Bells and Whistles On Your Blog – A Good Idea?

Filed as News on December 30, 2006 1:50 pm

Matt Mullenweg recently announced over at WordPress.com that the service will be integrating the Snap Preview Anywhere plugin on some of its sites.

On a limited number of blogs, about 10% we’re testing out a plugin that allows you to have Snap Preview Anywhere (SPA for short) enabled on your blog. SPA is a little widget that shows people a preview of the page on the other end of a link when they hover over it for a few seconds.

The Snap Preview is like a tooltip that displays a thumbnail of a linked webpage once you hover your cursor over the link. While some would consider this enhancement to be useful, others see it as an annoyance. I, for one, would rather not have added bells and whistles on my blog in general. I prefer to keep a clean interface–one that’s focused on accessibility and usability (with the limited design skills I have).


Lorelle on WordPress has a pretty interesting discussion about this new update.

Think this gimmick through, folks. Do you really need this bell and whistle on your blog? It’s a nice gimmick, but if you have given people enough information about the link you are offering, isn’t that enough? Do they really need to see a tiny thumbnail view of the page they might visit? You can’t read the text, so what will a little picture tell you? It’s a pretty site, so make sure and visit it? Some of the most valuable sites I’ve found on the web are not pretty.

Lorelle takes the perspective of accessibility, citing that such visual enhancements can be restrictive and even prohibitive to readers who use special software or alternative means to browse the Web.

For web users who are visually impaired or physically challenged, the Snap Preview feature interferes with their viewing process. I have visually impaired friends who simply enlarge the font size to the equivalent of 72 points in order to read each letter of a word with their narrow vision, and when the link preview pops up, they don’t know what they are looking at because they cannot see the edges. They think they are looking at a picture on the site.

I heard from another friend who is wheelchair bound with limited arm and hand motion. His frustration came from having to push the mouse around to avoid the link pop-up windows, often pushing the mouse beyond his limited reach in order to read the content.

While it can be argued that most users are perfectly capable of reading through normal type, or moving their cursors around, it still remains an ease-of-use issue. Having to go through extra mouse or keyboard gestures that are otherwise avoidable can be quite unproductive. Having images popping about unexpectedly can be distracting.

However, some users find value with the Snap Preview feature, such as one commenter on Lorelle’s blog.

With Snap Preview I was able to pre-check the link and could make my OWN informed (ok, “better informed”) decision to go or not to go to the site. Let me give an example. Your post contains around 20 links. Some of them look very promising. But I have not the time to click on every link to see what is behind what could be of interest for me. Actually the only way to get more information on what is behind this link is to check the presented URL at the bottom of the browser.

I guess this relates to a thought about the concept simplicity I previously wrote about, particularly in terms of designing software or–yes–even blogs. You can choose to define simplicity as being bare, devoid of any complex features or functionality. Or you can choose to define simplicity as being powerful and feature-laden, but with a straightforward interface that a user won’t have to fumble through.

Installing bells and whistles on your blog might be tempting, especially if these are cool, new plugins that seem to make use of hot, new technologies like dynamic content, live-search, social-this, social-that, and the like (buzzwords, anyone?). Before I install any add-on, however, I think hard whether that particular plugin would add value in terms of helping my users find information on my blog, or whether it would only serve as a distraction (or worse, serve no useful function at all).

I consider a blog to be powerful if it has great, informative content that users can easily access and search through. If a blog’s interface is too much of an annoyance (slow, unreadable, or plain ugly), it’s sometimes easier to just close that browser tab or window.

Bells and whistles anyone?

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  1. By franky posted on December 30, 2006 at 2:52 pm
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    I have used Snap for some days on my blog, but then I removed it again. If you adhere to validity and accessibility, you will specify the attribute title=, which if correctly used should inform the reader enough to decide if she/he wants to visit that site.

  2. By Lorelle posted on December 30, 2006 at 8:41 pm
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    I’ve found only one good reason for using Snap Preview from the commenters on my article: If you have a site which features WordPress Themes, web designs, or other graphic and portfolio links, this makes sense. It gives people a preview of the graphic visual at the link’s destination.

    However, anyone who says that a visual image of the web page at the link’s site will help them make “an informed decision” on whether or not they should visit the site is a person who makes snap judgments based upon looks not content. A preview of the page will not tell you if the page has the information you want or need. I’ve found great information on ugly pages and ugly information on beautiful pages.

    If the Snap Preview had a score card system to judge the quality of the content, then it would be something worth exploring. However, the way social bookmarking and networking works today, too many are experts at gaming such score cards. So how could I trust that information, either.

    Another issue being overlooked a bit here is that Snap Preview is forced upon you. To not “see” it anywhere, you have to visit their site and opt-out. That’s a nice option, but why should we bother. If the sites warned us they were using this, and gave us an option to see it or not, then that might work, but still, there are better ways to waste bandwidth, don’t you think? ;-)

    I believe something better will come of the Snap Preview technology as it is a great gimmick, but covering our content isn’t the right use of this novel tool.

  3. By Ron Knee posted on January 1, 2007 at 8:13 am
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    I dug up one site last week with one of these “snap” widgets. Every ruddy little thing I drifted my cursor over brought up a sodding box which obscured what I was reading, even when in desperation I went for the “next blog” button. Aaaaargh!

  4. By Markku Seguerra posted on January 2, 2007 at 6:49 am
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    SPA can really be an annoyance if overdone. Having it available for wordpress.com users is good, because you are providing your users a choice, though I hope they have common sense to know if they really need it or not.