The iOS app has enjoyed a feature that gives you a tiny preview of a story’s main image right in the story title. Today this feature launches on the web.

What I’ve noticed is that while I don’t use the image to identify which stories I want to read, I do use them to act as a signature of a story.

There’s precedence for this on NewsBlur. Every site already does this using the color of its favicon. NewsBlur liberally applies a two-tone color palette based on each feed’s favicon. This serves as a per-feed signature, giving context to a story when it’s in the same view as every other feed’s stories.

These story preview thumbnails serve as the same signature. Stories are best remembered through their colors and photos, so thumbnails act as a visual signature that’s easy to recognize. It works on a subconscious but perceptable level.

Of course you can turn them right off.