August 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

Young social networkers are most excited about widgets

17% of adult U.S. Internet users use web widgets at least monthly, a new study shows, while 31% of young U.S. web users do so. Of young social networkers, 64% use web widgets.

Widgets offer Internet users a piece of functionality or focused information in a small, neatly wrapped package. But while widget creators, including e-retailers, create widgets in as attractive a fashion as possible, widgets are not yet attracting users in a big way, a new report finds.

Only 12% of adult U.S. Internet users use desktop widgets at least monthly, while 17% use web widgets at least monthly, according to “Get With It With Widgets-Adult And Youth Widget Adoption” from Forrester Research Inc. A mere 8% of young U.S. Internet users use desktop widgets at least monthly, but 31% use web widgets at least monthly.

Widgets are small applications that create a contained, visual experience with information and/or web functions. Desktop widgets reside on a computer user’s desktop and create a 24/7 link between the desktop and the widget creator’s web site. Web widgets reside on a page on a widget creator’s web site or can be downloaded to a user’s web pages, such as blogs or social network pages. A widget on a social network could, for example, could create a virtual book club where friends link to each other’s pages, book reviews and book lists, as well as to affiliated online booksellers where they can find books and complete purchases.

The significantly higher number of web widget users among younger Internet users is a product of social networking, the report says. Of U.S. youth Internet users who use social networks, 64% also use web widgets, Forrester says. This is because social networks offer a vast array of web widgets, also referred to as social network applications, the report says. Of U.S. adult Internet users who use social networks, 59% also use web widgets.

“Widgets must first and foremost create user value, either because they serve a core utility or are highly entertaining,” says Jeremiah Owyang, lead author of the report. “Marketers should focus widget design on providing value to users. A widget with too many features will fail because it strives to serve all users but in the process serves no specific user need well.”

Online retailers including Nike and Meijer have introduced widgets in an effort to drive sales.

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