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Digital dashboard


Ryan Stemkoski and Shawn Davis, two of the principals at Spokane-based Zipline Interactive, see potential in desktop gadgets.
 (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)
Ryan Stemkoski and Shawn Davis, two of the principals at Spokane-based Zipline Interactive, see potential in desktop gadgets. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)

You say widget, some say gadget. The basic idea is the same – a “gadget” in the current tech buzz is a small, single-focus software application that sits on your desktop or is added to a Web site.

It does only one thing. For instance, it either shows a map of something, streams down some images or perhaps updates the scores of your favorite sports teams.

Gadgets are proliferating all over the Web. Sites such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s Live Spaces give users multiple gadget choices to customize their main pages, turning them into dashboards of dials or boxes delivering live content to your desktop.

The earliest gadgets were simple text-driven applications, such as stock tickers, news feeds or soap-opera plot summaries.

They’ve evolved into more complex versions. One newer gadget uses Google maps and displays the locations of visitors coming to the Web site that hosts the gadget. Others download images and create slide shows, drawing on photos from any number of photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr.

Short history lesson: The Mac community began adding widgets to the dashboard years ago. For many Mac users, the word widget refers exclusively to applets for their operating system. But now Microsoft is in the game and they use the term gadget. The new version of Microsoft’s Windows Vista now installs a SideBar panel on the desktop that collects and displays a wide range of gadgets.

One reason for the proliferation of widgets or gadgets: They place minimal demands on a computer’s resources. “With the right architecture and open protocols, developers can do cool things while not impacting the stability of the desktop, a phone, a Web page or a device,” said Jay Arnold, a tech and media consultant in Kirkland,Wash.

That means that gadgets can be customized, resized and easily tweaked by users who want to modify the content being delivered.

Among other popular gadgets are flight-trackers, gas-price charters (monitoring a specific zip code, for instance), and literary or Bible quote-of-the-day feeders.

Spokane-based Zipline Interactive, a downtown software development company, has created a division devoted entirely to developing Windows gadgets for customer Web sites.

“The value of the gadget on the desktop is that instead of going out and getting information, the gadget finds it and retrieves it instantly,” said Shawn Davis, creative director at Zipline Interactive. “It’s one more way for a Web site to be active, instead of just sitting there.”

Zipline Interactive is working on several gadget projects, including an entertainment-alert gadget for AccessSpokane.com.

Founded by Phil Sandifur, AccessSpokane offers both an e-mail newsletter and a Web site that tracks and lists downtown Spokane dining, activities and entertainment.

When available for download this summer, that gadget will sit on a desktop and update a daily and weekend summary of things to do.

The goal, said Sandifur, is to make it easy for subscribers to take advantage of entertainment or dining options. “We’d eventually like to add the option of clicking right there (at the gadget) to take you to TicketsWest if you want tickets for a show or concert,” he said.

Davis said his favorite gadgets are one that feeds ESPN sports headlines and another that streams images from Google pictures.

To get a sample of the gadget/widget universe, try the Yahoo Widget page – http://widgets.yahoo.com – or for Mac users, Dashboardwidgets.com.

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