What Are Web Widgets?

Widgets computer illustration

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A web widget (commonly referred to simply as a 'widget') is a small program that you can easily put on your website, blog, or personalized start page. A common example of a widget that most of us run across almost every day are those Google advertisements. These ads are produced by placing a small piece of code on the web page. The hard part — choosing an advertisement that matches the content and displaying that ad — is done by Google.

But web widgets aren't limited to advertisements. A widget can be anything from a voting poll to a weather forecast to a list of current headlines to a crossword puzzle. You can utilize them in your blog to provide an interactive experience for your readers, or you can place them on your personalized start page to get at the information you want to see on a regular basis.

How Can I Use a Web Widget?

If you read blogs, you have probably run across a lot of widgets without even knowing it. Have you ever seen a "bookmark this with del.icio.us" link under a blog entry? That's a web widget. Or, you might have seen a "Digg it" button. That's another web widget.

If you write on your own blog, web widgets can be used to provide additional functionality. For example, Feedburner is a website that allows people to sign up for your RSS feed. They provide a widget that you can put on your blog to help people sign up. YouTube also provides a widget, allowing you to make a playlist of your favorite videos. And these are just two among many widgets that can be used in conjunction with your blog.

But widgets aren't just for personal use. Businesses also use widgets to enhance their websites. Widgets can be used to track visitors to the website and provide information on how the visitor found the website. They can also be used to provide syndicated content, such as relevant content from the Associated Press, or information like stock quotes.

I Don't Know Anything About Programming. Can I Still Use a Web Widget?

The beauty of widgets is that you don't need to know how to program to use them. Installing a web widget on your site, whether it be a personalized start page or a blog, is a simple matter of copying the code and pasting it into the appropriate place on your site.

Copying the code is often made simple by a walk-through that allows you to choose how you want the widget to look and act, and then creates the code for you. You can then highlight the code with your mouse and either choose edit-copy from your browser menu or hold down the control key on your keyboard and type the letter 'C'.

Pasting the code is a little more difficult because you need to know where to go to paste it. If you use a popular blog host like Blogger or LiveJournal, you can search through their help documents and frequently asked questions for information on where to go to install a widget.

Once you know where to paste it, the hard part is over. Simply follow the instructions, and then choose edit-paste from your browser menu to paste the code. Alternatively, you can hold down the control key on your keyboard and type the letter 'V'.

The most important thing to do is to not let the code intimidate you. Once you have gone through the process once, it is really quite simple to add more web widgets to your site.