Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Keep Widgets Real!

The usability of widgets ...

"I had an interesting day last week. I participated on a panel with some agency peers at Widgetcon in New York City. I'd been looking forward to this event for the past few weeks because widgets are a platform I believe in, as I've discussed quite extensively. While the conference was well organized and attendance was strong, it was dominated by advertising and sponsorship conversation instead of the demonstrations of innovative technology and new platforms I'd hoped for.

I still believe in widgets, but based on conversations I participated in, I fear all this media and advertiser talk could create a new "now!" media vertical that could sully the waters of this great Web tool.

Here are some observations I made during my time at Widgetcon.

What's a Widget?

Widgets have a single, simple purpose: to connect you to a primary source of information. A weather widget looks up your local weather from a source like weather.com so you don't have to. An interactive widget may let you participate with a site while you're on another.

However, the industry likes to call different things widgets, so let's start with a lexicon clarification (thanks to my new friend Joanna Pena-Bickley from TLP for helping me reconstruct my memory of Rodney Dangerfield being told what a widget is):

Thorton (Rodney): What's a widget?

Professor: It's a fictional product. It doesn't matter.

Thorton: Doesn't matter? Tell that to the bank.

There are different kinds of widgets. You could have a Web widget on your blog that manages a user poll, a list of del.ico.us links, or even Flickr photos. You could have a desktop widget that captures the latest MLB headlines, provides calculator functionality, or even offers quick driving directions. Mobile widgets can run on your phone or a wireless communication device like Nokia's Widsets project, to provide mobile access to Web services. It could also be simple code embedded in a consumer appliance that provides local weather while you're making coffee.

The industry needs a little bit of clarification, so I'm pleading with this new vertical medium to better qualify its offerings before speaking with marketers. Otherwise, you may only be adding to the collective confusion.

What's an Ideal Usability Experience?

Widgets' essence, regardless of format, context, or intent, is usability. That's their primary reason for existence. Widgets that are too complicated violate their own intent. Widgets must be simple or they won't serve their prime directive."    (Continued via ClickZ)    [Usability Resources]

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