Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A sidebar-widget beastiary: 6 gadgets and what do do with them

Smart bloggers populate their blogs with widgets to connect readers with older blog posts (and with related content on the web).

Three sidebar areas take widgets: Top, side, footer.

Here's a quick appraisal of a half dozen powerful widgets you should know.

Profile You know this one, but do you know everything it does? The Profile widget shows the photo and other short information from your profile page, to which it links. There's room for more about you on your profile page.

Add authors and the title switches from "About Me" to "Contributors" and the gadget shows only links to the profile pages of each.

You can edit the title to whatever you want, and if you don't like what the Profile widget shows you can make your own.

Archive Along with Profile, this gadget is included in new blogs by default. It lets readers find older content by date, displaying the post titles as clickable links (unless you turn that part off).

The default "hierarchy" display, with little flippy triangles, is pretty slick, but you can also configure it to be a drop-down menu or a flat list.

You can change the title of this widget, the order it displays links, the way it displays dates, and the time interval used (month, week, or day). If you disable the display of post titles it will just display the interval, which links to an archive page of posts from the selected period.

Link List This underrated gadget lets you post a list of clickable text links. You input both the text and the web url and determine the order in which the links appear. In most templates, if you drag the Link List to the top area between title and post, the widget will format as tabs.

Link List's stability, simplicity, and control contrast favorably with the more-specialized Pages widget. If you'd like to use it for a tabbed menu bar, this little refinement might interest you.

Pages There always seems to be something wrong with the Pages widget, originally designed as a navigational toolbar to help readers find static pages. It has since been expanded to allow you to add other links as well.

Consequently, Pages now duplicates the functionality of the Link List gadget, with the added promise that it can include static pages automatically. In practice Link List has proven itself to be more stable, configurable, and easy to set up.

HTML/JavaScript This, the Swiss army knife of sidebar widgets, will render HTML and Javascript output on your blog without any edits to your template. It's not really for the novice, though if all you are after is formatted text and hyperlinks the editing tools for this widget should be perfectly intelligible.

What it really does, if you know what you are doing, is to make custom widgets. I like to use it to list every post in a label topic.

Use this awesome widget only for good, however, by posting code only from trusted sources.

Labels This widget lists labels in two modes, simple list and a "cloud" of labels differentiated by size and color. In both each label name is a link to its related label-search page.

Label your posts intelligently and this gadget will make a handy topical index to your blog.

The list order can be either alphabetical or by frequency for all the labels or any subset. You can also show the number of posts per label. Tinkerers can tweak the appearance of the cloud list further by adding formatting for css classes .label-size-1 through .label-size-5.

Be a widget skinflint. Everything you add slows your blog down and adds clutter. Avoid sidebar bling. Only use widgets that clearly add more than they distract.

The striking images in this post are from the Aberdeen Bestiary. They are in the public domain.

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