With broadband getting common there are new possibilities in what you can do in web design. One such thing is previewing external links with a thumbnail. The question is how to generate the needed thumbnails. If you only need a handful you can take screen shots by hand. If you have a predefined list of URLs using a small script like the one I wrote a while ago may help to automate it. But for Blogs (or Wikis) you need a dynamic solution either run by your self or on a reliable service. I had a look at the available free services and what the thumbnail for my blog would look like…
bluga.net WebThumb allows you to define the capture screen size from 600×400 to 1024×768 but as you can see from the thumbnail it looks like it does not resize the browser accordingly. The thumbnail is missing the right margin. To create new thumbnails automatically you need to register and use an API to precreate the thumbnails.
WebSnapr is a very new service and was recently dugg. Unfortunately more often than not you get a “Thumbnail has been queued” image except for very popular sites. It seems that this service is throwing away thumbnails again if not rerequested frequently. The interface is nice though, the wanted website can simply given as URL parameter and multiple thumbnail sizes are available. CSS handling doesn't seem too good as well, the right margin isn't correctly displayed in the thumbnail.
thumboo has very similar features to WebSnappr, with nearly the same thumbnail result (except for the “powered by” string). What I don't like is that it won't accept the http protocol prefix of an URL. So you need to give www.splitbrain.org instead of http://www.splitbrain.org as parameter, which makes automated request a tiny bit harder and impossible for HTTPS sites.
artViper seems not to have a queuing system – the screenshot appeared immediately. Unfortunately I'm not able to recognize anything on it. The service is also only available for non-commercial pages and you are required to add a button linking back to them.
Website Thumbnails is a free service but they seem to either have a huge or a slow queue at least they did not complete my thumbnail while writing this blog entry
WebShots Pro is also a free service, just asking for a backlink. It shows the same CSS problem as WebSnapr and thumboo. They say they use IE6 for creating the thumbnails which explains a lot The service seems to be fast and reliable.
So what's my conclusion? From the services I tried I think thumboo would be my current favourite. What bothers me, is that there seems no service available using a decent browser like Firefox or Opera. But I guess that's just a matter of time and maybe those services will switch to IE7 soon, which should sort out some CSS problems at least.
Update: An updated list is available here: Free Website Thumbnail Services