Last week it was reported that Browster, one of the first companies to deliver previews of web pages, is done. Browster drew a lot of attention in 2005 and was backed by a 6M first round from Advanced Technology Ventures, Vanguard Ventures, First Round Capital, and individual investors.
Browster delivered previews of web pages (before clicking on a link) via a browser plug-in. Cooliris and Snap are companies doing similar things. But the question of whether previews are actually a good – and viable – idea is still up in the air. Therefore in this post we look at various kinds of Web previews and decide if the concept is here to stay, or will it go down with the Browster ship.
What is a value of a preview?
The basic idea behind previews is simple: they save you a click. Instead of clicking on a link to see the content, you can get a preview of the page using a gesture – typically a mouseover. Assuming you can decide if the page is interesting or not based on the preview, you can save a click and more importantly the page load.
The big assumption is that the preview is useful, which is not always the case. For instance a thumbnail preview may be useful if you already know the look and feel of the site, but otherwise you can’t really tell what you are looking at. This is because scaling the snapshot of a page down to a thumbnail results in a substantial loss of information. As we will see below, Cooliris and Snap are using different techniques to avoid this problem.
Netflix solves the problem in a different way. Instead of showing you a scaled version of the page, Netflix shows you a synopsis of the movie when you mouse over its link. For movies, this works really well – and it would work well for many other things, like books, music albums and electronics. So it’s too bad that other sites do not do this.
Cooliris – the preview extension for Firefox
Cooliris, one of the Firefox recommended extensions, offers great quality previews. It works by popping up a little blue square when a user moves their mouse over a link. If the user clicks on the square, a preview of the link comes up. The secret of Cooliris is its simplicity. Firstly, the previews shown are almost the size of the actual page. Secondly, the previews are not images, but actual pages loaded into an iframe and overlayed on top of the current page. While this seemingly would be the same as loading the page in another tab, it definitely feels lighter. What helps is that we do not need to close the tab, because once we click away the preview disappears.
Snap – preview technology for web sites and blogs
Sphere – blog search previews on steroids
TechCrunch also features a completely different kind of preview – dynamic blog search results from the blog search engine called Sphere [Ed: this is coming soon to R/WW too]. What Sphere does is very impressive, but perhaps what’s even more impressive is how it presents the results. In a way, Sphere’s solution is similar to Netflix because it only shows a subset of information. This strategy allows Sphere to generate an intelligent preview of the search results. A combination of speed and excellent visualization makes this type of preview very compelling.
Since quite a few companies are doing previews, we need to understand their benefit. It seems that current preview makers fall into three major categories:
- Deliver advertising with previews (Browster)
- Use previews to drive traffic to the site (Snap, Sphere)
- Enhance user experience on the site (Netflix)
The companies listed under the second and third bullets do not concern themselves with monetization via preview, since they make money in a different way. For the companies that choose the preview to be their core business, some form of advertising must be in place.
What Browster used to do in the past was replace the advertisements from the pages with their own. This made some publishers very angry. Altering the content of web pages is certainly a risky business and spells lawsuits. Augmenting the previews with context sensitive ads, outside the preview frame, seems to be cleaner – but it requires a heavier back-end engine and could cause delays, which would be deadly.
Since Browster is out of the game now, it does not need to address this problem. Their competitor Cooliris looks to be a university project and so far they do not show any concern about making money. If they become serious about monetizing this technology, it will be interesting to see what route they will take.
So in the end we have to ask: Are previews a good idea? We think the answer is: Yes! If done right (and this is a big if), then previews can greatly enhance our online experience and save us a lot of time over the long run. Saving one click at a time will make us more productive and will save us minutes every day. And since there are incentives for companies to deliver preview technologies, we expect to see more developments in the near future.
So: Browster is dead, long live previews. But let us know what you think about previews and tell us your favorite ones.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )