Friday, May 11, 2007

What are "widgets" anyway?

Widgets and Gadgets

Webpage widgets are a way to designate a space on your webpage and to display someone else's content in that space. All kinds of content can be displayed via widgets, such as weather, news, stock market tickers, jokes, cartoons, games, puzzles, etc.

There are also desktop widgets that display someone else's content on your desktop. In the new Windows Vista operating system they are called gadgets, and the term gadgets is also used for the content you can add to your Google Custom Homepage.

The Google Custom Homepage is definitely the easiest way to see the incredible range of content that can be distributed in widget form. If you'd like to create your own Google Custom Homepage (it just takes a few minutes), you can follow the instructions for creating a Google Homepage I provide here for the students in my online courses.

Educational widgets

For several years now, I have been developing and distributing educational content that people can add to their webpages, and I have recently consolidated and reorganized those materials at a new website: I'm going through all the different widgets I've created in the past at my various websites and collecting them here at this site, standardizing the formatting, image sizes, etc.

To create this content, which is dynamic content that changes based on the date or at random, I'm using a genius tool created by Randy Hoyt which you can also use to create your own dynamic content. You can find all the instructions and information here: Rotating Content Tool.

In the past I had focused on "blank-of-the-day" content, but I've now concluded that "blank-of-the-week" content is more effective for my needs as a teacher. All my online courses are built on a weekly schedule, rather than a daily schedule. By creating a "blank-of-the-week" widget, I end up with 50+ items, which is definitely enough for the random version of the widget to also be effective. So, in addition to standardizing the formatting of my old scripts, I am coming up with "blank-of-the-week" versions of some of my old "blank-of-the-day" scripts.

Widgets versus webpages

To me, the genius of widgets is that the content is intended to be shared. So, if I build a widget based on my own area of expertise, ANYBODY can use that widget on ANY webpage ANYWHERE in the world. So, for example, all the professors using Desire2Learn - including professors who do not know how to build a webpage, even if they wanted to - can insert widget content into their course management webpage, thus making it available to their students. Here's a screenshot of my Desire2Learn space with widget content displayed in both the left and right panels, and anyone using Desire2Learn anywhere as their course management system can do the same:

Why widgets instead of webpages? Here's the difference: a webpage that I build is like my sandbox full of toys in my own backyard. I can invite you to come play in my backyard, that is, I can invite you to come look at my webpage. But let's face it, most people hang out in their own backyards - they don't spend all their time paying visits to other people.

Well, with a widget, it's like throwing all my toys over the fence to you so that you can play with my toys in your own backyard! Share and enjoy! I have an infinite supply of my toys, so I'm glad to throw them over the fence to you.

So, I'll be announcing new religious literacy widgets here at this blog, but if you are interested in widgets in general, make sure to visit the website and subscribe to the announcements there.


I've been working with widgets and distributed content for such a long time now that I tend to forget that most people haven't messed with widgets at all. If I have not given you the information you need here in this post, please leave a comment with your questions and I'll do my best to answer them!

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