Build a widget on a budget

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Take a deep breath and relax; building a widget isn't rocket science. But in this nascent world of distributed content, where standards are not yet established, understanding your options along with some generally accepted best practices will help you make smart design and development choices for your project. 

So how do you determine what's right for your widget? From timing to technical specs, here's a how-to for budgets large and small, whether you have in-house designers and developers or are looking to outsource, and anything in-between.

Goals and parameters

As with any project, setting the project goals and parameters will help you evaluate your options against their ability to meet objectives, and evaluate any vendor on their experience with similar projects. I recommend preparing the answers to these questions before meeting with your team: 

1. Goals. The first question to answer is, "What do I want my widget to accomplish?" Are you a content company looking to grow your audience via a distributed footprint? A media company looking to monetize the content your audience is eager to consume on the web? A marketer looking to promote your brand, engage your customers or directly sell product? 

2. Target audience. Widgets fall into one of two categories: social widgets designed for social environments like blogs and social networks, which are used by an individual to communicate with and express themselves to their network of friends, and utility widgets used on desktops, start pages and mobile phones to amuse an individual and help them get through their day. Identify where your target audience is spending their time and choose the appropriate widget type.

3. Budget. Widgets don't have to be prohibitively expensive. There are resources to help you build a widget even if you have little or no design or development budget. 

4. Time horizon for the build. Do you need your widget completed in hours, days, weeks or months? Time, budget and complexity are the typical tradeoffs.

5. Time horizon for maintenance. Does your widget need to be updated at particular intervals? Will that happen automatically through feeds or are there graphical elements and other content that need to be pushed out? How often and over what period of time?

6. Resources. Do you have in-house design or development resources? If the widget needs to be maintained over time, who are you expecting to do it? Have you worked that need into your budget?

7. Assets. Whether videos, feeds, contests or any other type, take stock of what assets you have to work with. From logos to quizzes to games, publishers and marketers often have a goldmine of content that was produced but not widely used and that can be repurposed when time or resources are scarce. If you are a media company, determine what content is most compelling or unique. If you are an advertiser putting resources behind a major campaign, have you budgeted for unique asset creation, are you pulling from other areas of your campaign, or are you looking to your audience for content? 

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Julian Hill
Julian Hill September 18, 2008 at 6:55 PM

Great article. Beautiful advice. I am working on a few sites now and I have been looking around for solid information like this. I have tons of ideas for widget development but was concerned that it may be costly. You just put the "battery in my back". Hopefully my sites Full of Hip Hop Dot Com and Urban 411 dot com can benefit. Thanks a lot.

Joshua Larson
Joshua Larson September 18, 2008 at 2:16 PM

Liza, thanks for the excellent advice your provide in this article. I discuss -- and add to -- the goals and parameters you lay out here on the NewsGator Widget Blog. (