Gadgets, widgets, wikis, what next?

I’ve been experimenting with Google Gadgets and learning about OpenSocial. There’s a lot to learn still, but I do now have a gadget all of my own. Why am I looking at gadgets and why am I writing about them here?

For fun of course. But on top of that…

Why gadgets?

At Atlassian, where I work, we’re looking into gadgets in a big way and we’re using part of the OpenSocial specification for data exchange. We’re planning to update the dashboards for the Atlassian applications (like JIRA bug tracker, Confluence wiki, Crowd user management, etc) so that people have more control over their own dashboards. The idea is that you will be able to add bits of information from your JIRA site into your Confluence dashboard or page, or plug bits of Bamboo into JIRA, or whatever. So your dashboard can become more of a one-stop-shop for all your task-related information. To a certain extent you can do that already, using various plugins. But it would be nice to have a more standard way of adding, moving and removing the bits and pieces.

Kind of, “Drag me, drop me, x me. Well look at me, I’m coming back again… I’m still standing yeah yeah yeah.” Thank you Elton πŸ˜‰

Also, it will be frostily cool to use a more widely recognised standard, like OpenSocial and Google Gadgets, so that other people can build gadgets and use the Atlassian applications in weird and wonderful ways that we haven’t ourselves thought of. Once we’ve solved a few security considerations, people may even be able to embed gadgets from other web applications into the dashboards of their Atlassian applications.

Why write about gadgets here?

Every new feature needs documenting, and gadgets look like becoming a new feature in our products. Yee-hah! So I have an excuse to play around with gadgets and get to know what’s already out there. Then I’ll be able to document what we’re adding to the mix.

My gadget

My gadget is quite basic at the moment. It displays an RSS feed from, showing recent posts with the tag “technical-writing”. Of course!

The gadget allows you to set the background colour. It will greet you by name, once you’ve given it your name. And it knows whether it should say “Good morning”, “good afternoon” or “good evening”. I’ve used Feed2JS to provide the server-side parsing and formatting of the RSS feed. That’s about it for now. I plan to expand the gadget into the OpenSocial side of things as I learn.

I’ve installed my gadget on my iGoogle page and on my profile page at The Content Wrangler Community, which is hosted by Ning. Ning supports OpenSocial, as do quite a few other sites and applications. Here’s a list of OpenSocial containers.

Want to try it?

For the brave of heart, and with lots of caveats and disclaimers, here’s the URL for my gadget. This is the URL to use when adding the gadget to iGoogle or another website which supports gadgets.

If you install it on your iGoogle page, it should allow you to set the background colour and tell it your name. On The Content Wranger Community, the gadget displays but it does not allow me to enter my name or background colour.

If you’re mind-bogglingly fearless, you could try my gadget on one of the other containers and let me know what happens πŸ™‚

What about other types of gadgets and widgets?

It’s exciting stuff. There are a few places on the web where you can build a gadget and then embed it into your web page.

In fact, if you build a widget at Widgetbox you can embed it onto a Confluence wiki page using the latest version of the Confluence Widget Connector. But that’s another story.

Some hints from my ventures into Google Gadgets

Here’s a screenshot of my iGoogle sandbox with the iGoogle menu on the left, then gadget’s output and my list of gadgets in the middle, and the gadgets editor on the right:

Gadgets, widgets, wikis, what next?

Gadgets, widgets, wikis, what next?

If you decide to play around with developing your own Google Gadgets, you may find these notes useful. They’re a product of much trial and error πŸ™‚

  • There are two Google Gadgets developer guides, one for the earlier “legacy” version of the gadget API and one for the new version which supports OpenSocial. Make sure you find the new one, if that’s what you want.
  • Here’s the guide for the iGoogle sandbox, a development environment provided by Google where you can develop gadgets for iGoogle.
  • To sign up for the sandbox, you need a Gmail account. Then go to this URL: Sign up using your Gmail email address. But here’s the catch: if you go to the above URL again, you will be signed out of the sandbox! Then you will need to sign up again at the same URL. No worries, just give the same information again, and you will get your sandbox access back with all your gadgets intact.
  • You’ll know you are in the sandbox when the following words appear near the top left of your iGoogle page: “Welcome to the iGoogle Developer sandbox“.
  • I didn’t realise that my iGoogle sandbox would appear as a new tab on my iGoogle page, so it took me a while to find it. After signing up, just examine your iGoogle page to see what has magically appeared on it!
  • Another thing I didn’t realise is that the editor in which you create the gadgets is actually a gadget itself. So to use it, you need to add it to your iGoogle page (i.e. in the sandbox) in the same way as you would add any other gadget.Β  For some reason, it is not auto-added to your sandbox even though a number of other gadgets do automatically appear there. Your first experience of the editor is just as a text box in the middle of the developer’s guide, here. But you don’t have to keep going back to that page to edit your gadgets πŸ˜‰
  • In your iGoogle sandbox, you’ll have a list of gadgets displayed in another gadget, called “My Gadgets”. This is where you add gadgets to your sandbox. For the gadgets you are busy developing, it’s a good idea to uncheck the “Cached” checkboxΒ  in the “My Gadgets” list, so that you can see the results of your changes immediately.
  • When you create a new gadget and save it in the editor, copy the new URL immediately (it’s at the top right of the editor box) and add the gadget to the “My Gadgets” list then and there. Otherwise you may have difficulty finding your gadget again.
  • Save your gadget code somewhere else e.g. on your own machine using a text editor like Notebook. My Google gadgets editor did some odd things more than once, especially when I was copying code from one gadget to another.
  • If your gadget doesn’t display the output you are expecting, look for the basic misplaced bracket or whatever, rather than assuming it’s some weird gadgety thingy that is causing the problem. I spent ages trying to figure out what I was misunderstanding, then eventually tracked the problem down to a missing curly bracket.
  • Going going going gadgets πŸ™‚

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 28 February 2009, in atlassian, Confluence, Crowd, open standards, technical writing, wiki and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Nice one, Sarah!

    I don’t know if you’ve tried it yet, but

    If I may suggest an improvement, try replacing the ModulePrefs section with this:

    Then, right after this line:

    Add this line:


    Then, instead of creating a scrollbar in iGoogle (and apparently not scrolling at all in the Atlassian dashboard… I guess I should file a bug!) the whole gadget will expand to show the contents that have loaded.

    I’ve taken the liberty of adding these modifications and saving the changed version to

    See it here πŸ™‚

  2. Ouch, WordPress ate my XML!

    Let’s try that again.


    <ModulePrefs title="Expanding RSS Feed"
    description="An experimental gadget using the OpenSocial specs. No guarantees — I'm just playing around. Gadget takes a tag and displays a feed from Uses a third-party server to parse the feed."
    author="Sarah Maddox"
    <Require feature="dynamic-height"/>

    After this ilne:

    <script src="; type="text/javascript"></script>

    Add this line:


  3. Awesome, thanks Tim. I’ve added your updates to my gadget, so that it now auto-adjusts the gadget window to the correct height. Luverly stuff πŸ™‚

  4. Thanks for this gadget! Having it on my iGoogle page makes it really quick to see if there are any posts I’m interested in without having to subscribe to lots of blogs. Very cool!

  5. Hallo Jenny
    Awesome! It’s great to hear that you’re using my gadget. Thanks for dropping the comment πŸ™‚

  6. Nice one Sarah! And you’ve written the User Guide already! πŸ˜‰

  1. Pingback: Another Atlassian FedEx Day and a Confluence gadget on the way « ffeathers — a technical writer’s blog

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