If there’s something I really hate, is to capture screens and crop them to create thumbnails of web pages.
However, thumbnails are an important decorating element, and for something like a web directory they are simply a must in 2009.
There are many free website thumbnail generators around, with ThumbShots being the most renowned (who hasn’t seen that red ball?) and ShrinkTheWeb being probably the second closest. They are both excellent services, yet my favourite is the one I was referred to by a seasoned php coder who was actively using it: WebThumb.Bluga.net.
After discovering this service I used it many times to create a quick capture of a web page, and it powers some sites I worked on as a thumbnail generation service. Just to clarify, I have no affiliation whatsoever with Bulga, being just a very satisfied user.
Bulga provides 100 free screenshots each month, and additional credit can be purchased at very low rates. It also has some advanced options, such as reflections and other effects that cost extra, but I have never used them. What I love about it is that it creates several different capture sizes, and this means it’s a snap to create both a thumb for listing and a larger image for main page.
My only concern is that I don’t know exactly for how long a “permanent” thumbnail is cached (this is probably something that could be found reading the docs). I tracked a few thumbs and will keep an eye over two thumbnails created today to see if and when they expire. I found that an older thumb has no images cached anymore even if the page is still up.
Of course this only concerns the casual users, as registered users are going to get the thumbnails thru the API and store them on their server anyway.
I also find fascinating to browse trough the user generated thumbnails, some have no meaning at all (at least to me: why would you want to grab a snapshot of a YouTube page?) but there are many beautiful designs to be discovered just by looking at Bulga’s sidebar.