Blogvio: Beautiful Customizable Widget Creation

Speak to any progressively-minded and well-educated web designer or developer, and you’ll soon realize that you are conversing with a master craftsman. Like any professional who is highly skilled, these shapers of pixels and writers of code take pride in the jobs they do, and they work to the highest possible standard. This requires, among other practices, the use of clean, semantic code — one less media query here, and one less repeated CSS rule there adds up to a noticeably faster website.

That is all highly commendable if you know what you’re doing (or if you can afford to employ someone who is suitably knowledgeable). But what about when David, the hotelier, wants to add a promo video to his website, or when Rachel, the musician, wants to include her recordings in her web presence? These folks may have basic web-building skills, but they certainly aren’t capable of writing functional micro web-apps. The solution? Embeddable widgets.

Unfortunately, widgets haven’t always been terribly adjustable, good-looking or quick to load, and finding one to suit your exact needs has always been a painful search. A new service named Blogvio, fresh out of private beta, aims to address these issues with a library of stylish, customizable widgets. But can any paste-in code really provide a satisfying addition to your website?

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Getting Started

Gaining access to Blogvio’s library is a satisfyingly smooth process. After creating an account, you just need to enter your website’s domain, and then you’re ready to get started.

All accounts are free at present, and can be used to create an unlimited number of widgets. A couple of restrictions are in place, though; your allowance includes a generous 50,000 views per day on your widgets, and each account can place widgets on up to three websites. In time, upgrades will be available for the webmasters of bigger sites or networks, but for now, the above limitations apply to everyone.

Once inside, you’ll find a collection of eight widgets. No, not an overwhelming choice. But Blogvio is a very new product (it only came out of private beta testing last week) and, to be honest, the modification options with which each widget is equipped make this relatively small selection of widgets less restricting than you might think.

Creation

The best way for me to describe and evaluate Blogvio’s wares is to take you on a start-to-finish walkthrough of the widget editing process — so that’s what I’ll do.

With all of Blogvio’s widgets, you start by creating a new “composition” – in other words, a new version of a stock widget (so, Github users, what we have here is a fork). From this point you can give your new custom widget a name, adjust its dimensions, and then start freestyling.

Blogvio offers a remarkable number of adjustments.

Blogvio offers a remarkable number of adjustments.

Blogvio puts great emphasis on design, which makes a change from the market standard of one-style-fits-all widgets. Several presets are on offer for each widget, but should you want to get stuck in to manual adjustment, there is a startling amount of detail and depth in this selection of adjustments; colours, fonts, element sizes and animation speeds are all modifiable in numerous ways.

Once the aesthetics have been dealt with, you can start adding content to your widget. Direct uploads aren’t accepted (no doubt in order to keep Blogvio’s server load to a minimum), but you can import files from Dropbox, Facebook, or any other direct media link. The range of file types which Blogvio is happy to work with is limited – videos must be in MP4 format, for example – but the good news is that it does deal with files swiftly. The arrangement of files, when more than one is being used in a widget, is also easily completed thanks to drag-and-drop controls.

No direct uploading, but Dropbox, Facebook and direct media links can be used.

No direct uploading, but Dropbox, Facebook and direct media links can be used.

To further aid the process of building a composition, a real-time preview is provided, and you can optionally view the composition studio in full-screen — a nice touch.

The Stock Library

But what about functionality?

Blogvio’s library may only run to eight widgets, but it covers four types of media.

The video widgets are very similar, with the main difference being the shape of the progress bar.

The video widgets are very similar, with the main difference being the shape of the progress bar.

Two video players are on offer: one has a straight-line progress bar at its base, whilst the other indicates progress in a circular fashion. The speed at which animations occur, in both of these widgets, can be adjusted, as can the progress indicators, and pretty much every font and colour too.

No slideshow is on offer, but there are two photo widget's are available.

No slideshow is on offer, but there are two photo widgets available.

There are also two photo widgets available. The interactive before and after widget allows visitors to compare two pictures which document a transformation. The stack gallery allows the presentation of multiple images in a virtual, “messy” pile of photos.

There are two audio widgets as well; one simple, one pretty.

There are two audio widgets as well; one simple, one pretty.

The play/pause toggle widget is the more straightforward of the two audio widgets, simply playing or stopping music with a click. The more exuberant disk-spinning widget does the same job in practical terms, but it simulates a spinning CD, or LP, for some added visual entertainment.

The utilities provide news, and quirky photo stories, respectively.

The two utilities provide news, and quirky photo stories, respectively.

The final two widgets are described as utilities. The first is a rolling news ticker, which serves up headlines from a RSS feed of your choice. The final, somewhat quirky, widget provides a photo conversation — in essence, the sequential displaying of speech bubbles on top of a photo.

Embedding

According to my testing, Blogvio’s offerings work perfectly as long as you choose dimensions which are compatible with your site. I should point out that this flawlessness also extends to mobile devices; Blogvio’s technology of choice is HTML5.

Stats, glorious stats....

Stats, glorious stats….

But Blogvio’s role doesn’t finish once a widget is in place. Wait a day, and you’ll be able to sift through detailed widget analytics from your Blogvio account, ranging from impressions, to engagement, and even the devices with which your widgets have been viewed. Very impressive.

Conclusion

I’ve always tended to steer clear of using widgets in my websites, both because of their detrimental effect on loading speed, and the downright ugliness with which most of them are lumbered. Whilst any embedded content will, to some degree, be hampered by the former affliction, Blogvio certainly doesn’t suffer from the latter. And, it must be said, Blogvio’s widgets are some of the quickest to load that I’ve encountered.

Of course, the current library of stock widgets that Blogvio offers is a little meagre. Also, for the big-time blogger, the present inability to upgrade beyond three websites, or 50,000 views per day, is an irritation.

However, virtually none of us fall into this category, and many of us would like a good-looking video or audio player to add to our websites. Given Blogvio‘s ability to meet the needs of many such website owners, this startup looks destined to become a giant in the world of website add-ons.


Summary

High quality widgets, with a high level of customization. A bigger library is the only improvement needed.

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