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What are widgets? How can local government use widgets?

What are widgets?

For some of us in local government, mentioning the word widget is not alien to us and has become somewhat part of our online activities.  However for those who have never come across a widget or heard of it, widget might seem like a funny word little kids might say amongst their young friends.

So to make things easy, imagine this. On a webpage, many elements may exist, just like elements or objects you might find in your local neighbourhood. A widget is a small program that sits on a webpage. That webpage can be anything from a normal council website, to a blog and to MySpace.   Its what may make a website what it is in the world of web 2.0. And just like a neighbourhood, you may find cars, shops, trees, houses, schools and bus stops as elements that make that neighbourhood.

According to Tech-FAQ…

“The term “widget” can refer to any icon or graphical interface element that is manipulated by the computer or internet user to perform a desired function online or on their computer. For example, the icons located on a personal computer’s desktop are considered widgets. By clicking or manipulating the widget in some way with the mouse or keyboard, the user is able to interact with the computer or website, essentially “telling” it to perform desired functions.

User-friendly websites are increasing their use of widgets to simplify and enhance the internet user’s experience. Buttons, drop-down menus, and basically any other element located on a web page that is able to be manipulated by the user to perform a function is considered a widget. There are hundreds of thousands of people logging on to the World Wide Web for the first time each day. Almost none of them are going to be particularly “tech-savvy” on their first experience so simplifying websites’ usability is imperative. “

Some more examples of widgets:

  • Stock tickers
  • Media player buttons
  • Web browser controls
  • Email function controls
  • Social-networking sites that enable information sharing
  • RSS feed icons
  • Interactive graphs, charts, and other statistical media

Even Transport for London (TFL) have embraced widgets by giving this definition on their webpage… http://www.tfl.gov.uk/widgets/

A web widget is a small program that you can put on your personalised iGoogle homepage, Facebook or MySpace profile, blog or website. A desktop widget is a mini-program which you download to your computer.

Widgets grab ‘live’ content from web sites so you don’t have to visit them to stay up-to-date with the latest information.

Basic guide to how you can use widgets

  1. Graphics – Used to create banners, unusual fonts and animated images or text
  2. Gadgets – Such as hit counters, weather forecasts, calendars and maps.
  3. Entertainment – You could stream TV listings, daily quotes, interesting facts or even games
  4. Social – Add links to your social bookmarking or networking pages such as Facebook or Twitter
  5. Audio Visual – Why not stream your YouTube videos directly to your pages or even your music playlists.

Configure, Add and Remove easy as 1,2 & 3

3 reasons that make widgets so attractive is that they are so experimental. You can configure the widget to fit your website in terms of size, colour and layout as well as content. You can easily add them within minutes and remove them just as easily. The user-friendliness and flexibility it offers makes it such an attractive opportunity for partners of government websites to display information that are shareable across departments and sector within and external to government. It seemlessly adapts to any website and helps a government agency to duplicate any service or data that are already made available by other government or third party agencies.

Local Directgov, NHS and Business Links widgets

Local Directgov, NHS and Business Links currently a variety of widgets available for local governments to embed into their websites.

Most of these widgets are available at http://innovate.direct.gov.uk/.

For the NHS: http://www.nhs.uk/tools/Pages/Toolslibrary.aspx?Tag=Downloads+and+widgets

Business Link Northwest: http://www.businesslinknw.co.uk/help/Pages/widgets.aspx

Videos and tips on how to use these widgets will be available on the Local Directgov’s CoP App Store Wiki.

We are looking forward to hear your suggestions and feedback.

Hope this was useful.

Liz Azyan

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

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