Widgets: Pimp your blog

06.01.2008 | Christian Kreutz

This is a joint post together with Joitske Hulsebosch.

1. What is a widget?

According to wikipedia a widget is a third party item that can be embedded in a web page. Widgets are, hence, little blocks of information which can be added to a blog, mostly in the sidebar. Widgets update information, they are not static. For instance, a widget with the latest comments updates its information with every new comment. Almost any kind of information can be widgetized and offered in a blog as an additional feature. Widgets display, for example, through feeds information from external sources.

2. Why widgets are important and how they can spice up your blog

Blogs alone are nice, but with widgets you can upgrade your blog to an information portal and stimulate interactivity. Posts, comments, trackbacks and links are the key of blogs. That is how a conversation develops. Widgets extend a blog to a platform and allows to include other -dynamic- sources of information besides the blogposts you write. The variety in widgets is huge and ranges from fundraising, links, photos, videos to books, social networks and of course friends. Widgets let you integrate all the other things you do on the web.

3. Different types of widgets

  1. The first category of widgets allows you to include information elsewhere on the internet. Your tag cloud, for instance, shows your links that are of interest to you. A flickr badge displays your photos.
  2. The second category of widgets gives readers of your blog further information from the world wide web.
  3. The third type of widgets are interactive such as a poll or for fundraising. For example, Chipin is a fundraising widget.
  4. The fourth category are for advertisement. For example, your online book library with links to a book store.

4. The downside of widgets

A disadvantage of widgets is the bandwidth behind them and the fact that they can not be fully customized. Often, they are based on javascript and are updated each time through another server, when someone access your blog. When blogs have hickups, it is often related to a slowly server of one of your widgets. Many widgets include also a brand names such as flickr or feedburner, which are not easily excludable. Widgets inside blogs (e.g. wordpress) work often quicker because their content is loaded directly on your server. These widgets can also be better adjusted to your blog design.

5. Finally: the list of cool widgets

  • Wordpress offers a whole variety of widgets for all kind of purposes.
  • Offer a clear RSS subscription from feedburner or feeddigest. You can also display the number of people that have subscribed to your blog through your feedreader.
  • Offer a subscription to your blog by email. With email subscription capability, subscribers can now receive each blogpost in their email inbox, similar to an e-newsletter. This is very important for users who are not used to RSS readers or have low bandwidth. This is offered by feedburner or feedblitz.com.
  • Share your photos via your blog. If you have photos on flickr, you can display them on your blog by using a flickr badge. You can find the steps here.
  • If you want to show your photos in combination with a world map, you can use tripper map. It allows you to display your flickr photoset in combination with a world map.
  • Display recent comments in the sidebar of your blog. Often, readers may not click on the comment section. By displaying the comments in the sidebar, readers can see where and what people have commented. For blogger, you can find a widget here: http://blogger-templates.blogspot.com/2007/03/recent-comments.html. For wordpress, you can find the process described here: http://freepressblog.org/wordpress-plugins-2/wordpress-recent-comments-plugin-widget/
  • Show your readers by using mybloglog. Readers can sign up and their photos will be displayed.
  • Tell your readers what you are doing right now by inserting a twitter widget. If you are already twittering, you can display your twitters on your blog.
  • Show the blogs that you are reading yourself. That may give people an impression of the kind of topics you like, and may point them to new blogs they may not know. If you are using bloglines, it is possible to display your public bloglist on your blog (called blogroll).
  • Insert any interesting RSS feed. You may produce a feed yourself using a unique tag and you can display it on your blog by using services like feedostyle; feedzilla; or this. Superglu will allow you to gather content from various places and combine it.
  • Display your top tags used on your blog with the Top Tags Widget. It will display your tags in a beautiful cloud formation (or the top tags of any blog.) By showing this, readers will know what you are writing about, and can click on one of the tags to access a category of readings. Blogger allows you to display your categories in the sidebar, which has a similar function, even though it is not displayed in a tagcloud.
  • Or display your del.icio.us tags on your blog.
  • Ask readers for feedback on your blog or any important issue by using a poll.

6. Further resources on (blog) widgets