The Dao of the Widget

I never used to get widgets, what they were for, why they existed or if they were really relevant to me. All I knew was that disgruntled British comedian Jack Dee was obsessed with finding widgets in the bottom of cans of John Smiths (and yes, there is a Jack Dee widget out there for all of you hard core fans).

Then I realised that I was using widgets pretty much every day from anything from routine stuff like checking the weather when traveling from country to country, time differences when I want to make calls and also to translate bits and pieces when I’m lost for words in the wilds of where ever. Rather than load up a website that looks at weather, followed by another where I can check time differences, then yet another with a translation tool I do all this using these handy little applications that hold data and present an interface to the me, the user, either as part of a web page or from my Mac/PC desktop.

Websites such as Netvibes and iGoogle are obvious platforms for widgets together with blogs where you want to stream in third party content or content you own elsewhere such as on Flickr, Twitter and Del.ici.us. But for me the widget really comes into it’s own when I’m out and about with just my mobile for company. As reported in Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report in April I, like many users, don’t just look up information from my mobile but also want to generate content. Twitter, for one, is a must for me and being able to read and update statuses from a nifty little Twitter widget rather than browse to my Twitter home page then press refresh like a thing demented is just perfect.

There are also huge benefits to people browsing on mobiles who are blind and use a screen reader together with their mobile to access content. Navigating can be a pain in the preverbals to say the least but accessing a widget that can, for example, give you directions from a restaurant to a bar when out and about is a real plus. In fact I was in Birmingham a while back with a blind friend of mine in the RNIB offices. Both of us were staying at different hotels so I offered to walk to his first then head off and find mine later. “No, no”, he said, “Very kind of you but I’m better off with the directions I get on my mobile, far more reliable than you lot who can see”. Needless to say he was checked in before I was.

The X-Widget Challenge

I’ve gone from a place of ignorance to one of enlightenment and am now truly subscribed to the Dao of Widgets. There’s so much scope and opportunity which is why my company Opera are offering a $10,000 in prizes in the X-Widget Challenge for anyone who can build a standards compliant, cross-platform widget for MAC/PC’s and mobile. This is to celebrate Opera Mobile 9.5 adding Opera Widgets to deliver a one-click mobile Internet experience. As such the widgets put forward for the competition have to be standards compliant and cross device so that you can do what you want anywhere, which is exactly how the web should be and because what you are doing on your desktop shouldn’t stop just because you are on the move.

To get kick started you’ll find loads of resources about building widgets on Dev Opera as well as a new article on optimizing Opera widget graphics for mobile from Andreas Bovens. You can also check out the W3C specification for widgets.

So sign up if you’re a master at widget making or, if you have an idea but don’t do widgets, find a friend to build it and split the spoils. I’m excited to see what people come up with but, in the spirit of Scripting Enabled, I’m especially excited to see if we can get some accessible widgets out there that are truly useful for disabled people.

As Jack Dee said, “When you’ve got a widget who need gimmicks“.