widgetization of the web


2006-7-11

Richard and Paolo are talking about the "widgetization" of the web. The inclusion of webservices (bits of useful content, links, info etc) in other pages is a very compelling concept. We have been seeing this traditionally with things like Google's AdSense and Amzon banners and boxes. But the concept is now being taken far further with more useful widgets all the time.

This 'inclusion' of content into other pages has some very interesting technical challenges. Most notably the dificultly of controling the styling/layout/appearance of these widgets in context of the embedding page. In the traditional approach you mostly see the use of IFRAMEs to have proper encapsulation. That might not be directly apparent, but Google's and Amazon's SCRIPT inclusions usually producte their own little IFRAMES on the fly. In that way they get their very own little HTML document, and have full controll over appearance.

Now what if you want to go the standrad compliant pure CSS route? You get into quiete a lot of trouble very quickly. For one, you have zero controll over the enclosing document. Any CSS definitions meant for that document can and will influence the appearance of your widget! And it also cuts the other way around: CSS definitions defined for the widget might very well influence the enclosing document if you are not very careful...

and there is also the aspect of JavaScript functionality. A widget that is fully embedded into an enclosing document has full access to the DOM of that doc. The enclosing documents JS has the same full access to the DOM and functions that have been included for the widget. With the IFRAME approach, we have automatic sandboxing. As document and widget will most likely come from different domains (servers), the security boundaries built into browsers limit access in both ways. Accessing the enclosing documents DOM (or the other way around) would be cross-site scripting, and that is limited (mostly).

So there are some of my thoughts from a technical view. And like Marc I know all this is totally NOT new. I still remember the workarounds and tricks we employed to include dxnamically generated news into the statically served Consors.de homepage. We neeeded to nest ILAYER (remember those?) tags into IFRAME tags to make it work in IE and Netscape 4 (which couldn't do IFRAME). Been there, done that :)

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