Fat widgets: a lesson in not understanding the end user

We announced the new layout of The Inquisitr earlier today, and there’s one thing we didn’t mention in the mix: we’ve streamlined what’s on the site and excluded a range of widgets. We’ve not gotten rid of them completely, but where possible we’ve tweaked those that remain to maximize load time and to minimize harm caused by outages (and we’ve still got some work to do there).

It’s not that I hate widgets. Quite the opposite, I love them, and a range of widgets appeared on the site during the design phase. But there’s a serious problem with many widgets from many widget companies. They suck. Not in what they deliver, but in what they do to the site.

Widgets have an obesity problem

Many widgets offered to website owners and bloggers today share the same problem: they’re fat (as in code size). Really fat. Obese even. If you’re spending thousands on servers, and you site is lightnight quick you may not notice. Likewise, if the widget appears on MySpace or Blogger you probably won’t notice either. But if you’re hosting a site yourself, load times count, and a bloated widget slows those load times. Multiple bloated widgets slow down the site even more.

I was keen on having rich media on the front page as part of the new mix, and I tried a number of suppliers, including VodPod, Voxant and ClipSyndicate. Without fail, the bloat from each slowed down the front page. Sprout Builder, perhaps my favorite widget building service has the same problem…indeed, although I haven’t named every widget provider, and not every widget provider is as bad, it’s endemic in the business.

Delivery time fail

Fat widgets don’t help, but fat widgets from hit and miss delivery servers are worse again. If you absolutely must offer a fat widget, the least you can do is to make sure that those showing your widgets get them quickly. Time and time again in testing, widgets were either slow to load, or in some cases, just didn’t appear at all, causing large portions of the site to not load (yes, you can code around this, but most people don’t have those skills). I can cope with fat widgets to some degree, but I can’t cope with the site not loading due to problems with service delivery from widget providers, even if it’s only occasionally. Every time a page doesn’t load, this site misses out on hooking new regular readers, and from CPM advertising impressions. It costs us money.

A lesson in not understanding the end user

Maybe the focus of most widget creators is on MySpace and Facebook profiles, where bloat isn’t a major issue when pages are served from a massive server farm, and I accept that might be the case. But many of these services target bloggers, directly or indirectly, and they have some responsibility in delivering a service that works quickly and reliably. That they continue to offer bloated widgets and poor load times would seem to demonstrate them not remotely understanding the end user. With tough economic times, a lot of these companies are going to be in trouble, so those that start waking up to the fact that fat, slow to load widgets suck may have longer futures than the rest.