Widgets are the new 1998


Poor javascript. As quick as it rises from abuse to glory it’s just abused from another angle.

Six years ago javascript was evil.* It caused goofy mouse trails and oddly animated menus. Sites filled with copy/paste scripts full of browser sniffing and proprietary code. It didn’t work. People spoke poorly of it and many refused to admit being versed in the scripting. Then good things happened. Really good things. Google Maps. Flickr. Libraries. Unobtrusiveness. XHR. So good.

There’s this newish music blog called RCRD LBL. This is the first thing you’ll see when you visit the site. Then you’ll see rounded corners, drop shadows and advertisements that don’t match the site design in anyway imaginable. Then when you click through to a story, this is what you’ll see. Javascript includes don’t cache well. Or at all in most cases. So rather than the back button returning to a fully loaded page, it’s like starting over.**

Have you heard of Facebook’s Beacon? That’s neat. Empty iframe‘s and snoopish code. OpenSocial facilitates/encourages similar widget production – javascript code to stuff into any pages to super power it (after an initial performance hit).

I love Flickr. These JS widgets are frontend solutions to backend problems. Data doesn’t get shared the way it could and companies are too set on keeping their users (and the users content) within their walls. Social network users shouldn’t be bothered with having to deal with another site’s API in order to pull content into their profile and casual bloggers shouldn’t have to deal with it to put a few items in their sidebar. And they don’t. API’s and authentication/OAuth are making progress at solving this. Virb allows users to authenticate their account on Flickr and then seamlessly include their latest photos in their profile. JS free! That means search engine spiders can see the photos and make further associations with the user. And I don’t have to wait for their photos to reload on every page view.

Just as sadly, because the purpose is for these to be pulled off the site an included anywhere, the design/UI doesn’t match anything. In a situation where the data is being pulled into a site from an external source, the site can control the presentation. In many cases of the copy/paste widget world, the presentation is not being controlled by the site were the data is being presented.

Widgets make it viable for content creators to allow users to put their content anywhere without the need for any effort on the host domains part. That’s convenient for getting content out there but it doesn’t make the content useful. Which is why everyone hated JS in 1998 – it was being used for useless tasks.

I should also mention obnoxious animated banner ads and Flash animation splash pages were popular in 1998 as well. Hmm.


  1. cr 20071127

    Interesting that you posted this as I’ve just been playing with Yahoo! Widgets. Aside from having about one thousand choices for clocks and calendars I haven’t quite yet figured out what purpose the widgets ultimately serve. In otherwords, after the novelty of something new and shiny on my desktop wears off, is the content really useful?

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