Web site thumbnail disappointment

December 11, 2006 Glenn Chase Base Camp

When I first read about the free website thumbnail service provided by WebSnapr I immediately thought it would make a very cool feature addition to The Scout Patch Collector’s Base Camp. Using google I scoured the web for reports from other web developers who had implemented it, and found very few negative remarks. A common concern was that WebSnapr was featured on Digg, and shortly afterwards suffered the “Digg effect” of servers overloaded by Digg readers eager to check out the service. But this situation was expected to be transitory and that WebSnapr would scale their hardware accordingly with their growth to handle increased traffic.

When I recoded all of my links on the beta Patchcamp page to display WebSnapr thumbnails I noticed that thumbnails were not quick to appear. My first step in addressing this was to change from the original “Preview Bubble” display script to “Link Preview V2” which implements a spinning progress circle while a thumbnail is being generated if it has never been requested before.
I discovered early in the beta testing of the revised Patchcamp site that WebSnapr has a common tendency to generate a “Thumbnail queued” image instead of the requested thumbnail image of the site. This is supposedly caused by the server handling prior requests to generate thumbnails, with the promise to put yours in queue to generate for display the next time it is requested.

While testing the Patchcamp site before opening it to beta users I spent a good deal of time requesting thumbnails for every link on the home page of The Scout Patch Collector’s Base Camp. I used the handy “create thumbnail” bookmarklet script (given prominent center placement in the Bookmarks Toolbar of my Firefox browser) and finally at the end of a very long weekend I was able to roll over every single link of the home page and see the corresponding website thumbnail image. Satisfied that the images were now stored on the WebSnapr server and would not need to be generated again I felt confident that the service would be much appreciated when the site revisions went live to the public on December 1.

The reality is that apparently once a thumbnail is generated it is not necessarily stored by the Websnapr service. Rolling over most of the links on the Patchcamp page today produces many spinning progress indicators followed by “Thumbnail has been queued” messages. All in all a very disappointing experience for users, and certainly not what I had envisioned when I decided to add this feature.

I suppose that I should not be surprised since Websnapr is a free service and offers no performance or functionality guarantees. It’s another tough web developer lesson that when you outsource a function of your web site to a hosted provider (whether it’s a counter, blogroll, newsfeed, or guestbook) you are giving up control and when it doesn’t work right you don’t have much leverage when the price you pay is zero.

For now I will explore alternatives and see if there are any good ones that fall into the affordable (ie, free) range for this web site that currently generates zero income. So far Snap.com’s “Snap Preview Anywhere” looks promising. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Meanwhile, thanks for your patience as you watch the spinning circle and queue up thumbnails for me.

2 Responses to “Web site thumbnail disappointment”

  • Glenn Chase says:

    You can try a test version of the Scout Patch Collector’s Base Camp using snap.com’s Snap Preview Anywhere service here.


  • puravida says:


    Looks like you eventually gave up on this project. If you ever decide to give it another go, I’d like to suggest my service.

    We are also free with more features than anyone else currently, but we have 2 dedicated servers with 9 more coming online within a month. So, hopefully we won’t suffer the same fate as websnapr. We also plan to stay free for 99% of all users (i.e. our basic is better than other’s premium) and we plan to cache all thumbnails to avoid your issue of having to wait again and again.


    I welcome your feedback!

    Best regards,


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