Phew! If you keep reading to the next section of this post, I've included a screen shot of my desktop with my favorite widgets (you can even check out - and maybe contribute to - the desktop screenshot group I have going on flickr! We do have some famous desktops including Jay Cross, Donald Clark, Lee Kraus and Alan Levine).
So the question is of course, why? Why are companies making these and why are people using them? I'd love to hear from you if you already use widgets but I think they are ways that we can cherry pick functionality and knowledge flows.
This whole discussion is also leaving out the idea of extensions in Firefox or the deeply customizable aspects of Opera which seem to track to the same desires here but are still captive within their respective browsers. And yes, then it would be true that Typepad and Wordpress widgets are captive within their respective software environments, they are free to roam on whatever browser they like. And what about the new 2.0 desktops like Protopage, netvibes Microsoft LIVE and Google Personalized homepage. They too create their own environments and allow you to use small, severable bits of functionality and data to customize that experience. All of this shold give a pretty good overview of the wdiget field (see this Wikipedia entry for more) but I'm still not sure it answers why or even better - why should I care?
I think that as learning professionals we should care because the uptake of things like widgets reveal something about the preferences of our audiences. If people are attracted to these various widgets because the idea of crafting their own knowledge interfaces is appealing to them, then wouldn't it be a good idea, instead of throwing up or hands and saying 'that's not what we do', to rather figure out a way to turn that interest and that functionality to better serve our learners?
- Could we craft a widget that updates itself on your desktop whenever a new course is added to the LMS's course catalog?
- What about a widget attached to the other end of that LMS that could tell a manager at a glance, how many people had taken the mandatory compliance training?
- How about a widget as a window into a web-based content authoring tool to either see what was being done or perhaps even to contribute?
- What about a learner's widget that will instantly update her whenever the content of a course they have already taken is updated - so they can check and see if they need to re-take the course or just be aware of new information?
These things do not have to be pieces of a package that must be swallowed whole or not at all any longer. Sure, they can be and should be - when it makes sense - but I think we owe it to our learners to at least look at this technology and see how we can make it better answer their training and learning needs.