Google Premieres Free Web Gadgets Help

October 11, 2006 0

Search giant lets users show Gadgets on their websites
In the latest step in its continuing effort to focus the Web services model around its own servers, Google Inc. has expanded its Gadgets program making it easier for Web Developer to add hundreds of miniature programs to independent Web sites, in a move that brings handy features to users instead of making users rely on Google.com.

Google Gadgets has been available to end users to add to their Google home pages and desktops since the May release of the Desktop 4 beta.

The company has launched a collection of ‘Google Gadgets for your webpage’ that allows users to browse a gallery of small, web-based applets that display items ranging from calculators to maps and photo galleries.

The Web search leader has jumped ahead of rivals — such as Apple Computer Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. — who offer mini-applets or "gadgets" when the user has installed special software on individual computer desktops.

Instead of making people come to Google, now Google can be found everywhere,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said of the push to make such programs available via other sites.

The concept is called Google Universal Gadgets, and although it sounds uncharacteristically sweeping, the idea is to let Web sites perform simple functions provided by Google’s servers at no cost.

Like many other widget frameworks, Google Gadgets use HTML, XML and JavaScript to create mini applications. Google Gadgets range from a miniature look-up for Google Maps or Google Calendar to independent applications ranging from financial information to sports to communication tools and jokes, horoscopes or geometric puzzle game Tetris. The applications are promoted as an easy way to add dynamic content to Web pages.

A Web page designer can select from a gallery of gadgets, and then to a limited extent to customize the chosen gadget’s style and appearance. When the gadget looks just right, Google provides the gadget’s source code that can be dropped into an HTML page. The source code is actually a <SCRIPT> tag that calls the resource from the server, and runs it in place.

A list of Google Gadgets can be found at http://www.google.com/ig/directory?synd=open/.

There may continue to be a slight API distinction between Universal Gadgets and Desktop Gadgets (meant for Google Desktop), although the company says the Universal variety will work in both contexts.

Web site publishers can choose from a gallery of 1,220 so-called "Google Gadgets" — small bits of code that function as dynamic applications when installed on a Web page. Less than two dozen of the applications come from Google. Most are built by outside programmers seeking distribution for the programs.

“This is part of the movement to make the Web into a platform rather than forcing users to rely on desktop software,” Li said.

Yahoo, through its acquisition of the Silicon Valley start-up Konfabulator last year, boasts more than 3,244 Widgets, or mini programs, that range from Web search tools to games, news feeds and video-watching utilities.

But users must install and run an 11-megabyte program on a PC for such programs to work on Windows-based computers (http://widgets.yahoo.com/). Similarly, Apple Computer and Microsoft offer hundreds of such programs to Web users.

Before these mini-Web based applications can go mainstream; however, Google and the others will have to do away with the need to "cut and paste" code and make it possible to install such programs on Web sites in a few clicks, she said.

Eventually, Web users can look forward to a time when they combine such mini-applications from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or others to create hybrid applications, known as mash-ups.

The Gadgets are distributed free of charge and hosted remotely, so users do not need to upload any data to their web pages other than the widget code. Google is encouraging developers to share their code with others by publishing them in its Gadgets directory.

Google encourages gadget authors to share their specifications, states the Google Gadgets API developer guide. One of the advantages to developers is that you "can get your name out there," according to Google blogger Matt Cutts.

End users are not the only target of the expanded Google Gadgets. The company is also attempting to lure developers. Now anyone can have a great-looking Web site with automatically updating content, said Adam Sah, Google Gadgets architect.

By making Google Gadgets available for you to add to your Web page, we are working to connect developers with enthusiastic consumers and to make information universally accessible and useful to the individual user, Google’s Sah said.

The code for Gadgets is published as XML files on the Web, where Google’s servers can access them and process the code. The XML file can contain all of the data and code for the gadget, or have a manifest of components that includes URLs for finding the rest of the elements. Gadgets are used by including some JavaScript in the developer’s Web pages, and because they do need to pass through Google’s systems, they cannot be used offline or independently of the company.

Start-ups like Widgetbox (http://www.widgetbox.com/) are pointing the way by offering a marketplace of different mini-applets for users to add to sites, while Ning (http://www.ning.com/), a company begun by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen, offers a simple way for users to create whole sites out of such Web-based applications, Li said.

“We are not ready at this point to discuss that,” Google’s Sah said. “Gadgets and Widgets are all moving very quickly.”

Several of the currently available Gadgets offer content from non-Google sites, including Wikipedia and Whitepages.com.