Widgets, Gadgets, and Mashups

Widget - A web widget, also known as a widget, is a small program (or reusable code) that can be added to any web site including a blog or personalized start page. Widgets provide additional functionality. Some examples of widgets include adding a YouTube playlist or a YouTube embedded player to your blog, signing up for RSS or bookmarking a web page using the social bookmarking site del.icio.us.

Gadget - A gadget acts and looks like a widget.  Since they are created with proprietary programming code, a gadget will work only with a specific web site or a set of specific web sites. For example,
Google Gadgets can look and act like a widget. But, they only work on Google pages.

Mashup - Mashups come in several varieties.  Some mashups combine two or more media files (text, audio, video) to create new content. Web mashups combine two or more web applications to create a new service. 

Why should government consider using widgets, gadgets, and mashups?
    Widgets and gadgets can help citizens visualize data (ex. PowerPoint slide show widgets). 
    In the case of video widgets, a video clip can supplement information posted on a web page. 
    Widgets can be embedded in a variety of social media platforms.
    Widgets can be created at very low cost.
  Mashups are often sourced from existing data/applications which can lower development costs.
    You can share your widget with others on the web, translating into more exposure for your widget content.
    Developing a mashup can add richness to existing data or applications


Ask VBPL, Virginia Beach Public Library, Virtual Reference Service at http://www.vbgov.com/askvbpl.  


The Virginia Beach Public Library is using a Meebome instant messaging widget to chat with library customer. The widget is available on many different web pages, inside the online Library catalog as well as on the Library’s MySpace profile.  Using an IM widget removes technology barriers for library customers.  They do not need to have a personal IM client to use the widget. Between September 17, 2007 and June 30, 2008, librarians assisted 209 customers via IM.  Customers can also contact the library via email, telephone or in-person. 

Widgets and Gadgets on the Web:

There are several places on the web to find popular widgets and gadgets including Widgetbox, Google Gadgets, and Widgipedia.  When browsing widgets, note the difference between desktop widgets that are installed on an individual computer and web widgets that are installed on web pages.  There are also widgets designed specifically for compatibility with mobile devices.  Choose your widgets carefully.  Most social networking web sites will provide a list of preferred web widgets that are known to work well with their respective platforms.

Creating your own web widget is not technically difficult.  Widgetbox, Widgenie, Plumbb, and KickApps offer tutorials, software, and web applications for making widgets.

Below are places to find samples of government /government-related web widgets:

    USA.gov "Government Gadget Gallery": http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Reference_Shelf/Libraries/Gadget_Gallery.shtml
    Sunlight Foundation: http://sunlightfoundation.com/capitoltweets/
    OpenSecrets.org: http://www.opensecrets.org/action/widgets.php
    OpenCongress.org: http://www.opencongress.org/tools
    GovTrack.us: http://www.govtrack.us/embed/

Mashups on the Web:
ProgrammableWeb is a good place to start your exposure to mashups.  You can also find lots of mashups on Mashable. Web application mashups require the use of an application programming interface (API).  Google Maps API is currently the most popular API in use for mashups.  Therefore, you will find that mashups are often created to display data geographically.  Here are some examples:
    Craigslist + Google Maps = HousingMaps
    Gas Cost Estimator + Google Maps = Gas-Cost.net
    Twitter + Google Maps = Stweet

In 2008, the Washington DC government launched a contest challenging application developers to create innovative "Apps for Democracy".  You can find a variety of government-related mashups on the Apps for Democracy web site.