The tyranny of mouseover

If I click on a link, I am initiating an action. If I fill in a form and press a submit button, I am initiating an action. But if I move my mouse over a page element, I am not initiating an action. Chances are I’m on my way to initiating an action (like clicking a link or pressing a button) but if I brush past a link on the way, that does not mean that I want something to happen in response.

Most browsers display the value of a title attribute as a tool-tip after a suitable pause. Generally this works pretty well as long as the tool-tip is relatively small and self-contained. Ever come across an instance of a title attribute with a large amount of text? It just feels wrong. There are economies of scale when it comes to displaying information triggered by a mouseover.

All of this is by way of introduction to the topic of those bloody annoying Snap previews that are quite literally popping up all over the place.

I’m not alone in my annoyance. Lorelle VanFossen has put together an excellent list of the problems caused by these rude and intrusive interlopers. As well as listing the accessibility issues for low-vision and motor-impaired users, she makes the very valid point that these pop-ups actively destroy the act of reading:

There’s a small author-part of me that hopes what I write resembles some action-packed-page-turning-thriller and that people are glued to their screens eagerly embracing every word I write. I’d hate to have that experience be interrupted by an annoying pop-up window of any kind. Destroys the interaction of the reader with the written word, doesn’t it?

The way that the developers at Snap view web pages reminds of the Far Side cartoon:

Blah blah LINK blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah LINK blah blah blah blah blah…

Lorelle’s frustration is particularly acute because the Snap previews showed up on her Wordpress.com blog because Matt thought it would be cool to roll out this “feature” to 10% of Wordpress.com users.

Luckily, Lorelle and other hijacked blogs can turn the feature off. As pointed out by John Gruber, Jason Kottke and Michael Heilemann, the rest of us can also deactivate these annoying things. I should also point out that you can deactivate them directly from a preview by clicking on the “options” link in the pop-up and setting either a local or a global cookie to switch off the previews.

But this is like opt-out spam. I shouldn’t be confronted by these intrusive and annoying pop-ups to begin with. Offering them as a feature to users who want them strikes me as a perfectly reasonable implementation. This is the perfect example of something that should have been implemented like a Greasemonkey script: give users the choice and the power to activate this flashy feature. But don’t foist it on us and then claim it’s our responsibility to disable it.

If you haven’t seen the Snap previews in action, you can find them on TechCrunch and Vitamin, to give just two examples. Their presence on TechCrunch isn’t really surprising given that the site is devoted to pointing out all that is flashy and pointless on the web. But the gang over at Vitamin really ought to know better.

Have you published a response to this? :

Comments

Here here. This kind of preview may have its place in a web site directory (if I opt in via a little widget) but other than that it’s merely annoying.

I use NoScript, so I don’t have these kinds of problems. I do have other problems, though, because of obtrusive JavaScript. On the balance, I think it’s a gain.

Mouseover can be used well in a web application though, for discoverable UI. The user icons in flickr for example. I hate those popups though, especially the advertising ones that pick up on keywords like "web" and give you some nonsense advert. (Hope to see you at barcamp by the way!)

I hate them, and just want to point out that I was publishing a solution on how to disable the damn things only days before everyone else, once again proving how much of a trend-setter I really am.

# Posted by paul haine on Tuesday, January 30th, 2007 at 2:28pm

Everytime I see these snap previews I wonder why they really think I need to see a snapshot of the site I’m about to click on. What does a small picture of the design convince me of that I wasn’t already convinced of? Nothing. In fact, it is obtrusive in a distracting way at the least. I don’t like it. It’s actually broke my flow of thought on many occasions enough to make me change my mind about visiting the site I was about to click on. I don’t blame the problem on snap either…ironically. I blame it on the site’s that use it needlessly. The site’s that use it, I quit visiting. I read the Vitamin and TechCrunch via my feed reader, and don’t go to their site unless I’m VERY compelled.

# Posted by Devon on Tuesday, January 30th, 2007 at 2:47pm

I’m glad it’s not just me… and thanks for the pointer on how to switch them off!

These Snap popups feel like something from the late 90s, like those awful Comet cursor replacements that sites could foist upon you.

What value do the users think they deliver? Or is it just because they are"cool"?

Seriously how can seeing an illegible image of a webpage help me? I’ve got my cursor over the link so I wanna go there… I’ve mad up my mind… a thumbnail isn’t gonna make up my mind even more.

I too was very surprised to see them on Vitamin also.

I agree completely. I’ve come across similar mouseovers on other sites that show text ads instead of site previews. They may not be as large and obtrusive as the Snap previews, but they are equally annoying. The effect they have on a web site is similar to blatant product placement on television shows. It just kills the moment.

You can add to this drop down menus that either cover the content or the other menu item that I’m trying to get to.

I’ve also noticed in some programs lately that if I hover for too long it automatically takes me to the link.

And last but not least, there is the floating content that I’m forced to close in order to see the site. Comedy central does this and it drives me away from the site every time.

# Posted by christy on Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 12:03am

When I first came across these previews, they reminded me of nothing as much as of intellitxt and all those other horrid auto-linking mouseover advertising annoyances. And my solution was the same. Page info, privacy tab, scripts, figure out which one is the likely culprit, put the domain in a reminder notepad, and after I got around to closing my SeaMonkey, add a line to my hostperm.1 - http://wiki.mozilla.org/User:Mvl/permissions - to for all eternity block scripts from that domain. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I’m oldfashioned and don’t use extensions like NoScript to do it on the fly - it works well enough for me.) :P

P.S. When will you be arriving in Vancouver? I’m heading out on Saturday myself so I can get to see the city a bit and adjust to the timezone (always takes me too long). Drop me a line if you’ll be there early too and want to go have a drink or something.

# Posted by Sander on Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 7:23am

Death to Snap popups. No better than malware, 99% of the time. Think-Vitamin’s people should know better indeed!

# Posted by John Joyce on Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 11:27am

Great post. I fell for these… initially I was like - WOW, great idea… you can see where you’re going before you go. But they just didn’t and don’t feel (or look) right, and now, I curse them. You’ve hit the nail on the head here - and pushing these features on users is just not cricket.

It’s interesting reading the comments on Matt’s blog there, because the overwhelming majority are positive ("This is cool! I want to try it!" etc.) rather than the negative viewpoint expressed by those bloggers you’ve mentioned.

I’d take this as a vital lesson as to the disconnect between what users and site owners, and how what a site owner wants is often not of any use at all (blogs are frequently victims of this, so often merely functioning as a vehicle for the vanity of the author; see also: digg icons - http://37signals.com/svn/posts/93). I’ve occasionally had debates/arguments with colleagues who’ve asked for certain features on a site, which I’ve objected to and then reminded them: "This site isn’t for you. It’s for the user."

# Posted by Ben Darlow on Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 4:34pm

Here here here. I’ve found the new snap popups are really killing the experience on some otherwise good sites.

The thing I find most annoying is if it’s a site that is well coded, clean and usable and all that good stuff. The author knows better and they’ve chosen to include them anyway.

The minute you enable intrusive popups of any kind, you’ve broken one of the cardinal usability rules. At least in my book.

But I also hate overly styled tooltips and personally enjoy alt and title attributes the most. Clean, functional and devoid of bells and whistles.

# Posted by James on Thursday, February 1st, 2007 at 12:44am