Microbrowsers are Everywhere ◆ 24 ways

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You’ve seen it everywhere – that little thumbnail preview of a website mentioned in a tweet, the expanded description in a Slack channel, or in WhatsApp group chat.

Chat message with Preview Link

Link Preview vs. Real Website

Figure 1: The preview shown in a group chat provides a hint of what the real webpage looks like

These link previews are so commonplace that we hardly pay any attention to how our site design might be impacting the generated preview. Yet, these previews can be the most influential part for attracting new audiences and increasing engagement – possibly more than SEO. Even more alarming is that most web analytics are blind to this traffic and can’t show you how these Microbrowsers are interacting with your site.

As we close out the year, here are five essential questions and ideas that every web dev should know about Microbrowsers.

1. What are Microbrowsers? How are they different from “normal” browser?

We are all very familiar with the main browsers like Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Edge and Internet Explorer. Not to mention the many new browsers that use Chromium as the rendering engine but offer unique user experiences like Samsung Internet or Brave.

In contrast, Microbrowsers are a class of User-Agents that also visit website links, parse HTML and generate a user experience. But unlike those traditional browsers, the HTML parsing is limited and the rendering engine is singularly focused. The experience is not intended to be interactive. Rather the experience is intended to be representational – to give the user a hint of what exists on the other side of the URL.

Creating link previews is not new. Facebook and Twitter have been adding these link previews in posts for nearly a decade. That used to be the primary use case. Marketing teams created backlog items to adopt different microdata – from Twitter Cards and Open Graph annotations for Facebook. LinkedIn likewise embraced both Open Graph and OEmbed tags to help generate the previews

As group chats and other collaboration tools have become more prevalent, we have seen many features from the big social media platforms emerge. Particularly in recent years we’ve seen the adoption of the link unfurling behaviour in these chat platforms. Rather than reinventing the wheel, each platform looks for pre-existing microdata to generate the preview.

But which data should be used? How should this be arranged? As it turns out, each platform behaves slightly differently; presenting information in slightly different ways.

The Same URL Previewed With Different Browsers

Figure 2: The same amazon link shared in iMessage (left), Hangouts and WhatsApp (right)

2. If Microbrowsers are everywhere, why don’t I see them in my analytics reports?

It’s easy to miss the traffic from Microbrowsers. This is for a number of reasons:

First, page requests from Microbrowsers don’t run JavaScript and they don’t accept cookies. The Google Analytics

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