Web watching the widget way

From tracking stock portfolios and mortgage rates to menstrual cycles and baby due dates, widgets are the latest web wonder to hit desktops.

Widgets, or shortcut links downloaded to computer desktops, are gaining so much popularity that corporations are using them as a marketing tool.

"The user's desktop is extremely valuable, it's prime real estate," said Paul Brody, Yahoo vice president of desktop products, in Sunnyvale, California.

Desktop widgets, also known as gadgets or modules, serve as short cuts to other websites. They are becoming very diverse, represented by pictures, logos and or even interactive games.

Yahoo recently launched Widgets 4 and has more than 4,300 widgets, many written by third parties but that include company-branded ones.

"If you have that application running there (on the desktop) all the time, from an advertiser and a brand's perspective, that's obviously an opportunity to connect with their key audiences," said Brody.

Wigets allow the user to access information by desktop without opening a web browser.

"It's the slicker, richer version of bookmarks on your web browser," said Dave Carnoy, executive editor for CNET.com, in New York.

"There seems to be a widget for just about everything."

Popular widgets include weather trackers and UV indexes, news feeds, train, bus and flight schedules, currencies and even lunar phases. Women can track their menstrual cycles or count down to their due date if pregnant.

A widget coffee alarm will sound when it is time for a break and an alcohol calculator widget allows brewers to determine the alcohol content.

"You really can only have so many of them before it starts either cluttering up your desktop or slowing down the load-time," Carnoy said. "It's a little bit of a fad."

Whether widgets are time-wasters or have the potential to be exploited by advertisers, one analyst says people like them for their cool factor.

"It allows you to keep your fingers in all the digital pies that make up your life," said Dr. Curtis Gittens, senior research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group, a Canadian IT market research company based in London, Ontario.

"But it won't help you solve the whole information overload problem," Gittens said.

"It could become as messy as your bookmarks."

Gittens said users should download widgets from established sites.

"Play safe, stick to the main players and you will have lots of fun with your widgets," he said.

Source: Reuters

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