In the sidebar of your Facebook profile, below information about you and your friends, you can place widgets (a.k.a. “boxes”). These typically pull in information from a third party web service – for example Twitter, a book reviews site, a music application. This is all possible thanks to a development platform which Facebook introduced in 2007, that allows companies to host their apps inside Facebook.

The trouble is, it’s three years later and the user experience of Facebook widgets leaves a lot to be desired. Widgets are hard to find (or don’t even exist), often broken, and if they do work they’re clunky and restrictive.

Take books for example. I’m a member of the Goodreads online community. I add books that I read onto Goodreads, write the odd book review, and check out what others are reading and recommending. A while ago I added the Goodreads widget to my Facebook wall, so that my friends can see what I’m reading at any given time. Yet the widget is often very slow to update and sometimes breaks (see the broken image in the screenshot to your right).

The Issues With Facebook Widgets

The first difficulty is that widgets are typically hard to find and set up. If you go to the Facebook Apps directory, it’s hard to tell which apps have “boxes” – many apps simply publish information to your wall.

To test this, I looked for a widget for a common web service. Last.fm, You Tube, Flickr: all came up with nothing on the widget front. Eventually I found one for Delicious, the social bookmarks service owned by Yahoo. But only after the official Delicious Facebook app page pointed me to an “unofficial” widget called My Delicious. I filled in the required information, clicked submit… and nothing happened. I appeared to have submitted my information correctly and set up a widget, yet it was nowhere to be found!

Now, I’m a fairly savvy Internet user – but this process left me feeling confused and annoyed.

The next issue is that even if by some miracle you successfully create a widget, by default it is hidden away. Many apps can only be put into a user’s “Boxes” tab, which is not the default tab when you visit a user’s Facebook profile. I very rarely click the “Boxes” tab on my friends pages – do you?

Some apps can be moved to your wall, the default page for your Facebook profile page. For example I did this with my Goodreads widget.

The third major issue is that widgets are often slow to update, if they update at all. My Goodreads widget often takes hours to update, but my music one sometimes doesn’t update at all.

Why Can’t Facebook Users Have Decent Widgets?

The beauty of the current Web is that you can use different services and have the data flow through Facebook; and any other social network, such as Twitter or MySpace. This actually works quite well for individual items posted to a user’s Facebook wall. Here for example is my review of Inception, written in GetGlue (a service where you can ‘like’ movies, books, music and a lot more) and posted to my Facebook wall:

This review was available on my wall only for a day or two, before it got pushed off the wall by newer content. Which is a shame, because this type of content could easily be more persistent on our Facebook profiles – via widgets.

Wouldn’t it be neat to have a Goodreads widget showing all my latest books, a GetGlue widget with my latest movie reviews, and so on. At least, that’s what I want on my Facebook profile and I think I’m a typical media consumer.

The sad fact is, though, that currently Facebook widgets either don’t exist (GetGlue does not have a Facebook widget), or if they do exist they’re hard to find and confusing to set up (My Delicious) and/or clunky and prone to breakage (e.g. Goodreads).

Do you agree that Facebook widgets have been a big let-down?