Having just gone through the registration process for my widgets on a number of sites, I thought I would write up a summary report card on the various widget directories. I decided early on to directly host my widgets – the downside is that it was a pain to set up the necessary infrastructure, but the upside is that I have the flexibility of promoting/serving up my widgets from just about anywhere. Here’s my ranked list of widget directory sites. Grade was determined by factors such as ease of configuration/registration and widget promotion.
Widgetbox Grade: A
At the top of the list, Widgetbox has a several things going for it. First, configuration of widgets is an absolute breeze and their support for widget parameters is extensive. Both the developer’s eye view and the end-user view are clean and easy to use. You can test out your widget and iron out the kinks before publishing it in their gallery. Once in the gallery, Widgetbox does an excellent job of promoting the widgets – they are of course text and tag searchable. In addition, Widgetbox took the direct step of featuring one of my widgets on their home page. As a result, I serve up more widgets through Widgetbox than any other site. I highly recommend them.
I am particularly interesting in seeing how well their recently announced Facebook Remote Gallery will be received. I love the potential, but for now, the level of integration at the Facebook site is quite limited.
Widgipedia Grade: B+
Widgipedia only recently added support for web widgets. Their strength is in desktop widgets, and so it does not appear that many people go to Widgipedia yet to get web widgets. That said, widget configuration on the site is almost as slick as that of Widgetbox (once I figured out their peculiar URL encoding). They promote widgets on their home page, and widgets can be found via tag or text search. My only concern with this site is whether people will go to Widgipedia for web widgets.
One quirk: I could configure the widget and keep it private before displaying to users, but in order to see a widget preview for testing purposes, I had to make it “visible” to everyone first. This was a bit weird.
Netvibes Grade: B-
Netvibes provides personalized start pages. They are building out a Universal Widget API (UWA) that will allow you to build once using their framework and then deploy to a wide variety of widget platforms (Google, Opera, Apple Dashboard). I like where they are going with this, particularly their attempts to build standards for widget development, but it’s still in beta and is limited in some ways. Widget parameter configuration is done via XML, which I like, but they do not yet support certain parameter fields (like “description”) or type (“color”), which I don’t like. Additionally, I had to write code in order to get my widget to work in UWA, unlike in Widgetbox or in Widgipedia.
On the plus side, there seems to be good traffic at Netvibes – my widgets are still in the process of being available via their directory, so I do not yet know how well this will translate to Widgizit widgets being served. Netvibes also allows you to test your widgets in a “standalone” sandbox before deployment. [Edit: It took 3 weeks for my widgets to be approved, and even after that I was informed that UWA widgets are not published on their front page as "newly released." The lack of promotion of any kind has prompted me to give Netvibes a B- rating].
Google Gadgets Grade: B-
Like the other big players (Yahoo, Microsoft), Google has its own widget play with Google Gadgets. It was a no-brainer to register with Google, as it’s hard to ignore their reach. That said, their widget registry lacks many of the bells and whistles the smaller players have. The widget parameter configuration support is limited (like Netvibes, no “color” type or support for parameter descriptions). Testing the gadget on iGoogle was painful. I could add the widget to my home page, but some kind of server-side caching meant that every time I made a small change to the widget, I had to wait over an hour for the new version to be loaded.
Protopage Grade: B-
I stumbled upon Protopage while researching Pageflakes and Netvibes. They are another provider of personalized home pages. Kudos to Protopage for making widget configuration extremely easy. They have sophisticated deployment capabilities, allowing you to maintain and deploy different versions of your widget easily. Additionally, every time I released a new version of my widgets, it became available immediately.
I would imagine this site has its work cut out for it via competition via Google, Pageflakes, Netvibes, etc. Also, they do not yet support a “list” parameter type (only a radio button), which meant I could not add my List and L&G widgets because they have numerous options.
Pageflakes Grade: D
Pageflakes is yet another personalized home page provider. While I have the Browser widget running in Pageflakes, I have not yet successfully registered it because of one key issue. They do not provide any real support for widget parameter configuration. You can hand-code a preferences page that will be shown with your widget, but unlike the other sites, there is no way to auto-render the configuration page via parameter meta-data. Bottom line is that it’s more trouble than it is worth. Until Protopages makes this easier, I do not see it as a viable platform for widgets.
Finally, I’ll ask a question for anyone out there. Any feedback/thoughts on the newest RIA entrants Java FX, Microsoft Silverlight, or Adobe Apollo? My next widgets are likely to be developed with something other than AJAX, the main reason being that AJAX is restricted on all of the leading social networking sites, which is a huge limiting factor for distribution.