Irritating Widgets

February 21, 2007

Topics: Blogging, Web Development.

I’m not a big fan of most JavaScript widgets which are added to sites. I have a MyBlogLog account; and I find the statistics to be very interesting. The widgets, on the other hand, I find to be varyingly irritating, obtrusive, and most of all slow.

But there’s one particular widget I’ve seen on many occasions which really drives me nuts: Snap’s “Preview Anywhere”. I really don’t like this. To me, this is information overload. With well-written link text, and good context for a link, I know everything I need to know about a site to judge whether I’m going to go there. Do I need to know what it looks like?

I mean, if I go there, I’ll find out what it looks like soon enough. The suspense isn’t killing me. I’ll admit, there’s the faint possibility that I’ll see the preview and say to myself “Hey! I’ve been to that site before — I’d forgotten how cool it was,” and I’ll follow a link which I would have otherwise ignored.

But it’s a slim possibility.

If my goal for visiting your’s website was to learn more about their links and visit everything they’ve connected to, I’d probably find this widget very useful. However, since my actual goal is usually to read what you have to say, with the possibility that I’ll also check out what you’ve referenced, this Snap widget simply gets in the way.

Lesson to be learned: don’t get in the way of your visitor’s goals. I’ll be honest – there are a number of websites which I find otherwise interesting but rarely visit because of this very widget.

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11 Comments on “Irritating Widgets”

  1. Even more annoying than Snaps Preview is AnswerTips.

    At least Snap Preview has options to turn it off, at least temporarily. With AnswerTips, it seems you’re stuck with the annoying windows.

    I’m on a laptop and quickly click on the scroll bars to move around in text which doesn’t respond to up/down arrows, but stupid AnswerTips thinks I’m double clicking for it!!!

    They should provide a “turn-off” option and fix the ridiculous bug of people who double click elsewhere than on words!

  2. That’s actually not a bad idea. It didn’t work on your site when I checked it, unfortunately — just showed a blank image. But, that could be a problem with the camera, too.

  3. I’ve actually found a very useful way to use SNAP that adds to the user experience in a valuable way. One of my main concerns is about global warming and there are many sites that have webcams set up that take snapshots of sites (such as mountains, lakes, the ocean) to inform people about the weather (for travel, or for other purposes). Instead of going to the site to see what the place looks like right now, the SNAP widget which is linked to the camsite will show you right then and there without having to load a separate page.

    Otherwise, I agree with you that it doesn’t add a lot of other functions if its just another link.

    Check it out here.

  4. I actually rather like the AnswerTips widget – the fact that they are prompted by an active user choice is preferable to me. Although it isn’t very accessible – the functionality isn’t really available to anybody using keyboard navigation or without the capability to double-click. However, considering that it’s added information rather than critical information, this doesn’t really bother me.

    Thanks, Liz!

  5. Hey Joe,

    Since you’re on the topic, here’s the latest webmaster tool from AnswerTips. AnswerTips are small bubbles of information triggered by double-clicking any word on an AnswerTips-enabled page, designed to keep your readers from wandering off your site when encountering unfamiliar words or terms. Unlike Snap, AnswerTips are only summoned when actively double-clicking on any word so they are not automatic.

    If you’d like to offer suggestions, check out the details here: You can reach me at lizc at


  6. There is a new type of tool very similar to SNAP called iReader (I have reviewed it hear).

    Again like SNAP this can either be a useful or a waste of time. It did not work properly for me and to be honest I did not rate it. This is different because instead of the page view, it gives info in a simple list, it has a few more features as well.

  7. It has potential but it lacks imho but its good to see it improving on its ability. There is a similar tool that has come out as well but uses bullets points of info instead of an image, its called iReader (my review will be up tom).

    If they were more light weight they could be good and especially for slow modem users.

    My thoughts of SPA

  8. Hi, Erik! Thanks for your comments. To clarify — I’ve never claimed that the information provided by Snap Preview Anywhere was either complete or incomplete. My issue with it is that, in my opinion, it’s extraneous to my personal browsing experience.

    I entirely agree that, for some visitors, the widget can provide a benefit – added incentive to visit a site or added information to influence their decision. My comments are about my own experience with it as a person browsing the ‘net. And, in that position, I find it personally irritating. It’s an issue of personal taste. This isn’t about whether or not the information is useful.

    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.

    This is absolutely true. And I think there are perfectly fair arguments both for and against the use of the Snap Preview Anywhere tool. You’ve presented the advantages – providing additional highlight of the fact that this block of text leads to another site and providing information about that site. I would argue, however, that the added complexity to the site could create a greater barrier to use for some populations.

    I note, in the Use Case you reference that you’re now making the SPA functionality “opt-in”:

    The Solution: Today, Friday Feb 9th, we released the Snap Preview Anywhere badge, which will allow site owners to install SPA on their site but let the end-users enable (opt-in) the functionality themselves.

    This is great news; and I’m truly glad to hear this. I haven’t followed the progress of the usability issues of SPA and was unaware of these issues. As I’ve said, this blog posts was a personal reaction.

    I certainly appreciate Snap’s efforts, and find the search engine itself to be quite useful. It’s being barraged by extraneous images, slower loading times, and the active clutter it creates on a page which turns me off the preview anywhere tool.

    By the way, I’ve edited your comment to correct the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) pointing to the Preview Anywhere Use Case – I want my visitors to have the best chance to read both perspectives! The Use Case is a really great read – it provides a lot of very useful information.

    Thanks again,
    Joe Dolson

  9. Joe,

    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. If so, 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 is 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.

    If you are interested in an alternative perspective and an in-depth discussion of SPA — both its strengths and weaknesses — I encourage you to read our blog post The Snap Preview Anywhere Use Case.


    Erik Wingren
    Snap UX Research

  10. I hadn’t even really considered the receiving end…that’s another annoyance! I wonder how much that’s been troubling me…I don’t have quite the problem you do with all those Socializer links, though…

  11. Snap Preview Anywhere was bombarding my site requesting many Socializer links. In the end I contacted them and found out that you can block it using robots.txt using the following syntax:

    User-agent: SnapPreviewBot
    Disallow: /

    This didn’t work well at first, so in the end, I blocked it using user agent detection, sending it a 404. Worked a treat 🙂