August 20, 2007

Preview hyperlinks with Interclue

Author: Mayank Sharma

Interclue is a Firefox extension that lets you preview whatever a hyperlink on a page is pointing to. Unlike other link previewers, Interclue doesn't just display a tiny replica of what's hiding under the link. It uses algorithms to intelligently construct a summary of the target page and displays it in a window with lots of other information and statistics about the page.

Essentially the goal of a link previewer is to save you clicks. But the way Interclue has been designed, it saves you a lot of time as well. It not only allows you to preview the link but also offers options to use the link itself in a variety of ways -- you can bookmark it in your browser and at del.icio.us, email it, or Digg it. If it's pointing to a Flickr image or a YouTube video, you can see the image or watch the video from within the preview window itself.

To install the extension, head over to its page on Firefox's Add-ons Web site and click on the green "Install Now" button. The extension has a privacy policy, and you'll have to accept its user license agreement before installing. Once you've read it, click on the "Accept and Install" button to install the plugin.

Using Interclue

When the browser restarts after installation, you get a brief hands-on tutorial of Interclue, which is adequate to get you started. So when you move your mouse over a link, Interclue displays a small icon called a linkclue or fetches and displays the favicon of the site behind the link, or both, next to the link. It displays the preview only when you move your mouse over these elements. This additional hover over the icon is keeps the previews from becoming irritating.

Linkclue icons visually provide a little information about the link. So for example, there are linkclues that will help identify the type of file (PDF, MP3, Flash, OpenOffice.org, etc.) or give information about the link, such as when the file it's pointing to is not available, or the page is taking too long to load, or if it's an anchor on some other page.

When you hover over the favicon or the linkclue, the extension grabs what's behind the link, strips navigational text, and displays it in a box called a clueviewer along with lots of meta information and action buttons. The content of the clueviewer varies depending on the content of the link. It can display a text summary, or multimedia elements like pictures and videos. For other types of documents like PDFs and Office files, it displays name, size, and date when the document was last modified. The clueviewer also shows a small thumbnail image of the sites that the link belongs to.

If you have the link open in another tab, Interclue will show a linkclue telling you that and offer to take you to that tab. This is the only area of Interclue that doesn't work as it should. Even after you close the tab, Interclue refuses to show a preview over the link, arguing that the link is still open.

In addition to the preview, the clueviewer has a set of action buttons. You can use these to bookmark the link, make a printout of the clueviewer, increase or decrease font size, or email or Digg the link. It also displays some additional meta information called metaclues, such as word count, number of incoming and outgoing links from the link's target, number of files (images, scripts, stylesheets, etc.) that will be loaded with the page, del.icio.us tags and Digg count for that link, and so on.

Configuring Interclue

While the default options will work for most users, if you feel like tweaking Interclue you're in luck. You can tune its features from Interclue's Options window, accessible via Firefox's Tools menu (Tools -> Interclue Options). The options window is divided into three tabs -- basic, advanced, and about. The about tab provides version and other contact and support information about the extension.

The basic options influence the time it takes to display the linkclues and the clueviewer. You can also specify the hotkey that'll show the clueviewer from the link itself (it's Ctrl key by default). Just hover over the link and press the hotkey to launch the clueviewer.

The advanced options is further divided into 13 subsections that control everything from which metaclues to show, what clueviewer and Firefox statusbar buttons to show and hide, and the length of the text summaries, to performance tweaks like eliminating the graphical effects on slower computers.

For certain features like thumbnail images of popular sites, the extension relies on third-party sites like Thumbshots and WebSnapr. But if you want, Interclue allows for certain sites and domains to be marked private. For these sites, the extension will not query external Web sites.

Final thoughts

While Interclue is available for free, the developers are planning to offer a subscription service to provide additional features, such as faster-loading summaries, customized summaries, and more information relevant to links.

Interclue is a useful and feature-rich link previewer. Not only does it do a nice job of summarizing links, it also provides quick access to action buttons and meta information. You can easily submit a link to Digg and del.icio.us, email it, or make a printout -- all without ever actually visitng the link.

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