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Are Web Page Link Previews Here to Stay?

According to Read/Write Web’s article, “Browster is Gone, But Are Web Previews Here to Stay”, the first company to produce programming to preview web pages is now gone, but there are many others battling for popularity on the web.

I recently made my opinion very clear that I find Snap Preview Anywhere exceptionally annoying on web pages. After explaining why I find it frustrating when encountered, I also gave some thought as to the value of such a gimmick. Read/Write Web explained it beautifully:

The basic idea behind previews is simple: they save you a click. Instead of clicking on a link to see the content, you can get a preview of the page using a gesture – typically a mouseover. Assuming you can decide if the page is interesting or not based on the preview, you can save a click and more importantly the page load.

The presumption is that a thumbnail will give you enough information to know if the site is worth visiting. My point was pretty is not proof of content.

So the best use of such gimmicks is for showcase, portfolio or graphic sites which review website designs, WordPress Themes, or similar graphic subject matter. In that specific case use, the thumbnail glimpse of the web page will definitely influence our decision to click.

The article goes on to describe the other options available for previewing web pages through link hovers such as:

  • Netflix uses a text popup with a synopsis when you hover over the movie link. That’s useful.
  • The Firefox extension Cooliris pops up a little blue square when the mouse hovers over and the user must then move their mouse over the square to see the popup preview content. The preview is almost the size of the actual page, which allows you to read the content not just see a small thumbnail. This does, however, cover most of your screen (for small screens), but you make a choice to do so.
  • Sphere doesn’t preview specific pages but search engine results from its own blog search engine. The preview screen lists who is blogging about this topic (I assume those are incoming links or similar keyword search results), related topics from the site you are viewing, and recommendations on related blogs “worth reading”.

Read/Write Web believes that previews are a good idea “if used right”, but I still contend that anything that gets in the way between a reader and the content is trouble. The Cooliris Preview Firefox Extension is one you install by your own choice and it doesn’t interfere with the page until your command. The one on Netflix makes sense as it is providing information that is readable, and I probably want to know what the movie is about. Still, I like the idea of not having the preview imposed upon me and allow me to control its actions.

WordPress.com blogs now feature Snap Preview on their blogs by default. You can turn it off from within your Presentation > Extras panel. And I’ve heard from a lot of people that they are visiting the Snap site to register to have it turned off for them for good, which also makes me very wary and suspicious. What are they going to do with all that traffic and registration information? Hmmm?

Remember, these companies are out to make money on their products. We may install them for free because they are neat gimmicks, but they want the loot. The cost to losing or frustrating our audience with these gimmicks might be too high. If you use them “right” on your site, then they have value, but these are not for everyone.

What do you think?

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network

20 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2007 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    You know, I’ve been thinking about this as well, and I’ve realized that there are better ways to give your readers info about a link other than using a popup. I’m going to flesh my ideas out a bit and put them up on my blog in a day or two.

  2. Posted January 18, 2007 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    It’s funny, I ranted about these on my blog the other day. I can’t stand them and generally encourage others not to use them.

    //Engtech provided a great little link for the Snap Previews that puts a preference cookie down and will stop the snap preview appearing at all:

    http://real.snap.com/about/spa_faq.php?disable_spa=1

    Of course, you can also do this by hovering over a snap enabled link and press options in the preview popup.

  3. Posted January 18, 2007 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I find them incredibly annoying. So much so that I don’t even want to hover on any external links on the post anymore for the fear that it’ll pop up.

  4. Catana
    Posted January 18, 2007 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I have it disabled on my blog. Like Edrei, I now avoid links on other WP blogs, and on some non-WP blogs that use something similar, mostly for commercial links. The fad for mouse-over popups is getting out of hand.

  5. Posted January 18, 2007 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I agree, I tried the whole preview thing and found it very annoying. It just brings too much clutter to the screen.

  6. Posted January 18, 2007 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Good god I hope not. They’re useless and obnoxious. I can’t believe some of the sites that are allowing their use.

  7. Posted January 18, 2007 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    One significant problem with the snappie is that it completely obscures the very thing I’m trying to read, while it fetches the new webpage. This may not be a problem for those on high-speed broad-band or who read very, very slowly.

    I hover over links to see the URL (where do they lead, domain and rough quality of website, etc.) and if I want to view them. The previews don’t allow this very simple and quick tool.

  8. Posted January 18, 2007 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info. The amount of the screen covered by triggering Cooliris is dependent upon your screen size and resolution. On my testing, it covered most of the screen. Larger screens, less coverage.

    Still, it’s a neat idea and best because the user controls the preview and it isn’t forced upon them like Snap and other web page previews.

  9. Posted January 18, 2007 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Snap is just plain useless. What sort of information am I supposed to gather from a 2″ square box of a shrunken webpage?

  10. Posted January 18, 2007 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Hey,

    A friend of mine suggested a intermediate solution for the “Snap Problem”, which I thought was interesting (you can find it here: http://www.webstudio.cl/blog/previsualizacion-de-vinculos/ – in spanish). One could code snap in a way that some links have a little square next to them. So if one wants a preview of the page, one can (as with coliris) “ask” for the preview, instead of getting it just by hovering over the link with the mouse.

    Cheers.

  11. Posted January 18, 2007 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    What is entirely more useful is if the person who posted the link put a description of it in the field so that when you hover you get their comment on the link. :)

    What would be a little bit useful is a preview widget that got the title of the page when you hovered. The screenshots are useless though.

  12. Posted January 18, 2007 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for blogging on previews and mentioning Cooliris.

    Cooliris previews does not occupy the entire page. Instead, Cooliris opens a preview window that is large enough so that you can see the actual content, but small enough so that it does not cover up the hyperlinks on your original page, i.e. Google search result page.

    Cooliris allows web surfers to quickly run through search engine results, Ebay, Craigslist, webmail (such as Yahoo!, sorry no gmail yet), discussion forums, etc. It’s a free add-on for the browser (client-side), rather than server-side.

    Thanks, again.
    Alec & Cooliris Team

  13. Posted January 18, 2007 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    My name is Erik Wingren and I head up User Experience Research for Snap.com — the company behind the Snap Preview Anywhere service.

    I need to clarify one thing: There is no need what so ever to visit Snap.com and register in order to disable the previews from appearing.

    The opt-out control used to live on the FAQ-page on the Snap.com web site but registration has never been required. As of last week, prior to the full WordPress.com roll-out and in response to feedback from bloggers all over the web, the opt-out control was moved inside the preview bubble.

    End-users that want it gone can simply click “Options” in the upper-right corner of the preview bubble and opt-out to prevent the previews from appearing. Going forward, I would be happy to assist you with fact-checking for anything relating to Snap.com or Snap Preview Anywhere.

    Let me assure you that we have no interest in forcing functionality on users or somehow preventing them from opting-out. On the contrary the product design process at Snap.com is very much centered around an active dialogue with user regarding their experience.

    And in line with that, for what it is worth — Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your viewpoints are informing the continued development of this product.

    Cheers.

    Erik WIngren
    Snap UX Research
    erik[@]snap[.]com

  14. Posted January 18, 2007 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for that previous empty comment – my keyboard does weird things.

    Remember, these companies are out to make money on their products. We may install them for free because they are neat gimmicks, but they want the loot. The cost to losing or frustrating our audience with these gimmicks might be too high. If you use them “right” on your site, then they have value, but these are not for everyone.

    How do the companies that provide the so-called ‘gimmicks’ make money? I don’t see ads anywhere. Sometimes I wonder what the point of making something that is free without any ads. I’m not so sure the cute little Paypal Donate buttons go so far (forget open-source projects and blogs here – I mean real useful sites),

  15. Mary Sheridan
    Posted January 18, 2007 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I had not realized that companies are out to make money! How did I miss that? You know, I am now suspecting that those guys running television actually might be giving that away because there are those advertisements during the program.

    Also, thanks for pointing out all the nonsense about pictures. I have been really irritated by those things all over the place. I even wish the manufacturers of products would not put those gimmicks on the boxes. I mean, if Whole Foods thought the cereal was good enough to stock (I totally trust Whole Foods) why should I need a dumb picture? Now that I am an experienced eater, you see I have been doing that for years, I really don’t need the distraction and I can just read the contents and obviously determine the toasted oats from the bran flakes. Only the most initiated would need such fluff between me and the content.

    Remarkable, insightful, hard hitting!

  16. Posted January 19, 2007 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I agree with many, who have expressed their view towards a blogosphere filled with page previews and other such annoyances.If annoyed to an extent, a potential reader might never return to your blog fearing such disturbances.

  17. Posted January 19, 2007 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Erik, I hate to tell you this, but once I’ve waited the two minutes for the ‘options’ to load on the popup window I still have to go to your site to set the cookie and kill the pointless thumbnails so I can get on with reading the page. This is because the text inside the window inviting me to reload the page isn’t even a link. And if I reload it in my browser, guess what? The pointless little thumbnails are still there!

    I should probably mention I’m on dial-up right now. Oh, whoops, there went your interest in my user experience. Never mind.

    Anyway, I should probably thank you for helping make wordpress.com a tackier place. I don’t suppose you’re willing to disclose what Automattic got from you for making this an opt-out feature rather than an opt-in one?

  18. Posted January 24, 2007 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Not all the money is in advertising on websites. Don’t forget the value that is placed on a Domain Name by bigger companies. Once upon a time there was an auction sute that was completelt free. Now they make billions! Imagine what that domain name is worth.

    As for user experience I have no idea how you actually rate that? What are the requirments to be a novie or an expert when the design of sites, blogs and other technology and life moves so fast. Someone once told me that an ex(spurt) was a drip under pressure (oops sorry about that one).

    I hope I am an experienced user of something!

  19. Posted September 16, 2007 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand your question, which sounds very spammy. Why would I email you because you leave a comment on a blog? I do have a main site. However, this is the site that may be pertinent to your readers, so link to here.

    Am I missing something? Thanks.

  20. Posted May 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Well Google search results have gone this way with a preview popping up if you click on the “magnifying glass”, so I guess that says something and that it is likely to stay.


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