Why Widgets?

This is another activity in the Edublog Teacher Challenge taking place the last month or so, and the focus is on Widgets, those boxes of stuff that we attach to the sides of our blogs. I’m going to sound a bit cranky here, but I often find widgets too distracting and wonder why people go overboard with them.

I know, I use them, too. I’m guilty.

A look at my blog shows a Twitter widget, an informational widget for my Teaching the New Writing book collection, a link to my Boolean Squared webcomic site, an internal search engine and links to posts on my blog.  Arrrr. I remember the first time I found out about widgets in my blog dashboard. I went a little widget crazy. I had a whole line of things running down the spine of my blog – maps, counters, videos, etc. Later, I removed most of them. But even now, every time I see that side bar of my blog, I think: that’s just too much stuff floating around.

And I often think the same thing when I go to other blogs for a visit or a comment. Widgets can produce information overload, and when we start thinking of design elements of blogs — of what makes an online site work from the visual and information angle, and what detracts from the site — I can’t help but sometimes think that widgets are nothing but clutter that can get in the way of understanding.

And yet … having a space for static information is good, right? I guess. And it gives a blog a certain identity, too. What we choose to include leaves our own mark on our blog sites, which most of us (me) don’t code or create ourselves. We (me) use templates. Widgets can give our sites a little personality.

I do have my widgets here for a reason, and that reason is that I want to provide easy-to-access information and links to my readers.  But this morning, as I was trolling through my RSS reader, it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that I almost never actually see a blog itself. I see the feed. For the most part, I don’t even know what the blogs I subscribe to look like (for example, I went to a friend’s blog last night for the first time in who knows how long and saw that he had completely redesigned the thing. I didn’t know. Did it matter?), and so, I don’t really see the widgets either.

Maybe you never see mine, either.

Peace (in the crankiness),

  1. What an interesting post, Kevin! You are correct, if we read most of the blog posts through google reader, do we need the bling and the widgets.
    For my blog, I like to have a clock on the sidebar as I co-moderate online webinars which attract global participants. That clock shows the date and time where I live and helps overcome those time zone problems. I am sure that search engines also pick up my blog posts, so that when that does occur it will give, as you say, my blog personality and speak a little of who I am. The avatar that I added on my wordpress blog also has a small summary of what I do, my aspirations and interests. I also like to have links to the projects that I am involved in and most commonly used resources.
    So, do we really need widgets and bling! Yes, I am sure we do.

  2. I do most of my blog reading through google reader, so like you, I don’t often see the widgets–except when I’m specifically looking for them. Most of the widgets I have are there for my students and parents. I hope they help my primary readers find more information from my blog or invites them to explore more on the web.

  3. I just found out about Google reader through this Edublog teacher challenge. I set it up, but haven’t used it yet. It seems to not be that much fun to me, because I wouldn’t see the blogs the right way. Or, what is the right way? I guess the right way for me, is with the pictures.

  4. I totally agree with you. Although, while perusing through Reader, often do click on links to look at the blog. But as you know, I do prefer the minimalist approach with regards to widgets.

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog and I am sure you are right. The scrolling is no good. I think of my blog as a work in progress right now and I hope to finetune it over the next couple of months. And you are right – who really needs all that bling? But I have to agree with Mrs Sarno, that I rather like reading the blogs and not just the feed through reader. So maybe a little bling is good?

  6. Isn’t it wonderful that we’re all different? Thanks for dropping by my blog post on widgets, by the way, and leaving a teaser…brought me here, didn’t it? Let me return the favour.:-)

    I know it sounds selfish to say this but I put the widgets there for me mainly. If I find it useful, it’s there. I’m not really a selfish person…honest…but it helps me tick tings along as you might see if you read my post for challenge activity #8 Reader, you are important to me. I guess this approach is probably why I’m a blogger and not a journalist.

    As for RSS readers, I really don’t like to be reminded how many I haven’t read so though set up with Google Reader, I use it rarely and tend to “mark all as read”. Who’s cranky again?


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