” But as the plane landed he concluded he probably would never write a blog, “I have to be careful, you know. I have a wife…”

I had to laugh at the truth and fear embodied in that statement. Bloggers can represent the conscience of the world. In our blogs, our electronic journals, we can stand up for what is right and speak the truth. And when that truth is spoken by many, and spreads widely through the web, our voices grow much louder and we can be heard. We can influence change. All we need is the courage to speak. We have the microphone and it’s live.