I'm so excited! My screencast on widgets is featured in this month's NTEN newsletter in a section pointing to "How To Build Online Community." The link will take you directly to the screencast, but I also went to the trouble of putting together some extensive program notes that will help you explore widgets in more depth and provides credits to all the wonderful cc licensed material I used in the screencast. I didn't want those to get lost. They follow below.
Screencast Program Notes
These program notes will help you implement some of the ideas presented in the screencast. If you have questions about widgets or want to share your organization’s experience (good and bad), the NTEN Affinity Groups, particularly Emerging Technology, Nonprofit Bloggers, or Nonprofit Webmasters, are good lists to connect with your peers on these topics.
Act 1: What
What we're talking about are web widgets and the definition is:
Robin Good recently interviewed Marshall Kirkpatrick about Mash-ups and he asked Marshall to define widgets in the context of the conversation. Here's his definition:
A Widget is a piece of code that enables a non-technical website publisher to pull in data and a display for that data from another website, so they can have, say, news ticker headlines or a personal horoscope, or local weather or an RSS feed.
Act 2: Why
A few important questions to ask before your consider adding a widget to your blog or web site.
You need to think about these questions first, widgets second
- Does your web site or blog publish excellent content on a regular basis?
- Do you ask good questions that lead to conversations online?
- Do you have strategies for encouraging those conversations and linking them to your content?
- Do you write blog posts that inspire lots of comments?
- Do you employ a social networking or online outreach strategy that engages your regular readers and enables new readers to discover you?
Since widgets were fairly new, I installed a mail widget on my blog and asked nonprofit techies what they thought.
Here's a summary:
Using widgets is not yet a common practice on nonprofit blogs and folks are still experimenting and learning. Still, there are benefits:
- Easy to use, don't need technical skills
- Can help you extend or enhance the conversation on your blog
- Can help you "listen" by gathering feedback and other information from your blog readers
- Can help you easily link to other sites, content, or individuals
- Can help make your blog more "findable"
- They are lots of fun
You can read a more detailed report of what folks thought here.
Before you go hog wild on widgetbox and install every widget known to mankind, consider the following:
- If most of your readers are following you via blog readers, they may not "pop" out of their reader to visit your browser.
- On the other hand, many blogs end up being positioned higher in search engine searches, so there must be some blogs that are being discovered via the browser and not a reader. So, perhaps widgets should be designed to reach first-timers or new readers. Consider them as a strategy for point of entry. You need to know from where your audience is coming to your blog.
- Consider your audience when you select a particular widget. If you're a podcaster and your audience is likely to a microphone installed on their computer, than those message widgets might make sense.
- The use of widget must be linked to the topic, content, or purpose of your blog. For example, linking a poll to a post on the topic.
Act 3: A Few Good Examples
Group 1: Interactivity
One of the most used widgets by nonprofits are the audience poll widgets. Katya Andresen explains why. Polls are a great way to get reader feedback too. I used the Vidzu poll to get feedback on a blog post here. In the screencast, I demonstrated how easy it is to add a poll to your site using the widget, PollDaddy.
- You can do a general reader survey like, the nonprofit tech blog
- You can connect it to content in a post like the Bamboo Project
- Or you can connect to the key goals of your blog like Save Guimaris
Chat and Messages
The example I showed in the screencast was on Dave Wallace's blog, Life Kludger.
Message/IM Widgets: I installed the message widget from Odeo and the IM/Chat Widget from Meebo. Using mail widgets and chat client wigets but depends on your audience. Are they likely to use these features to engage with you?
Be sure to test these widgets to make sure they are installed and work.
Group 2: Content
This group of widgets allows you to take content from one site or location on the web and easily republish it elsewhere.
Here's a few examples:
Delicious Badge: I use this widget to publish my social bookmarking bookmarks on my blog.
Flickr Widget/Badge: If your organization is using flickr to say run a photo content or a community tagging project, it makes sense to add a flickr badge to your web site. The Flickr widget lets you select all your photos, a particular tag or group. It lets you customize the color, size, format, number of photos, etc.
Technorati Search Widget: If anything else, I use the search widget on my blog to retrieve posts I wrote about a while ago, but can't quite remember when or what category I filed them in. Visitors or readers might find the search useful as well. There are a lot of search widgets and thankfully Christine Herron did an exhaustive review of search widgets. With that said, I get complaints from some of my blog readers about the Technorati Search Widget, so I'm looking for suggestions.
Group 3: Fundraising Widgets
Fundraising is the life blood of nonprofits and is another area of active experimentation using strategies called “personal fundraising” Think citizen donor, citizen philthanthropist. Widgets, charity badges, blog fundraising plugins allows your supporters become messengers for your cause. the shift is now from the organization raising money to the supporters taking on that role/responsibilities. The Widget just helps people track their commitment and shows progress being made.
Katya Andresen of The Nonprofit Marketing Blog has written extensively on the topic of personal fundraising. You'll find these posts here and I'd drop everything and read them now!
I wrote a case study about my experience launching a personal fundraising campaign here.
First of Its Kind lists the top ten personal fundraising campaigns and has lots of excellent how-to guides.
Britt Bravo recently put together a terrrific list of personal fundraising causes.
I've aggregated a lot of these and other resources on the topic on my wiki portfolio.
Act 4: Where to find widgets
There are three general types of sources to find widgets to install on your organization's blog or web site:
1. The particular Web2.0 Social Networking Tool or Service
Many widgets I came across are designed to work with various Web 2.0 social networking tools like del.icio.us, flickr, blip.tv, Technorati, etc. So, if you are already using one of those services and want to integrate content onto your blog, check on their web site first. Now, they may not be calling it a widget, some refer to as "badges." Simply look in the "help" section of your favorite Web2.0 social networking site.
2. A Widget Gallery or Directory for your Blogging Platform
I'm not a techy, so I use typepad. Typepad has integrated widgets into the blogging platform, so adding a widget is even easier than cut and paste! It's one click! There is a widget gallery where you can go shopping for widgets.
I went through the typepad collection and installed (unstalled) a lot of them
because, to be honest, some did not hold promise for a nonprofit org blog.
With that said, the collection is growing and I did find the ultimately easy to
install and just what I wanted delicious linkroll widget here,
The Vidzu Audience Poll Widget (here)
as well as a few other good possibilities for the nonprofit blogs here,
Since widgets installation is integrated with my blogging platform it was one less click to install or unstall -- and not time consuming.
I played around with the widget that allows we to easily stream my delicious links on my sidebar. (If you're not using typepad, don't despair, you can grab the code for a number of delicious widgets here, here, and here) I am a big tagger so this was a must-have widget for me. However, I don't want stream my entire collection of links though. So, set it to stream based on the tag "linkblog" and that way I can relate the links to current posts or whatever theme I'm researching.
3. Third-Party Widget Directory and Aggregator Sites
There are widget directory sites like snipperoo which organize various widgets for end-users to pluck and install and for widget developers to upload and share. However, what the newest thing is something called a "Widget Aggregator." As described at the recent Widget Live Conference "New widget aggregators are forming to organize and classify the world of widgets into simple and easy to deploy collections. These aggregators offer one widget box to rule them all, creating a single point of integration for new widget users."
Widgetbox For bloggers like me, Widgetbox offers a Widget panel. Once this panel is placed into a sidebar of a blog, any widget can be added simply via drag and drop. It supports a range of blogging platforms.
Although the interface was a little geeky - after clicking around - it was very easy to install (and unstall) and update the widgets and panels I installed.
Act 5: Summary:
-Widgets have the potential of extending the distribution and connection of a
nonprofit's content and can also can be useful in amplifying the community
s associated with an organization's web site or blog.
-Widgets are easy to use and install and do not require special technical skills - they're fun too!
How to get started ...
-Successfully using widget to realize outcomes is going to be a matter of experimentation and learning. Above all, the widget needs to be connected with your blog's content, readers' interests, and amplify conversation.
-Pick a few widgets, install them, and track them over a period of a month or so. Figure out if your strategy is bringing in new traffic, generating more comments/activity on your blog, etc. If not, do be aware to ditch it.
I wrote, shot, edited, and produced this screencast a few months ago and I'm already seeing how a lot of changed in the widget landscape. So, if you'd like to add your thoughts, please drop a comment in the post.