Scripting News for 1/25/2007

See you at the PaidContent mixer tonight. Maybe I’ll get paid for some content? Heh. Of course not. 🙂 

Great to see all the cool people honored by Forbes as the most popular people on the net. Scoble, Arrington, Calacanis, Om — the stars of our corner of the galaxy. I knew them when they were knee-high to a grasshopper. These guys deserve it. Mazel tov. 

Thomas Hawk took some of the pictures, but didn’t get credit at first. He deserves it. See, creative people like to get credit for their work. People act so surprised sometimes. 

I don’t know how you feel about this, but I find the little popup preview windows that are showing up on various blogs to be REALLY ANNOYING. Makes it hard to hover over a link to see where it points. And sometimes it’s pointless, like when the page it links to requires a cookie or a password. You know the web is pretty good just the way it is. And these little widgets ought to give users a way to opt out. Or why not just forget the whole thing. Your favorite curmudgii. Uncle Davey. 

Sometimes the pictures next to bits on Scripting News mean something and sometimes they’re just cool little bits of color to make your mind feel good. In the case of the previous post there’s a bit of hidden meaning in the picture of the boot. See if you can figure it out. It’s good to exercise your mind.  

Jason Calacanis reviews Hype Machine, a service that scans music blogs for MP3 songs and maintains custom RSS feeds with enclosures that you can subscribe to with a podcatcher.  

Ed Cone, Greensboro’s first blogger, on violence involving Palestinian students at Guilford College yesterday, in Greensboro. 


53 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jeremy on January 25, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    Hype Machine is great; it’s hardly news, though — it’s been around since 2005.


  2. Dave, those Snap previews are the worst. You can turn them off, I think. Just hover, then click “Options” in the top right corner of the popup. Etc. etc.


  3. Dave, couldn’t agree with you more about the popups…I call it “page graffitti”. Whoever thought those were a good idea has a screw loose.


  4. Posted by Tom on January 25, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Agreed. Those windows are very annoying and I guess they are a gimmick that won’t be around too long. When I first read about them I thought they sounded a like a good idea. As soon as I cam across a web page that used them I already hated them!


  5. Posted by Jacob Levy on January 25, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    OK I’ll bite. I am on linkedin, can we get linked in, Dave? I never keep up with your email addresses and I refuse to pay the bribe to, so… 🙂


  6. I’m glad to see you turn them off here. Last time I commented, they were popping up on this blog too. My sentiments echo yours.


  7. Posted by Jeremy on January 25, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Hidden meaning behind the boot: Are you stopping this blog?


  8. Add my vote of hate for those Snap previews.


  9. Those pop-ups are annoying like every other kind of pop-up. They just get in the way, you can see perfectly well where a link’s going by looking at the bottom of the window.


  10. I can’t stand those pop-up windows. They really disrupt the flow of the text, imho. You’re reading along, your mouse hovers (sometimes not even intentionally) and then you’ve got this big fat picture in the way!

    I do hope they are just a fad. I’ve stopped reading blogs that use them!


  11. You can disable the Snap Previews. Go to


  12. We agree! Snap is useless and annoying.

    You can disable them in sites by going into the ‘extras’ section and unchecking the box. It’s disappointing that saw fit to force this onto users instead of implementing an opt-in approach.

    Disabling the previews doesn’t work if your browser clears out cookies after every session, which I have mine set to do. So every time I’m browsing a new session I have to check that stupid option when a snap comes up.


  13. There is a thread over at Rafe Colburn’s about

    The User Experience Lead of is participating. Feel free to head over there and unload on them and join me in telling to close up shop and go away. Good riddance to annoying features/functioanlity.


  14. those preview widows from snap are the future. Once the old Grumpy uncles opt out, we can put them everywhere! hah


  15. Hey Dave, did you know that once you are linked in, you cant get out?


  16. I turned off the snap default (all links are popup previews) on my blog a week or so ago, however, I have the ability to use it selectively (there are times when I want people to see a preview of where they are going). How to use it selectively is explained here. I only have one link previewed. I asked people to comment on the feature when I added it. The technical people all hated it. The non-technical people said they liked it. I tend to hate it, in general — but I can appreciate how certain people like it. Those damn users. ; )


  17. also, re: “You know the web is pretty good just the way it is.”

    Uncle Dave, you are sounding a little Uncle Davey. I was meeting with a client recently with several suggestions for RSS-powered and blog-like features for their websites. Their response at first was very Uncle Davey: “The web is pretty good just they way it is,” they said. Unfortunately, their perception of the “way the web is” is stuck in about 1999.


  18. addendum: I should have said “potential” client. All of my current clients are very “today.” : )


  19. Posted by Kent Hockabout on January 26, 2007 at 11:26 am

    very old Bmug
    with nothing to say.


  20. “Disabling the previews doesn’t work if your browser clears out cookies after every session, which I have mine set to do. So every time I’m browsing a new session I have to check that stupid option when a snap comes up.”

    Or you could set as your start page.


  21. I think this is one feature where what the masses want and what geeks prefer diverges pretty heavily.


  22. Wow, I can’t believe enabled Snap previews by default. That’s really annoying and offensive to the sensibility of the Internet. If users like previews, they should add them to their web browser.


  23. “I think this is one feature where what the masses want and what geeks prefer diverges pretty heavily.”

    Matt, can you qualify this statement? Where are the usability tests? Stakeholder interviews? Is there any documentation at all that indicates “the masses” want onMouseOver previews that serve no function other than to break decade-old hyperlink behavior?


  24. Another bit of page graffitti that drives me nuts is ContentLink advertising…the double underlined links on sites like this…
    Hope they’re making enough money to offset the visitor defection. I’m certainly starting to avoid these sites.


  25. I don’t get the fuss:

    of course if you don’t want it on your blog you can uncheck the box in Presentation > Extras to deactivate it.


  26. I don’t like it, but check out the responses to Matt’s post. Incredible, and Matt is 100% correct when he says there’s huge non-geek support dor it.


  27. “Another bit of page graffitti that drives me nuts is ContentLink advertising”

    I use Pit Helmet with Safari. It totally stops that.



  28. PXLated, I hate the double-underline advertising thing too, but I think this is different.

    Cam, we don’t really do stakeholder surveys and such here. We just experiment, listen, iterate, and axe the flops.

    Luckily, our users aren’t shy. Beyond the hundreds of comments in the entries linked above, we get about 3,000 direct feedbacks every month, every one of which we read and most of which we respond to. The response to Snap was pretty overwhelmingly positive, far more than I personally expected.

    I wish I knew the elements of why people are so crazy over it because I’d try to do more riffs on the same theme. In the meantime, I trust my users over my intuitions.


  29. Matt, here’s what I think — the feature is technically interesting, even if it is a little distracting, it looks neat, until it gets in your way. It suggests that there may be something USEFUL one can do with the effect, even though, imho, there is nothing useful about showing a preview of the page that’s being linked to. I could see an array of links to information, where you drag the mouse over links and get some info about whatever it is you’re pointing at. Netflix does something like this with movie reviews. There’s hardly any reason to click on a link, you get the same info by hovering over the link.


  30. Matt…. Good to know that the geeks and the masses divide on this. But even better if you could tell me who wants what? I had Snap and dropped it because it annoyed my sister. Did she vote with the Masses or the Geeks? I also dropped it because it was delaying my click-throughs.


  31. Sorry Matt, I don’t see much difference, they both popup when I’m mousing around and annoy me. And I haven’t been successful in turning it off. But, as someone mentioned somewhere, maybe instead of on a mouse “over” it could be on a ctrl-click or something if some find it more than graffitti.


  32. Matt, when I began noticing the previews popping up on blogs that I read regularly, I backtracked to your Dec 29th and January 13 posts on the blog about the service.

    I have an honest question. On Dec 29th, you wrote that:

    > I tried it out on my personal blog and really liked it, we’ve had
    > a fair number of requests for it, and we think the Snap guys are
    > fun to work with so we thought we’d give it a go here on

    Is that all there was to it? Was there absolutely no exchange of money or any other sort of consideration between Automattic and

    I’m a WordPress user (thanks!) but not a user, so I have no idea how many other plugins, especially ones that change the visitor user experience, you guys have enabled without any sort of notice to the affected bloggers, as you did to the “about 10% ” of users in the Snap preview beta in December and however many of the other WordPress users weren’t aware of the beta or Snap until it popped up on their sites two weeks later. Is making new stuff like this op-out rather than opt-in normal?

    There just seems to be something fishy here.


  33. Our house supports Matt’s comment as we are split between geek moi who hates all the flickering as I mouse across the screen and non-geek wife who thinks it is awesome.

    Suddenly thought of something to test – what happens if you have parental controls turned on in IE? I’m guessing it doesn’t obey them and shows previews of non-rated sites?


  34. Posted by ajcann on January 31, 2007 at 4:53 am

    Snap isn’t the problem. On by default is the problem. As has been said, this is non-typical for WP. Off by default please, allow users to activate it if they want it. What next, you’re going to tell me what widgets I have to have in my sidebar?


  35. I’m a big WordPress fan, trekked from London for Word Camp, and use WordPress almost exclusively with my clients (which include huge multinationals). So I say this as someone who doesn’t want to rag on anything Automattic: Snap is getting in the way of your customers, Matt. As ajcann says, the problem is the default application to all of your customers’ blogs, regardless of their wishes. If Snap is so great and popular, why make it opt-out? My clients are bitching about it to me, and I wasn’t too pleased to see it on my blogs, either.

    The golden rule of this stuff should be always to enable customers (read: users) to do things on their own terms, not on your company’s. I expected better from WordPress.


  36. Posted by Anonymous on January 31, 2007 at 6:17 am

    Is there a study anywhere that shows this is what the masses want?


  37. Posted by billg on January 31, 2007 at 6:27 am


    1. I tried the block outlined earlier in this thread. Not working. Does it know about Safari and WebKit?

    2. I side with the “This is really annoying!” folks.

    3. It’s my browser and I’m supposed to be in control. Go away, please.

    4. Even if I wanted the things, what use is a postage-stamp-size thing with illegible print? I

    5. Browsers have tabs. If I want to “preview” a site, I’ll simply open it in a tab.

    6. If you Snap at me, I won’t come back any more: People will stop visiting sites that use ’em.


  38. I love Snap Previews and have installed this functionality on two of my blogs, and plan to add it to other blogs.

    I see many benefits of Snap Preview. I can hover over links to make sure I typed the URLs correctly, and to quickly test for link rot in my blogroll and other links.

    Users get a glimpse of where the link takes them. I cannot for the life of me understand what all the uproar is about.

    Hypertext link spam is what you ought to attack, those double underlined words that pop up a tool tip that takes you to a commercial site, on words like “business”, “car”, “tool” and etc. That is a whole new type of spam.


  39. It should not be a hover effect, but a click event and users need to know that it’s there. Perhaps a little S icon or or “(Preview)” immediately after the link would work better.

    Bloggers also need more control, too, so they can insert the preview precisely where they want it.

    This BS about people being able to turn it off with a cookie is arrogance. User’s shouldn’t have to do anything but read and enjoy.

    And bloggers who say they like it because it helps them control linkrot, may I remind you that if your blog is centered only around your personal needs and not your users’ needs, you probably won’t have many readers.

    I like the concept of previewing or telling users more about a link, but it can also be done using link titles. It’s just a hassle.


  40. Posted by billg on February 1, 2007 at 6:21 am

    Vespers, people don’t like them because they’re essentially the same thing as pop-up ads. They only get in the way, obscuring the page and irritating the user. Someone will write a Firefox extension to block them.

    If WordPress has so much confidence in these things, they should have made them opt-in. Otherwise, a Snap is just one more serving of spam to be avoided. And that means avoiding sites that use them.


  41. Posted by Joe on February 1, 2007 at 11:48 am

    I would guess that it’s not opt-out on blogs is because there’s money changing hands. Matt should say that instead of just “They’re nice guys!”, because it’s OK if there’s a business deal. No one expects to lose money while providing a free service.

    After the spam keywords fiasco, it might be a good idea to be more transparent. You’re a kid and the adults around you see right through your bull.


  42. i agree with matt… if everybody hated this as much as the blogosphere thinks, the traffic wouldn’t be going thru the roof. perhaps mr. winer is correct it could use some tweaking, but i think there’s no question that a large % of users find this interesting / useful.



  43. Actually, having accidentally clicked on a link while trying to navigate away from one of the intrusive preview screens, I’d predict an upside-down-hockey-stick trend on traffic – a short-term increase followed by a gradual decline.

    Either way, the fact remains: The burden should not be on WordPress customers and other users to opt out of this interruptive ‘feature’.


  44. Dave

    My name is Erik Wingren and I head up UX Research for Snap — the company behind the Snap Preview Anywhere (SPA) service.

    First, I want to express my appreciation to everyone taking the time share their experiences with such detail and articulation. These viewpoints are informing the ongoing development of this product. Have no doubt — Snap is committed to developing functionality that is useful to most and easy to opt-out of to the rest.

    Second, to answer the question: “What’s the intended user benefit of Snap Preview Anywhere?” It’s really simple: to help users make more informed decisions about what links to click on. As a site owner, by offering your readers a glimpse of what you link to you manage their expectations — giving them more information to base their decision on which links to click — and improving their overall experience on your site. A happy user tends to come back.

    I don’t think anyone would argue the relative *relevance* of link-to-preview, but since *usefulness* is a far more subjective measure, highly impacted by the context in which the functionality is used as well as the preferences and skill-level of the individual end-user (some people are simply more “visually oriented” than others, some are trained to look for the subtle cues already part of the browser), this will always be subject to discussion.

    So, assuming that the graphic previews offer less value to the audience of this here thread, I would be very interested in learning: What type of information would help You make more informed decisions about what links to click on?

    Third, we are working double-time on solutions to the usability issues described here and elsewhere. I can’t go into details on everything we are doing but…

    There are actually a few end-user controls that are already available under “Options” in the upper right corner of the preview bubble:

    Opt-out (for site in question or globally).
    Hover Delay (e.g. users who thinks the bubble appears to quickly can increase the delay).

    Later today we are releasing an update to the SPA code that will disable the SPA script while the mouse-wheel is in use. Since users hardly ever use scroll and point at the same time this enhancement should eliminate a large number of the “accidental triggering” instances.

    Again: Thank you for the feedback so far. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts as this product evolves.

    Best Regards,

    Erik Wingren
    Snap UX Research


  45. Second, to answer the question: “What’s the intended user benefit of Snap Preview Anywhere?” It’s really simple: to help users make more informed decisions about what links to click on.

    I’m at a loss to figure out how getting a thumbnail sized screenshot of a web site is going to help “inform” me as to its contents, since I can’t read the text on the site, which is most of the content.

    Pretty much the only question about a site based on the Snap preview is “does this site prominently feature the goatse guy on its home page”? Which isn’t a question that comes up very often.

    A more useful way to “inform” people would be to provide content summaries, user reviews and similar material. Those would be far more useful/interesting than a screenshot.

    Just my $0.02 (adjusted for inflation)


  46. Posted by Anonymous on February 2, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    It’s potentially useful on a mobile device. I’d like to know whether or not I can be taken directly to the content (“i.e. the title of the content is clearly visible) or if there’s just a bunch of crap like dead widgets, graphics, blogrolls, and ads before I actually hit the content. With such limited real estate, snap would enable me to make informed decisions about what sites to visit on my mobile device (especially when data charges apply).

    On my desktop/web, it’s rather useless. If I’m reading someone’s blog, I probably trust the author enough to follow through on interested links. I honestly don’t see the value of Snap Preview Anywhere. When searching for items it makes sense – I’ll probably recognize a Wikipedia article over a noname website quicker than looking for the wikipedia link.

    Do you have any whitepapers or public studies on the benefits of website previews, especially when the link is not being compared to other links (as is the case for search)? “Visually-oriented” doesn’t really say anything.


  47. Posted by Amber* on February 2, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    What’s the need to be “informed” about clicking a link? It’s like looking at a picture of the next page before turning the page in a book.Why doesn’t use this feature on it’s website links? I’ll tell you why.. it is annoying.


  48. Posted by Sam on February 2, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Maybe I’m remembering things wrong, but was the whole development of hypertext supposed to be powerful precisely because it encouraged jumping around and the discovery that comes with that? I think these jumps have always been assumed to have a minimal response time, otherwise the usefulness to the reader consuming the hypertext is severely compromised.

    With decent site design, it seems like the Snap preview of a page would be significantly quicker to load then simply clicking on the link and moving back if necessary. In practice we don’t always get those “snappy” page load times. Maybe Snap is an effective band-aid over this for certain users, but personally I’d rather see any collective energy we burn on this spent further optimizing “real” page loads, to get closer to the original Ted & Doug style vision for hypertext.


  49. Yes, there are *some* uses for web site previews but the way the previews work right now is pretty much useless and unecessarily foisted on the underserving public. For that, you guys get a big fat zero.

    I will ask again: Where are your usability studies that show the usefulness of your previews? Was any user testing done at all to try and validate your tool? Why won’t you share your results and research?

    If you could justify your functionality with quantifiable or qualifiable data, I think many people, including myself, would understand better where you are coming from and not be pissed off that you are creating a ridiculous annoyance on the web when you did not have to.


  50. I’ll tell you exactly why Snap has gotten such positive response on – because it was at first a feature on only a small percentage of blogs. People felt left out that they didn’t have it. Now that they’ve got it too they feel special. It’s only a matter of time before that feeling wears off for current users, and new users will never have that feeling in the first place, which is a good reason why it should be off by default.


  51. “…I’m at a loss to figure out how getting a thumbnail sized screenshot of a web site is going to help “inform” me as to its contents…”

    Jason: After initially despising Snap previews, I’ve since changed my mind… to an extent. I’d love to see Snap on Digg, for example… just to let me know if I’m about to click through to a newspaper, a blog, or whatever. You can tell a lot about a site from just a thumbnail, something I didn’t full recognize until I started using stuff like the Showcase extension for Firefox.


  52. Rather than giving me a small picture of what the site’s template looks like — I do not judge click-worthiness based on CSS styling — give me a small word frequency cloud* for the page in question so that I can, at a glance, get a snapshot of what is being discussed on that page.

    * = With obviously less meaningful words (the, a, I, am is, he, she…) removed, obviously. In my testing I pass the text through Yahoo’s Term Extraction API in order to pull out relevant terms, for example.


  53. Add my vote of hate for those Snap previews.


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