From the pages of the Guardian. I’m having second thoughts about Snap now…

Is Snap Preview the most hated Web 2.0 function ever?
Charles Arthur
Thursday February 22, 2007

We certainly haven’t seen anything to match the outpourings of bile that have followed the wannabe search engine’s little page previews, which appear on a number of sites and elsewhere.The Snap Preview Anywhere technology (also available as a Firefox plugin!) means that if you hover your mouse over a link, you’ll see a little popup window showing the site being linked to, attached to the place where your mouse is. The first time, you think, “Cool!” The second time, you think, “Oh, that.” The third time, most people think, “How the hell do I turn this thing off?” (Clue: click on the little “Options” text in the popup box and choose “Disable for ALL sites.” Add “Damn you!” if you like.)

Part of the revulsion over Snap Preview is in that dangerous word “popup”: it’s too like an unwanted ad. Plus, who needs to know what the site you might go to looks like? The preview’s too small to tell you anything useful, but often obscures text on the page you’re still on.Snap has been doing its best to fight off a veritable blog blizzard of disapproval: “Since launch some 700,000 websites and blogs have signed up for the service and some 180m previews have been served,” wrote Erik Wingren, its senior researcher, on its blog ( “The Snap Preview Anywhere service was designed to help users make more informed decisions about what links to click on and thereby help them navigate the internet with greater speed and accuracy.” We still can’t see it, to be honest. Isn’t that what the URL tells you? Meanwhile, Snap’s principal ambition – as a new search engine – may be fatally wounded. We’ll wait and see … without pop-ups.

  • Erik Wingren
    Posted at 12:30h, 23 February


    Tech pundits such as Charles Arthur of the Guardian, who critique SPA on the basis of usefulness, either fail to think outside of their personal frame of reference or they are essentially expressing a lack of interest in the less tech savvy.

    Snap Preview Anywhere has never claimed to provide *all* the information needed, but rather to provide richer-than-what-is-currently-available cues to what lies ahead.

    As a publisher you have a responsibility to your audience. If I was to attempt boiling down the science of audience research I would say this comes down to a combination of knowing who they are, what they want and what they need.

    Ask yourself the following questions:
    – 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)?
    – Are you *not* interested in attracting and retaining readers that doesn’t fit this narrow user profile?
    – Are your hyperlinks blue and underlined?
    – Do you consistently follow “proper” markup protocol, defining the target and title of the link within the opening and closing of the anchor tag?

    If so, your audience is likely to find the usefulness of SPA marginal. If so, your audience is trained to pick up on the subtle cues already provided by the browser framework — the browser status bar and anchor link title attribute provide these users with most of what they need to determine where links are pointing — and the cost of occasional erroneous clicks are often mitigated through the use of advanced browser functionality such as tabbed browsing…

    However, if the user profile or markup principles described above are too narrow for your taste or ambition, I believe that by implementing Snap Preview Anywhere you would in fact offer ALL your readers MORE information to base their decision on which links to click or not to click, REDUCING the number of unwanted outbound clicks mid-read and, in effect, IMPROVE their ability to focus on YOUR content, or the content you link to that they TRULY wanted to visit.

    For a more in-depth discussion of SPA — both its strengths and weaknesses — you might also visit our blog post The Snap Preview Anywhere Use Case.


    Erik Wingren
    Snap UX Research

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 12:39h, 23 February

    Thanks for your comment Erik—you actually make some good points. I installed Snap on my site after very much liking it elsewhere, and may just stick with my gut instinct on this one after all.

    And when I get around to adding the “disable snap” button option to my site template, in the interests of usability/choice, I really can’t see what anyone could complain about.

    Personally I care more for an educated user than the“clicking masses,” but having said that an educated user will surely know how to disable snap if if that is their preference.

    I guess I’ll soon find out if that is not the case.

  • snapsucks
    Posted at 00:57h, 24 February

    look at the snap astroturfer above.

    another godawful one is Intellitxt , which again does a popup when you mouse hover over a link


  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 19:50h, 24 February

    Thanks for the comment snapsucks, I think. Assuming it probably wasn’t personal abuse, I went ahead and looked up“astroturfer:”

    While not normally being one to enter into arguments over particulars, it seems that Snap’s comments here don’t quite qualify as“astroturfing,” as they have been up front about owning the opinion, revealing themselves as the actual author as opposed to falsely engineering grassroots support via proxy. Rather than astroturfing, it seems they are arguing their own case at the grassroots, one site at a time.

    I was concerned at first that I would alienate all the visitors like snapsucks currently speeding towards my site, but am now more than prepared to be a contrarian—until genuinely convinced otherwise. I’m not a fan of forming opinions through sheer weight of numbers or yelling voices, or (now) through the pages of the Guardian, and while you could argue that it smacks of sensitivity, desperation or both, I admire Snap for descending into the volatile, mostly arbitrary world of online opinion to argue their case, one site at a time.

  • Richard
    Posted at 20:34h, 24 February

    Ursi used snap preview for several weeks. On his blog he then had a poll 75% of people voted to get rid of it so he did. Nice blog by the way.

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 20:43h, 24 February

    Thanks Richard.

    The score is currently 3-2 in favour of Snap.

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 09:37h, 25 February

    Score update: 3-3. Although I could count Erik, which would tip the balance in favour of Snap.

  • Charles Arthur
    Posted at 01:35h, 27 February

    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.

    “- 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?

    – 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.

    – 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.

    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.

  • domestika
    Posted at 09:34h, 02 March

    I can’t resist adding a vote on this topic, John, though I’m not sure a brand-new reader has the right to weigh in! Just wanted to mention that I’m not at all a Snap fan, because I am doomed to limp along on a dial-up connection. Any tiny thing that slows down a page load is enought to send the dial-up surfer off to read some streamlined alternative… er, your blog excepted, of course!
    😉 Jen

  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 10:07h, 02 March

    Thanks for the vote Jen, and you make a good point—few users“massively connected” think of what it is like to navigate the internet on dial-up, yet the latest stats say that 50% of Americans still do, not to mention prolific blog authors living in drafty old farm houses in Maritime Canada!

    Although I am still a fan of Mr Snap (somewhat selfishly?), I do hope that you have disabled it on your browser—a simple process of clicking on “Options & Disable” when it pops up. And I will keep my ears open to my readership—enough thumbs turned down and I will be forced to act.

    Incidentally, that’s a nice blog you are running—although what would I know about domesticity or fashion?—and I am grateful for your tips about writing and writer’s networks, with an only few-weeks-old blogging habit of my own.

    To touch upon the topic of serendipity, which has recently made an appearance on these pages, I once also lived in a drafty farmhouse in Eastern Canada, an experience I didn’t enjoy particularly at the time, but which has certainly provided me with a wealth of material for for future writing. Here is just one story: Cooking lessons.

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