The recent controversy over the DiggBar has put the spotlight back on website framing. Though the practice was first popular, and controversial, over ten years ago in the mid-to-late nineties, Digg has put the issue front and center of everyone’s consciousness again.
However, Digg was not the first recent site nor is it the largest site to widely use frames around other people’s sites. It is simply the first to get widespread attention from bloggers and Twitter users alike.
The comeback of framing didn’t start with Digg, but it may be kicked into high gear because of it. Still, it is worth taking a look at some of the other popular sites and services that use frames as part of their function, including more than a few familiar faces.
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About.com is one of the few sites that used frames during the .com boom and both stayed alive through the crash and continued its framing throughout it.
Currently many of the outbound links on the site include a frame at the top. This frame seems to only be present on links that open up in the same window, as opposed to ones that open up in a new tab or browser window. The frame, which is 120 px high, includes a banner ad, a collection of five link ads, an About.com logo, a link to return to the story and a link to close the frame.
There is currently no indication that the site below has no affiliation with About.com or the advertisement.
Facebook is by far and away the largest single site to use framing in a widespread manner. Clicking on any link that takes you off the site will not only open the link up in a new window but affix a small frame, approximately 45 px high, above the page.
The frame includes the image of the person who shared the link, their name, and a preview of the status as well as a button to leave comments, another to share the page yourself, and an “X” to close the frame.
The only use of the Facebook logo on the frame is a small “F” on the share button though, as with most frames, the URL does remain a facebook.com one and the URL’s favicon is still Facebook.
Ow.ly is one of the many different URL shorteners that has become popular on Twitter over the years. Commonly used as part of HootSuite, However, Ow.ly doesn’t simply forward users onto their destination using a redirect, as most URL shorteners do, Ow,ly also puts the page in a 66 px high frame that includes an Ow.ly logo, a share button, a retweet function, a rating system and two links, one URL and one “X”, to close the frame.
Most Twitter users will likely be familiar with the Ow.ly frame as it is a pretty popular URL shortener, in part due to its stats tracking and integration with HootSuite.
StumbleUpon uses a frame to display its stumble bar. The Stumble Bar is a 32 px high iframe that includes a “Stumble” button, with a small SU logo, a search box, a “Like” button, a button to share the page, another to “Like” it, a star rating system, a link to the reviews and a means to close it.
What makes the SU framing less egregious to some is that it works mostly within a closed ecosystem. The only links to SU frames are from within SU (save when you “share” a link using SU). That being said, the frame does remain in place when users click links away from the pages on SU.
SU has been using this system since September and Kevin Rose has acknowledged the similarities between StumbleUpon and the DiggBar.
Krumlr is a URL shortening service that melds social bookmarking with Twitter. However, as part of its service, some of the outgoing URLs are sometimes framed with a 57 px high iframe that has a large Krumlr logo, information about the person who created the URL, a retweet box with username/password login for Twitter, and a small “X” to close the frame.
Yet, this behavior seems to be turned off by default now on its shortened URLs. Plus, it seems to be largely outbound links from the site itself that still contain the iframe. This does mean users will still routinely see the frame when they look at their own and other people’s links.
Digg stirred up a hornet’s nest when it began using its DiggBar. But it is neither the first, largest, or most egregious user of frames. About.com has a much gaudier frame. Facebook is much larger in terms of traffic. And many sites were using frames well before Digg.
Why Digg is the one that stirred up as much controversy is up for debate, but a lot of it seems to be that Webmasters had a good relationship with Digg, even proudly displaying Digg’s buttons, and there is a clear feeling of betrayal that Digg would take this step.
No matter what though, it is clear that the issue of framing is back. And it won’t be going away any time soon. For those of us who have been developing sites for over a decade, it feels like 1996 all over again.