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Strong opinions, weakly held

Keep your mouse off of those links

The addition to Web pages in the name of advertising that annoys me most these days is aggressive mouseover behavior attached to links. It seems like I’m visiting more and more Web sites that force me to make sure that I haven’t mistakenly left my mouse pointer over the browser while I’m reading.

Football Outsiders, one of my current favorite Web sites, has an advertising arrangement with a company called ContentLink that uses JavaScript to turn any noun it can find on the page into a link, and attaches large, intrusive tooltips to those links. This article contains many examples.

Today I was reading this article, which “helpfully” offers thumbnails of the pages each link points to, powered by Snap. I guess this is supposed to provide value to users, but it doesn’t. It’s just harassment.

The tooltips cover up text on the page, are jarring when they appear, and make navigating a Web page feel like crossing a mine field. Make it stop, please.

Update: Don’t miss the comments. Eric Wingren of snap.com is asking people for feedback on how they can improve their service.

26 Comments

  1. Those were the motivation for me dusting off OmniWeb & Firefox’s ad blocking extensions – I’ve surfed without anything other than a popup blocker for years (since using a site without helping their ad revenue seems a bit sleazy) but the intellitxt/kontera random-term-random-link stuff was just too annoying to ignore; last night those snap ads gave snap.com the honor of being the third in the list.

    As a plus side, in both browsers this improved page load time by several seconds on a 2GHz machine…

  2. Just as a data point: We use the “title” tag to generate (usually small) popups on the links that comprise our twin sidebar linkblogs. Does this bother you?

  3. Patrick – I actually like those as they’re usually informative and the browsers do a much better job keeping the UI sane and responsive.

    The main problem with the intellitxt/kontera stuff is that they randomly link any word in the article which some advertiser has purchased which produces a really cluttered effect which distracts from the original article by adding links and popups which are unrelated to the topic of the article and the destination pages tend to be spectacularly useless even by ad standards.

    The snap.com ads are less annoying because they’re only altering links which the author actually made but they’re slow to load – particularly since it’s a hit I normally never see since I tend to open links in new background tabs.

    In both cases the annoyance which motivated me to block them was the way the popup tends to cover content I’m reading, particularly if I inadvertently mouseover a link while scrolling. The TITLE text doesn’t do that in any browser which I use and even if it did the text tends to be much smaller than the popups so it doesn’t cover a significant chunk of text – particularly when, as on electrolite, it’s in a sidebar rather than body text.

  4. The little tool tips at Making Light don’t bother me at all. They’re small and unobtrusive, they take advantage of a built in browser function so they work well, and they are confined to a specific area of the page. No complaints.

  5. Better still, Snap provides NO WAY for website owners to opt out of having thumbnails made of it. None at all. I’ve had an email exchange going with them for a month or so now, in which they acknowledge that the User-Agent string they say they’re using (in a barely-visible site on their page) isn’t actually the one they’re using, and that they’ll “consider” making it possible to opt-out sometime in the future.

    I hate, hate, HATE companies that claim to offer something that makes the Web a better place, but that behave like the rudest, most thoughtless Web citizens in the process. Thankfully, this contradiction has generally been an indicator of companies which end up failing miserably, so I’m not all that worried.

  6. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but one of the recent new rollouts to WordPress.com included the Snap “functionality” built in to 10% of their blogs. I guess this made Matt & Co. some money, but for everyone else they had to root around in their preferences to turn this helpful feature off and in the meantime all the selected wordpress.com blogs were all HI THERE HERE’S SOME SCREENSHOTS at you. Lousy December 29th stealth rollout.

    http://wordpress.com/blog/2006/12/29/snap-to-it/ http://blog.awakenedvoice.com/2007/01/15/wordpresscom-snaps-bloggers/ http://blog.snap.com/2007/01/18/snap-preview-anywhere-now-available-to-all-wordpresscom-blog-authors/

  7. I’m a huge fan of Javascript whitelisting. I use the NoScript plugin to prevent Javascript from running unless I agree (I can mark trusted sites to always run Javascript). That gigagamez.com site you linked reports like 8 different servers hosting Javascript. It’s a hassle when you run across a site (usually an ecommerce site) that’s broken without Javascript on, but for the most part I heartily recommend it to avoid problems like these.

    And yeah, the title text is absolutely appropriate, Patrick.

  8. Asbjørn Ulsberg

    January 24, 2007 at 5:04 am

    Amen! I too hate all of these “helpful extras” that are supposed to “increase your internet experience” or whatever load of bullcrap. Make it go away please! It’s just annoying and gets in the way of what you should care for me to have interest in: Your content.

  9. I guess I hope that such sites will be punished by the market — personally I’d stop visiting them if I didn’t have an easy way to suppress the annoying pop-ups, but obviously if it’s a site you have a long-term loyalty to, that’s a tough solution…

  10. Rafe,

    In the article you linked, not only are the popups annoying, but they are uniquely unhelpful. The one for ‘run defense’ pops up an ad for “Hate your belly fat?”, and the one for ‘tight end’ pops up “Tight – Buy at DealTime.com”

    Regards, Stan

  11. Rafe et.al,

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

    Clarification: End-users that want to prevent Snap Previews from appearing can opt-out. Simply click “Options” in the upper-right corner of the preview bubble and disable previews for the site in question or globally.

    Yes, it is cookie based so if you blow out your cookies you have to repeat. In that case, this link will speed up the process.

    And No, it will not prevent the call for the JavaScript so any hit on page load (which, to be fair, in a world of distributed web services really isn’t that bad) will still occur.

    Believe it or not but our intentions are good: By offering the readers a glimpse of what the author links to we like to think that we help manage their expectations — giving them more information to base their decision whether to click on a link or not — and thereby improving their overall experience on the authors site. A happy user tends to come back. Done right everybody wins.

    A graphic preview has a relatively high relevancy on a link by link basis. But not everybody are visually oriented, which in turn leads me to my question…

    Question: What type of information would help You make more informed decisions about what links to click on?

    Cheers.

    Erik Wingren Snap UX Research erik[@]snap[.]com

  12. Eric, generally speaking an unmodified status bar message (the destination’s url) and a descriptive title tag are enough information for me to determine if the link is worth following.

    The remote page’s meta description tag might be an useful thing to display, though meta tags are generally poorly used.

    The problem I have with Snap (and I have no experience with whatever administrative options are available) in the few sites I’ve seen it implemented at is that a what, 100×100 or so screen shot of the destination contains little actual information. At 100×100 only the general design of a site can be seen.

    In terms of Rafe’s specific complaint about it blocking the content, perhaps an option for the page designer’s to specify a region of the screen to use, so instead of right over top of the mouse, the preview can appear over a sidebar, or over a footer.

    It might even be worth experimenting with the preview screen appearing above the mouse, instead of below. The biggest problem for me is that the preview hides a chunk of the text below the link, which is the stuff I’m going to be reading immediately. If the preview were to be displayed above the mouse, there’s a good chance that I’ve already read what it is blocking, and therefore it isn’t as bothersome.

  13. Also, Eric: It is great that you pay attention to the community. Thank you for listening.

  14. I’ll echo Rob’s complaint – Snap.com is most annoying when it covers content I’m reading; otherwise the main gripe I have is the delay it causes for the page load – presumably that could be optimized away.

  15. Maybe if you didn’t use a floating element but rather just inserted an image after the link while hovering it would be less annoying. That way the content would just flow around it instead of being obscured. Of course, most site designed are too fragile for that sort of thing, and many people would find it even more annoying, so I guess you’re damned either way.

  16. The snap.com preview thing is one of the most worthless features I have ever seen on any web site.

    It’s like those late-night TV ads that are so annoying you can’t help but remember them but with a negative memory/experience.

    Annoying your users by delivering an unexpected behavior (giant, ugly floating preview bubble) when hovering over a link is and should be considered a broken user experience. Mousing over a link does not typically indicate some kind of action except a very minor state change in the item you ar emousing over, and delivering such an action breaks the expectation of the user thereby creating an annoyance.

    Erik and team: please close up shop and go away. Your preview tools are interesting but very annoying and serve little purpose outside a few specialized user interface scenarios.

  17. I’m interested to hear from those of you complaining….have you attempted to contact the publishers first? They’re the ones forcing you to use this stuff. They’re the ones who turned this “feature” on in the first place.

  18. Erik, from my perspective as a webmaster, one thing you can do is immediately and accurately document the following information on your site:

    • the User-Agent being used to gather the site previews;
    • the IP address block of the servers which are spidering to gather the previews.

    I had an email interchange with someone there (initiated via the feedback link) wherein I expressed my desire as a content provider to opt out of having Snap.com take snapshots of my site, and the person said that it’d be taken under advisement; that was some time ago, and this information is still not publicly available.

    Every single reputable search engine documents how webserver administrators can opt out of having that engine index their sites, via specific robots.txt User-Agent blocks, meta tags, or whatever; your project is no different, and should behave no differently.

  19. Wow — I just looked back at one of my emails from your tech person, Erik, and saw that he or she said the User-Agent of the preview-generating spider is now set at:

    SnapPreviewBot

    So, I decided to go through my logs and see if that was, in fact, the correct User-Agent… and guess what, it’s not! As far as I can tell, there are more than one User-Agent strings being used; here are a few:

    • Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.8.0.7) Gecko/20060909 Firefox/1.5.0.7 SnapPreviewBot
    • Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686 (x86_64); en-US; rv:1.8.0.7) Gecko/20060909 Firefox/1.5.0.7 SnapPreviewBot

    Are you kidding me? This makes it 100% impossible to reliably use a robots.txt file to prevent your spider from doing its thing on a site.

  20. Sometimes, you just don’t want a preview of where a link is going to go.

    Think of the goatse’s of the world.

    I’d rather not, really.

  21. I have just put in a block in the adblock plus firefox extension for snap.com/*

    works wonderfully.

  22. Erik,

    So far, I’ve run cross these previews 20 or 30 times. thankfully they don’t show up in aggregators.

    In no case have I actually wondered what was on the other end of the link, since most of those times it was an image hosted on flickr. Seeing the flickr page in the preview on top of the image just isn’t useful. It’s ugly and distracting.

  23. I like Snap. I find it useful as a user. I see no reason why they should be blocked from snapping any site and as a site owner the controls at the user end to step viewing snaps are pretty obvious… people just need something to complain about I guess.

  24. Chris L, what are you talking about? Of course site owners should have the ability to prevent a company from creating cached copies of their sites; whether it’s a full-scale copy (like the Internet Archive), a page-by-page cache copy (like Google), or little images of pages (like Snap), a copy’s a copy, and part of being a good internet neighbor is adhering to the wishes of the content owners on matters such as this. And in that list above, the Internet Archive allows site owners to opt out, Google allows site owners to opt out, and Snap doesn’t; they don’t even publish the information that site owners would need to implement programmatic restrictions.

  25. Question: What type of information would help You make more informed decisions about what links to click on?

    The text surrounding the link and the URL on the status bar. The Snap.com implementation of this pop-up-preview thing is better than those link-every-keyword-in-a-post contraptions, but I still find it distracting and slow.

  26. At first as a surfer I hated the snap shots. But I put them on my blog and I don’t mind them and I know why. Other writer/bloggers/contributors put alot of hyper links in their posts/articles/material so all the snapshots that came up would annoy me. But in my blog I limit what I hyper link and when I added Snap shots I noticed that. However, I agree that it is still annoying because the internet is turning into a different era. It’s putting the options/information/ and ultimately power into the hands of the surfer/user/viewer. And as a reader if I don’t want a “snap shot” of something to come up while I’m reading I shouldn’t have it come up. And Snapshot does provide that, if the user doesn’t want anything from Snap shot “popping” up the user can deactivate it. The problem is, is the user willing to go through the extra work of finding out how to do that or would they rather just exit the page? I used to just exit the page.

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