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The Green Sheet Online Edition

November 12, 2007 • Issue 07:11:01

Widgets: Isn't this fun?

By Joel and Rachael Rydbeck
Nubrek Inc.

Not every computer user wants to install a different piece of software just to get new information, like weather updates, via the Web. But many yearn to have such information just a mouse click away.

Widgets are an ideal solution. According to Wikipedia, widgets "are downloadable interactive virtual tools that provide services such as showing the user the latest news, the current weather, a dictionary, a map program, sticky notes, or even a language translator, among other things."

A widget is basically a block of code embedded in an application, like a Web page or your desktop. You can find inspirational widgets, joke widgets and even chat widgets.

Widgets are not restricted to Web sites; they can sit on your PC as well. When they make it down to your computer they are typically called gadgets, but we've found this wording isn't consistent.

Apple Inc., Google, Microsoft Corp. and many other companies now have widgets for your desktop. Widgets can provide tiny bits of data. Individuals can assemble them with other widgets to get a dashboard view of important information.

Google's customized homepage, iGoogle, is a great example of widgets in common use. We have a display on our homepage that shows nice weather pictures - OK, not always nice. But we can drag them around to get a custom look and feel to our Google homepage.

We can change the Google logo to look like poppies or Braille and even pick an overall theme, which changes from day to night as the sun rises and sets where we are. There are dozens of topics to choose from when deciding what to view. And if we don't like the way it looks tomorrow, we can change it with ease.

Widgets at your service

We did a little research on widgets and found some handy innovations that might be of particular interest to you, as ISOs and merchant level sales people:

  • A cool new service allows you to place a widget on your Web site or in your e-mail signature to let people contact you almost instantly. The main appeal is to keep phone numbers private and link one number to many applications.

    The end user clicks the link and is asked to enter a phone number. That number gets routed from the widget to the other party; someone will retrieve it and then call back.

    We first used this type of service the other day when calling Amazon's customer service. We entered our phone number into the widget and immediately the phone rang with an operator on the other line.

    It was impressively slick. The call is also much cheaper because it is made through the Internet. Some of the phone calls, depending on the site, are free. See Jajah, www.jajah.com; Jaxtr, www.jaxtr.com; and GrandCentral, www.grandcentral.com for a few popular companies offering this type of widget.

  • Those of you on the road might appreciate the gas widget. It will tell you which gas stations are the cheapest near you. See Google, google.com; and MapQuest, www.mapquest.com.

  • For sending important documents, we suggest the PDF widget at Pdf24, www.pdf24.org/en/pdf24-plugins.htm. There is no installation needed to convert anything, even large PowerPoint presentations to PDF format.

On the run

Mobile widgets are basically the same as desktop widgets, but they run on cell phones.

The following sites provide great widgets for many smartphones such as those offered by BlackBerry, Motorola, Nokia and Microsoft. We should also note that we haven't tested or played with any of these. But they do look addictive and cool.

  • Plusmo, www.plusmo.com, is a free service that lets you run mobile widgets on your phone (Google news, and YouTube, for example). Plusmo offers more than 20,000 widgets, most of them created and shared by users.

  • Mobio, www.getmobio.com, has applications that run on most cell phones. You can download trivia, movie information, food and dining referrals, and more.

Widgets can operate on any Web page, or they can be accessed through widget platforms. Browser engines like Google are a great platform for running several widgets at once. And connections are not slowed down by too many applications running simultaneously.

Google has hundreds of widgets, and the selection grows each day as more developers add theirs to the mix. You can pick and choose from a list of the most popular widgets, or you can search by topic.

Have some time to kill? Choose arcade classics like Pac-Man, or attempt to pass the Idiot Test. On our iGoogle homepage, we have a weather widget, Reuters' top articles, favorite links and some interactive word games just for fun.

Capitalize on the craze

How can you harness the power of widgets on your site? First, find out what kind of data your customers want to see. Do they want faster day-to-day access to important items? You could offer a widget that keeps your customers up-to-date on relevant information, such as orders processed.

There are ways to inadvertently slow widget downloads and adoption. Here are a few things to keep in mind when adding widgets to your Web site:

  • Don't riddle your widgets with ads. It defeats their purpose, and very few people will download them.

  • Keep all widget information visible on the main screen.

  • Respect your users' screen real estate; minimize image usage as much as possible.

  • Make sure hyperlinks from the widget go directly to the data they summarize, not through a detour of other sites.

Widgets help people use the Internet more effectively. Play around with them; see what you think. end of article

Joel Rydbeck, Chief Technology Officer of Nubrek Inc., brings his strong background in e-commerce and business process automation to the merchant services industry. Rachael Rydbeck, President of the company, has a background in product management and technical writing. Nubrek offers eISO, a Web application for ISOs that tracks leads and provides automated residual and commission reports. For more information on eISO or to view a free demo, visit www.nubrek.com/eiso.html. E-mail Joel at joel@nubrek.com or Rachael at rachael@nubrek.com. You have nothing to lose but your next sale.

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