The long existing concept of small, light-weight desktop widgets have recently propelled themselves back onto our desktops as the latest trend for delivering small but important bits of information. Apple, Yahoo, Google, and soon Microsoft are simultaneously trying to push their widgets to your desktop. You know your business better than anyone…So why not build your own widgets?
Desktop Widgets, Gadgets, Doohickeys…What are they?
A widget is a lightweight application that resides on your desktop (using minimal real estate) and provides valuable information in a simple and non distracting interface. The concept of a widget allows a user view up to date, filtered information from any pre-determined data source. Each individual viewer’s widget should provide a small volume but extremely valuable information customized to their preferences. There are an abundance of widgets and widget framework applications posted on the internet for free downloading (see Widget frameworks). The most common widgets floating around on the internet deliver weather, stock quotes, or news.
What does this have to do with me? The relevance of business widgets
Many widgets currently available for free download are well designed and serve a useful purpose in providing information…unless you are a business person looking for widgets to help you in the workplace. The reality is that there are not too many useful widgets designed for business use. So what if stock quotes and weather in your zip code don’t have any effect on the revenue impacting decisions that you make? There are endless possibilities for widgets that could assist us in the workplace that could make information significantly easier to access. Widgets can serve to provide the most important metrics, or key performance indicators (KPI) from any data source. Imagine having a widget on your desktop that automatically feeds the most important or most commonly utilized information that you use on a day to day basis. There are 2 reasons why you may want to deploy a widget:
1. Provide a quick and easy interface for performing common tasks
A good reason for designing a widget is to provide a quick and easy interface to complete common tasks. Though you may have a full blown application that you use to carry out your business processes, think of instances where you have to open a browser, login, and then navigate to a page, just to get 1 piece of information. Multiply that same 30 second process 5 times a day, 5 days a week, and 52 weeks a year. I am sure you would love those several hours of your life back to do something useful. A widget could save you the time to carry out the process but still serve as a quick interface to open up the full blown application within context to the information you need. You can then execute the more involved tasks once you have digested the basic information provided by the widget.
2. Stream important real time information
Another good reason for developing a widget would be to provide a visual interface for monitoring real time information. If there is a single or small group of KPIs that you monitor on a day to day basis, a widget is the perfect solution to have that information presented at all times, in an un-intrusive minimalist layout. This real-time widget concept could be used for monitoring high level metrics, then link to some type of supporting analytics or report, in case if a problem is identified.
What makes a good Widget: (Best Practices)
With these 2 primary drivers for developing widgets, you may be asking yourself? Why not just build a dashboard? In some cases it may be in your best interest to develop a full blown application or dashboard. We must remember that a widget is a minimalist approach to providing only what is most important. In designing a widget follow theses best practices to avoid overcomplicating or creating a useless widget.
1. Keep asking yourself during design and development (will this make my life easier?)
2. Remember to KEEP IT SIMPLE
3. Only provide information that is most important
4. Keep the physical appearance simple and unobtrusive
5. Only display graphics that are absolutely necessary
6. Use pop-up or expanding functionality
7. Make the widget configurable
8. Create an intuitive interface
9. Link the widget to the full blown application or additional information
Widgets gone wrong: What not to do
1. Leave you end user hanging with no where to get additional information
2. Pack too much information into a widget
3. Take up too much screen real estate
4. Make the file size too heavy
5. Create a complicated interface
6. Make the widgets distracting
7. Get lost in the visualization with too many options, labels, colors, etc.
8. Provide useless information
9. Forget to provide a help button
Google Gadgets: http://desktop.google.com/?promo=mp-gds-v1-1
Microsoft Gadgets : http://microsoftgadgets.com/
Yahoo Konfabulator: : http://www.widgetgallery.com/ oes not accept SWF files, but is extremely powerful for creating java based widgets.