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What is a Widget?
December 6, 2019
If you work in the business, tech, or manufacturing fields, you may be familiar with the concept of a widget. But what does it mean? How do widgets affect most of us in our everyday lives? Read on to get the history of the term "widget" and learn why it's an important concept for today's consumer.
What’s a widget?
For years and years, a widget meant an unnamed thing used purely for the purpose of demonstrating a hypothetical example. If you took business or finance classes in college, the widget stood in for anything a factory made or a salesperson sold. “ABC Corporation will sell 1,000 widgets this year,” is a common example of how “widget” can bring abstract concepts to life.
Today, widget has a different meaning. On websites, blogs, and in WordPress specifically, the term is more likely to refer to a small piece of software officially called an application. This application usually performs one small task, takes up little resources, and updates often. The weather banner on the side of a news site is likely to be a widget. It does one thing - displays the weather - and loads and runs without taking up much bandwidth from your internet or the memory on your computer.
Widgets are generally created by a third party. They can be embedded on a page, but the data is hosted by that third party. The site owner doesn't have to do anything beyond installing it on their site, and the widget creator and host are responsible for keeping it updated and running efficiently. If you have a static website, meaning that the same basic elements are shown on every page of your site, you can install a widget to the template or theme of your entire site and it will appear consistently on all of the pages on your website.
How are widgets used today?
There are thousands of widgets, but some are more common than others. Widget examples include:
- Social media widgets, such as a Twitter feed that follows a hashtag or specific Twitter account. Instagram widgets show the latest posts in a singular Instagram feed. A Pinterest widget lets you see the latest pins
- News widgets, such as a weather widget that shows you real-time updates on everything from the temperature to storm alerts. A traffic widget can tell you what the local news station has reported for road closings and traffic delays
- Mailing list widgets let you sign up for email updates from your favorite blog (click here to subscribe to HP Tech Takes) or news site
- Multi-media player widgets show music curated by the site owner or representing a band or album. Play, pause, or skip songs in these widgets so that you can listen while you browse or read on the website. YouTube offers widgets for viewing videos within a news site or blog without visiting YouTube or opening their app on your device
- Ad widgets give the site owners a way to monetize their web pages with advertisements from AdSense or affiliate advertisers. These ads pay upon click or by the view. Other ads direct the reader to a site where the page owner is paid a commission upon successful purchase
For everything you can do on the web today, there is a widget. Almost all major sites and apps offer one through a piece of embeddable code to place on a qualified website.
Why should I care about widgets?
As a site visitor, it’s useful to know that many of the things you see cluttering up the sidebars of a website aren’t created by the site owner. Ads, specifically, are served by third parties. If you see an ad you don’t like, it’s not usually the site owner’s fault. Knowing that this data is hosted elsewhere can help you understand the webmaster’s role in picking what appears on their web pages. However, most ad widgets have an icon you can click to alert the ad server that you don’t want to see that type of ad again.
As a webmaster, blogger, or publisher, widgets offer a world of opportunity. Whether you have a premade blog template with spaces for widgets or you are starting from scratch with a homemade site, widgets are a simple way to monetize your site or add personality and functionality. If you see a cool widget on someone else’s website, it’s easy to find and then use it on your site as well.
How to learn more about a widget
Whether you want to install a similar widget or you are curious about its source, follow these steps to see where one originated from:
- Open the website in your Google Chrome Browser
- Right-click on the widget, and select Inspect
- The code will tell you many things, but if it’s on a WordPress site, you may see the name of the widget. Use that data to search for the widget online and install it for yourself. Even if it’s not a WordPress site or widget, the URL can contain clues as to who hosts the widget so you can find out more about it.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.