Friday, August 18th, 2006

Ask.com’s Binoculars – Help or Hinderance?

Category: Editorial, Usability

<>p> With search engines pushing more and more to find that next great feature, you never know what they’ll come up with. When Ask.com decided to shake things up and rework their site, they included “handy binocular functionality” to show a preview of the site. Unfortunately, as is talked about in this new article on SpectorBrain.com, this might not be exactly what web developers had in mind.

One such feature, named “Binoculars“, allows the user to see a site preview by rolling over a, you guessed it, binocular icon. With the help of AJAX technology, this thumbnail image appears without refreshing the page. While it’s obviously a cool feature that’s intended set Ask.com apart from the competition, there are some usability and design issues that should be addressed.

I’m sorry to have to break it to all of my fellow web designers out there, but this pixilated 246×260 screenshot is now part of the user’s decision-making process. This also means that it should be part of our design process.

He continues on in the article talking about a few ways to help work with this feature and make a site all that it can be (or at least look that way). The four suggestions are:

  • Visual Emphasis of Site
  • Inaccurate Previews
  • Product Treatment
  • Behavioral Interruption

Since it’s not pulled in real-time from the page itself, there’s a little less a developer can do to control the thumbnail that’s posted, but by having a well-designed site some of those concerns can be alleviated.

But what I really want to know is how are they taking the screen shots of the sites? Can anyone tell what browser/rendering engine it might be using? Does it show Ajax content in the shot or does it just leave that section blank?

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Posted by Chris Cornutt at 7:51 am
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there’s more than one service that offers this. One I believe was even mentioned here, a script by arc90 with little thumbnails appearing on a text link (images come from alexa), and then there’s thumbshots.org which is powering the google preview extension for firefox.

Comment by Matthias — August 18, 2006

oh HOW, not WHO…
er, don’t know. But thumbshots writes on their websites that you can update thumbnails they have for site that are in the DMOZ archive.
Here’s a link to some technicalities, but it doesn’t really mention a rendering engine.

Comment by Matthias — August 18, 2006

I personally find any of these kinds of static-image “previews” to be a totally worthles feature. In some cases, it is an attempt to “show the user the site without them leaving our site”. If this is the goal, it doesn’t provide much additional utility to the user, and is just as bad as “framing” other site within your site to keep users on your site. Some say it is useful for people with low-bandwidth connections, who can see the site without going there — except that’s all you can do is “see” it, you can not make an accurate judgement of the site. And the more detailed the preview is, the bigger the file, which may end up negating the low-bandwidth-users reason. I remain unconvinced of the legitimate utility of this, and of its supposedly high cool-factor.

Comment by Andy — August 18, 2006

Joshua Eichorn (HTML_AJAX PEAR package creator) has a similar project called web thumb. Havent looked into how he is doing it though.

Comment by Sean — August 18, 2006

Although I have never used/seen this feature, I can see some reasons for it. It will let me see if it is a legitimate site that I am looking for and not some ad driven seo compliant site. As, long as there is no major overhead for folks that don’t use it, then I would say good concept.

Comment by Mike Benner — August 18, 2006

Did you mean hindrance?

Comment by Pedant — August 19, 2006

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