Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Widget 101: What's a Widget? How Does it Work?

Earlier this week, I updated my facebook status with a note about putting the finishing status on a widget for the web site. A few moments later, a friend e-mailed this question: "What's a widget?"

A widget is a web-based tool that allows you to enter information into a database and get something in return. If you're buying an airline ticket, for instance, you're entering the information parameters -- the time frame in which you want to fly -- into a database, which in turn spits out the tickets that are available in that time frame for the area you want to visit.

We've been working with Betsey Stevenson, an associate professor of business and public policy at Wharton, who used U.S. Census information to put together a database. We call it The Marriage Calculator. The user answers some basic questions: the age they were at the time of their marriage, their education level and -- if you're a woman -- the number of children you have, and the database shares two statistics:

1. The number of people with similar backgrounds who got married and are now divorced.

2. The number of people like you who are likely to be divorced in five years. This uses historical Census data to predict what will happen in the future.

My last year in newspapers, I spent a lot of time managing database projects -- including about property values that got so much traffic it shut us down for a short time. While my boss wasn't exactly happy, I considered that a user success, if not a career-enhancing one.

The point of this widget is similar. Interest, traffic and users who keep coming back.

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