February 3, 2007
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The Intellectual Roots of Snap

The blogosphere has recently been buzzing over the advantages and problems of Snap.com previews -- the popup thumbnails of Web pages that many people are adding to their weblogs. Some people dismiss them angrily as unwanted and obstructive folderol. Others think they're keen. Hilarity ensues.

What has been missing from the discussion, I think, is an understanding of what Snap's previews are trying to do. Though the developers may not have been thinking in these terms, Snap previews have a clear history in hypertext thought; understanding the history helps understand what they're trying to do and why people react to them as they do.

The original call for link previews came from Ben Shneiderman, originally in a paper from the mid-1980's and later in Hypertext Hands On! (I can't seem to find the reference today; if you happen to know it, Email me. please.)