A huge part of the popularity of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking applications is the ability to integrate them into any website with the use of widgets. Connecting your site to social networking can be as easy as cut-and-paste with these resources.
What in the World Is a Widget?
A widget is like a tiny window or section of your website that connects to the larger social networks. This can show information from your profile, the latest status update, or your latest photo upload. Some widgets are developed by the social networks themselves, and some are independently created as freeware, shareware, and software that you can get for free. There are many different ways to find out about widgets, but one of the best is to visit the Widgets Lab ("All widgets, all the time!").
Facebook Widgets, aka "Badges"
The number one social networking site has some of the best widgets for your site, and with over 600 million users, odds are the visitors to your site will enjoy using the familiar Facebook tools. They aren't called "widgets" per se, but if you visit the "Badges" page on Facebook you can find several different kinds of widgets for sites such as Blogger, TypePad, or just about anything else.
- Profile Badge: This will show your picture and whatever personal information you'd like, such as birthdays, status updates, and more.
- Like Badge: If you've "liked" a page on Facebook, this widget will show a link to it wherever you have it installed.
- Photo Badge: If you'd like to share your photos and tags in more places than your Facebook gallery, this will show a thumbnail and link directly from your website.
- Page Badge: Many groups have their own "pages" which can be shared much the same way a profile can, with the page's feature image as well as names, descriptions, and more.
To install any of these badges, you simply highlight the code that Facebook generates and insert it into your site. In a WordPress blog, for example, there is an entire section for installing various widgets, and you can have Facebook integrated quickly and easily into your blog.
While Facebook is often about "what did you do today?", Twitter is known for being "what are you doing NOW?" The main site has several widgets available, and you can see some similarities between the Facebook badges and Twitter widgets:
- Profile Widget: Rather than your information, this will post your most recent Twitter update.
- Search Widget: You can choose search term such as the name of a team and show the results from all of Twitter in real time. This is useful for live events such as conferences or presentations.
- Faves Widget: You can choose to "favorite" individual tweets, and this little box on your site will show the ones you think are special so that others can enjoy them too.
- List Widget: This allows you to make a list of "tweeps" (people using Twitter) and show their feed in real time.
- Facebook Widget: Designed specifically to go onto your Facebook page, this integrates both of the most popular social networks.
New Twitter tools such as buttons, counters, and widgets are always being created, and you can find more resources and tools for Twitter on sites such as Twidget. Many professional bloggers contribute to this site in order to help each other get the most out of their networks.
By the end of 2010, MySpace had fallen in popularity immensely, and in 2011 it was sold by Rupert Murdoch for $35 million (at a loss of over a billion). While the site itself has an uncertain future, there have been hundreds of widgets created to let people customize and share photos, music, and more.
One difference between MySpace widgets and the rest, though, is that many of these are designed to go right onto your MySpace page. Just to have some fun, you can use a widget like Photo Cubes to create cool picture cubes using any six pictures you like.
Picking Your Widgets
One of the things to be aware of when putting widgets on your site is that there is such a thing as "too much." Stick to the social networks you and your visitors use the most, and only put a widget up if you really think it adds to the message of your site. It also pays to frequently revisit social media trends to see what is new. For example, in 2011, Google launched "Plus," a social network with the potential to replace Facebook. Within weeks of launching, there were "Plus 1" widgets available from various sites, and some WordPress bloggers were installing the Google Plus widgets on every post.
Thanks to the convenience of widgets, your sites can easily stay connected to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook in fun and useful ways.