Widget Goes Arlington: Paper Adopts Hot New Web Tool

By: Seth Sutel, The Associated Press

USA Today is plunging into a hot new Internet technology, offering its online users the ability to install “widgets” on their blogs and personal Web pages that contain news updates and other information from the newspaper.

Widgets are a Web accessory that people are using in rapidly growing numbers to jazz up their home pages, blogs and profiles on social networking platforms like Facebook or MySpace. Users of Microsoft Corp.’s new Vista operating system can also put widgets on the desktop of their computers.

Big Internet companies like Yahoo Inc. offer large varieties of widgets– Google Inc. calls them gadgets — that give snapshots of local weather, games and sports results or display pictures, for example. A startup called Slide Inc., a major provider of widgets, last month began offering the ability to place ads on them.

Kinsey Wilson, executive editor of USA Today, said in an interview Wednesday that the newspaper began offering three kinds of widgets this week at http://www.widgets.usatoday.com and has plans to offer four more.

They’re all aimed at making money through advertising offered on them, though no advertisers have signed up so far, USA Today spokeswoman Alex Nicholson said. USA Today’s widgets are compatible with many blogging platforms and social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, Typepad and Google Inc.’s iGoogle.

USA Today’s first three widgets are all related to travel. The ones to be offered in coming weeks will have news on pop culture, top headlines and celebrities and informational graphics like those that run on the paper’s front page.

USA Today is the largest newspaper in the country and is owned by Gannett Co., the biggest U.S. newspaper publisher.

J.B. Holston, CEO of the Denver-based company NewsGator Technologies Inc., which is licensing widget technology to USA Today, said his company also has created widgets for The Miami Herald, owned by McClatchy Co., and the San Jose Mercury News, owned by MediaNews Group Inc.

But Holston said USA Today was the first national newspaper to offer a widget that can be detached from a Web page and inserted onto a personalized page, and it was the first to use widgets that employ Flash, technology that allows users to see animation and other advanced effects.

In March, The New York Times started offering users of iGoogle a widget that displays a weekly crossword puzzle. It also offers widgets on its customizable home page, http://my.nytimes.com, which went live two weeks ago, and plans to announce a news quiz widget for Facebook, among others in the works.

The Wall Street Journal, whose parent company Dow Jones & Co. is being acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is also developing several kinds of widgets that users can use to bring news from the Journal as well as other Dow Jones properties including Barron’s and MarketWatch.com into blogs and profile pages on social networks.

Newspapers are increasingly looking for new ways to engage readers online as more people fire up their computers to get the information, news, classified advertising and entertainment that are the mainstays of the newspaper business.

By breaking up pieces of USA Today’s daily output and allowing users to pick and choose how and when they access them, the newspaper is making it possible for Web users to consume only certain parts of it, and not necessarily on the newspaper’s own site and without buying a printed copy of the newspaper.

Many newspapers and other online publishers have already embraced another form of online distribution called RSS feeds, which people can use to see updated headlines in places like a MyYahoo page from Yahoo Inc. But those feeds are largely text-only and more difficult to sell advertising around.

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