Widget use enables personalized, branded content

Widgets - not to be confused with gremlins or other mythical creatures - are mini-programs that sit on computer desktops, blinking away details on the weather, sports scores, or other information a consumer wants.

Widgets - not to be confused with gremlins or other mythical creatures - are mini-programs that sit on computer desktops, blinking away details on the weather, sports scores, or other information a consumer wants.

Experts note that the easy-to-use applications represent a perfect opportunity to maintain or increase relationships between consumers and brands because widgets are an opt-in technology - users choose to download them.

For media outlets, widgets not only offer a constant connection to customers, but also help them beat the competition, notes MacKenzie Lovings, marketing director for the BIA Information Network, which makes desktop applications.

"They can say, 'Here's a storm warning,' or, 'There unfortunately was a shooting at the local mall' - whatever it is they need to get out to the local area," she says. "The widget just puts the information right there in front of you... It doesn't slap you in the face."

For corporations not in the business of providing information the way a media outlet does, widgets have a practically infinite number of potential applications useful for building brand loyalty, notes Chris Marentis, CEO of widget application developer Clearspring.

"It could be a Scotts fertilizer widget that people who own landscaping firms or nurseries could add to their Web sites with information on when to fertilize your lawn or what type of fertilizer to use based on your region," Marentis says.

While widgets have been around for years, they seem to have grown in use and popularity recently thanks to social media sites like YouTube and MySpace, where widgets are used for playing music or other customized expressions of taste, notes Jiyan Wei, product manager at Vocus. The ability to create customized, personal Web sites may be the long-term impact of widgets.

"I think they're a dream for communications professionals," Wei says. "For one thing, they're so easy to use. I have so many friends who are heavy MySpace users, but are so non-tech they need help turning their computers on. But they can put widgets on."

Key points:

Widgets let users dictate what information they want and when

Businesses can stay in constant connection with customers through widgets

Widgets represent the Internet's future as a fully customized conduit for personalized information

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