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MAKE THE WEB WORK FOR YOU

The Internet is big. Make it smaller with gizmos that seek out the stuff you want and deliver it to you. The Internet is a big place. You can make it smaller with gizmos that seek out the stuff you want and deliver it right to you. Here's a look at thre

Widgets are little programs, but they differ from mainstream applications in that they are, for the most part, a one-trick-pony. For example, a widget might let you see the weather in any city. Another will let you translate a typed-in phrase from one language to another. One might do currency conversions. Other widgets help you track a flight, calculate postage, track a stock's performance or look up when a TV show is airing.

HOW DO THEY WORK? There are subtle differences between the platforms on how widgets actually function. For example, within a Mac's Dashboard, they operate within their own "layer" and float above the desktop. The screen dims slightly as well so you can better see how they float above everything. When you are finished, clicking anywhere on the screen other than on a widget causes that layer to vanish and the screen brightens so that you know you are back on your desktop. In Windows, widgets operate on the same desktop as do the rest of the applications. You can elect to have them float above everything, or visually sink down into the desktop to distinguish them from normal applications. Web widgets require the use of a Web browser and run within the browser's window. They usually can be dragged anywhere within the browser window independently from what is being displayed.

WHERE DO YOU FIND THEM? Finding widgets is fairly easy but usually these locations are platform specific. Apple widgets found on the Apple Web site (www.apple.com) are strictly for Dashboard. Microsoft's Web site (www.microsoft.com) widgets offerings are for Windows only. Or you can go to Widgipedia.com, a platform-independent Web site that offers thousands of widgets for all platforms and types. There you will find widget forums, widget tutorials, widget galleries, widget discussions, you name it. If it has anything to do with widgets, you'll find it on Widgipedia.

REALLY SIMPLE SYNDICATION

Setting up RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds will save time and make your Web surfing more efficient by delivering handpicked news, blog posts and items to one place.

CHOOSE AND SIGN UP FOR AN RSS READER. Think of an RSS reader or newsreader as an online inbox for the Web content you want delivered to you. There are dozens of free readers offered by sites including Google, Yahoo and AOL. NewsGator, netvibes and Bloglines are other popular readers.

DECIDE WHICH FEEDS YOU WANT. Make a list of all the sites you visit often. These may include blogs, news about sports teams or companies or even coupons and sales from your favorite stores. Your newsreader probably offers a list of the most popular feeds or of feeds grouped by interest.

START ADDING FEEDS. Go to each Web page on your list and look for the symbol on the right or the words "RSS," XML," or "Syndicate." Click on that button. If you are using one of the most popular newsreaders, you'll usually see a button or widget. Click on it and the feed will be automatically added to your newsreader. If you don't see one of those widgets, it's a little more complicated. If you are taken to a Web page that has a bunch of HTML coding you can't understand, copy the URL from the page. Go back into your newsreader, click on "add feed" and paste the URL into the empty box.

BE SELECTIVE IN ADDING FEEDS. Most Web pages - especially newspapers or other news sites - offer dozens of RSS feeds. It wouldn't be practical to subscribe to all of them.

VISIT YOUR NEWSREADER THROUGHOUT THE DAY, AND ADD AND REMOVE FEEDS AS NEEDED. Once your newsreader is set up, it will automatically display the newest posts and articles from the sites you subscribe to. Make sure your newsreader is deleting posts after you have read them.

TAGGING

"The real goal of tags is to allow people to find what they are looking for quickly," said Jeff Block, vice president of community development for Capable Networks. "The user categorizing the content."

WHAT DO THEY DO? For example, after creating an account on a site like Flickr.com, you can upload photos to the site and then label the photos in a way that makes sense to you. Labeling a photo of Tower Bridge as "London" allows anyone using Flickr's search function to find your photo and other photos that are similarly named. At Technorati.com, a site that compiles blog posts and other content, tags help Web surfers, at a glance, see popular topics. If you click on a Sopranos tag at Technorati, for example, you will be directed to blog posts, video clips and other bits of content that have flooded the Web in the wake of the controversial ending to the long-running HBO series. At Amazon.com, tags were introduced in 2005 as a way for shoppers to find products as well as remember and retrieve items they found earlier while browsing.

USE THEM TO SEE WHAT'S POPULAR. In a listing of tags, often called a "tag cloud," the type size of the tag reflects its popularity. Hence, the size of a Sopranos tag is bigger than the type for "Britney," a reference to the pop star, who has managed to stay off the gossip pages for a few weeks.

USE THEM TO GET SOCIAL. Tagging not only lets consumers organize the vastness of the Internet in a way that makes sense to them, but also "allows social groups to form around similarities of interests and points of view," says David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard University's Berman Center for Internet & Society. "If you're using the same tags as I do, we probably share some deep commonalities."

ADVERTISERS USE THEM TO GET TO YOU. If you click on the tags "music" or "iPhone" at Technorati, an ad for Microsoft's Zune digital music player appears next to the content links. If you click on a Sopranos tag, an ad for Verizon's Internet service emerges.

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