Widgets: What’s Good, Dubious, and Plain Bad

Widgets - Good or Evil?I’ve never been a big fan of widgets. Lots of bling bling for your sidebar might sound like a good idea at the time, but it just adds clutter, clutter, perhaps some functionality, and then some clutter. And it usually looks like crap.

However, I’m starting to turn to the widget functionality in WordPress. I’ve been looking at it for some time, and added it on client request of course, but never bothered with it myself.

It makes sense of course, I’m not averse to hacking some PHP code in my template files, while others might be daunted by doing so. So widget functionality in WordPress, while it can be a bitch and clutter up a decent design since there’s no telling what the users might put in there, actually has some right to exist.

That’s big from me, people.

However, just because widgets get to exist, it doesn’t mean you can go haywire with them. This might work:

  • Recent comments, because we all love some debating.
  • Recent posts, assuming it isn’t redundant, ie don’t place it at the top of the page on your front page displaying the latest posts already…
  • RSS and other subscription functionality.
  • About the blog info box, just keep it short and link a dedicated about page.
  • Search box. This is a must, unless you have it someplace else.

This is more dubious, might work, but then again it just might not:

  • Related posts. Yes, this is good stuff, but then again it can also be completely unnecessary. Use at your own discretion, and consider placing it on single pages only, with the content.
  • Tag clouds don’t fit on all blogs. Do they fit on yours?
  • Monthly archives. This is usually just as redundant as the calendar functionality. You don’t use that, do you?
  • Lists of all your categories and pages. This might or might not be necessary, so don’t just put it in there because you use to.
  • Latest updates from other blogs, including microblogs like Twitter and such.
  • Last.fm and similar “I’m listening/reading/buying” stuff. It might be relevant, but probably not on a sidebar level of things.
  • Flickr, Youtube and similar online content stuff that shows your latest updates. This might be relevant, but chances are it only is at times.

These things should be left out of the sidebar, and should probably not exist on your blog at all:

  • MyBlogLog, “previous visitors came from” rubbish, and similar stuff that just clutter your design. They might serve a purpose, but make them pretty, or don’t have them at all.
  • Badges. That’s a no-no, unless you make it totally pretty and cool. Most of us won’t pull it off, so if you really need to collect badges, do it in its own page and link it.
  • Admin links. Bookmark them instead, they’re not interesting for your readers anyway.

I might sound a bit harsh here, but it is because I am. Thing is, most sidebars (and footers) are filled with crap that just shouldn’t be there. Even if you take away the design and clutter aspect, you’ll find a lot of stuff crammed into the sidebar that just isn’t merited to be placed in such a premium position.

That’s the main thing, really, because stuff in the sidebar are almost always visible, and only the most premium important super duper stuff should be there. Your Flickr feed, last updated 3 years ago, don’t cut it, no matter how cute your cat pictures are.

That being said, every blog has its own owner and agenda. What won’t cut it for me is perhaps perfect for you, so don’t take this too hard. Just make sure you questions your widget areas, and not just the sidebar really. It’s way too easy to put a load of crap in there, just because it is so convenient.

Maybe I don’t like them widgets after all? What about you?

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