Snapped back? Charles Arthur responds

Snap—a sensitive topic?I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I installed snap.com’s SPA (Snap Preview Anywhere, better known as just“Snap”) plugin just over a week ago. I had seen it elsewhere and thought it cool—perhaps naively—although I do make a living amongst other things as a front-end developer, and should know a little about such things. Thus it was one of the first things I configured after getting my hands dirty in the WordPress control panel. I didn’t expect to be attracting the ire of the international blogging community (a slight exaggeration in my case, but Snap certainly has), and I certainly didn’t expect a reply within the hour from Snap themselves when I reposted an article critical of their technology by Charles Arthur of the Guardian.

Well, one does write in order to be read, so I’m not going to bemoan the fact that people have been reading A Sensitivity to Things—including a certain Charles Arthur, who left a comment and further contribution to the Snap debate a little earlier today. I’ll let the Guardian Technology supplement editor (thanks Google) take it from here:

You can count me as disinterested – I just try to report what people are saying. Snap has come in for a lot of dislike among bloggers of late.

Just to respond to Erik’s points first:
“- Is your audience *exclusively* made up of experienced Internet users that read your blog using browsers that support tabbed browsing (essentially IE7, Firefox, Opera or Safari)?”

Since IE7 is what Microsoft is making available to all XP owners, it would be surprising if your audience didn’t quickly consist of lots of IE7 users. Whether they’ll use tabbed browsing is debatable. But tabbing isn’t the key here. Lots of people read by following a link, and if they don’t like it, there’s the back button. Snap Preview doesn’t tell you enough to inform the decision, I’d suggest.

Sorry Charles—as this is my blog and I make the rules (cue evil laugh), let me jump in here for a moment…

Personally, I hardly ever use the back button (I have memorised the browser keyboard shortcuts as most power users should), and almost always open links in new tabs just to avoid its use. Loading and reloading pages by going back and forth is painfully slow at times—even on today’s broadband connections—and in tab-less Explorer 6 I would suggest it is common to have multiple, un-tabbed windows open simultaneously—the Windows dock works almost the same as tabs anyway.

“- Are you *not* interested in attracting and retaining readers that doesn’t fit this narrow user profile?”

Unpacking this double negative, we get“do you want to have readers beyond those using tabbed browsers?” Of course you do – but do you need what is in effect a pop-up, which educated and uneducated users alike dislike, or are there effective tools already in browsers?

A bit harsh on poor old Snap? Even removing my Snap-besotted, rose-tinted“cool factor” glasses, I would still argue that it isn’t quite a pop-up window; it goes away on mouse-off, and can be easily disabled—as many in this debate have pointed out.

– Are your hyperlinks blue and underlined?

If they’re not, then you’re unlike millions or billions of sites, and you’re breaking a fundamental of usability, and you should change your stylesheet at once so that they are.

Cutting in again, personally I prefer css-defined, marker pen style background-colours on the sites I build these days (see an example here), but yes it seems the underline is here to stay, even when 1px thick and dotted.

– Do you consistently follow“proper” markup protocol, defining the target and title of the link within the opening and closing of the anchor tag?

Most people don’t – but as they become more experienced at writing links, they learn to use descriptive phrases. Until recently, the Google search on“miserable failure” illustrated how.

Most web developers do use link titles, or at least should do if they’re earning their money properly—they’re a part of the W3C usability standards and have been for some time. Same with alt tags, and both are essential for search engine optimisation. It’s a different story of course for your average Web 2.0 enabled CMS or out-of-a-box blog user.

On the same topic, I notice a suspicious lack of link titles on the Guardian Unlimited technology site…

Overall, the case against Snap Preview is that it’s like a pop-up and it tells you little that you couldn’t learn by looking down at the status bar, where on most browsers the“go to” link’s URL will show up. It’s the pop-up part that people find trying.

>> …In the UK the Guardian is not exactly top of the list in the readership polls anyway, but knowing what *is* at the top is not terribly comforting either…

I don’t know what“polls” you’re referring to (there’s no such thing; there are sales, readership, and website visitors/pageviews). The website is the most-read of the UK newspapers.

Betamax was a superior video technology but lost badly in the popularity stakes. Popularity may not be everything when it comes to assessing the merits of a technology, but it is everything in regards to its uptake and success. I will concede the point however, whatever my own opinion, that it is popularity that will determine the success or otherwise of Snap’s high-stakes technology investment.

Thanks for adding to the debate Charles—I appreciate the fact that you took the time. Besides, as a free-lance writer available for hire, I do know which side my bread is buttered (hint).

Postscript: if you haven’t disabled it already, rolling over any of the links in this article will show you where they go—this is Snap in action, the subject the debate. Obviously I still have it installed—my final word on the matter.

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