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(Grease) Monkeying around with the web

By Brian | May 21, 2005 | Share on Facebook

Almost as if the whole controversey around Google’s new toolbar didn’t happen, now there’s a tool for Firefox browsers called Greasemonkey, which lets users write client side scripts to change the way a web page looks or functions directly from their browser.

Examples include a script that removes all stories about Michael Jackson from a Reuters newsfeed, and one that makes the Chicago Transit Authority map a background on the Google Map of Chicago.

Watch for the intellectual property rights police to jump all over this one…

Topics: Tech Talk | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “(Grease) Monkeying around with the web”

  1. Jeff Porten says at May 26th, 2005 at 12:37 am :
    Oh, ye of little faith.

    This isn’t exactly a matter for the police. There is a huge scale difference between some hacker writing a plugin that alters some web pages and a few thousand people selectively installing it, and a Google or a Microsoft shipping a tool that does this for millions of users.

    As a web developer, yes, it’s moderately important to me that what people see on my web pages is what I present to them. But I don’t own their browsers or even their mindshare, and so if they choose to use a scalpel to modify what they read, within some very broad limits there’s simply not much I can argue about there.

  2. Brian says at May 26th, 2005 at 12:47 am :
    So it’s OK that people do it, as long as it’s hard to do?

    When Google or Microsoft ship the tools, it’s still the end user who uses them.

    Does the difficulty level define the level of intellectual property violation? What happens when someone builds a Greasemonkey toolbar that you can download into Firefox & these plug-ins become 1-click like the Microsoft/Google tools?

  3. Jeff Porten says at May 26th, 2005 at 12:57 am :
    In theory, no, but in practice, yes. It’s not so much that it’s better if it’s difficult, but it’s better if all of the people using the tools have a level of technical competence sufficient to know that the pages they’re reading are not necessarily the original content that the author wrote.

    So when you use your Greasemonkey to change every occurrence of “Mac OS X” to “Windows is far better than Mac”, then you’re going to know why my web pages read so strangely. But the Mom and Pop using the same plugin is going to wonder why I go on so much about Macs when I clearly prefer Windows.

    I’ll worry about the 1-click Greasemonkey when Firefox has sufficient mindshare that the people we used to call the Christmas modemers are using it. But by that time, I’m hoping that the baseline for technical knowledge will have increased somewhat. Call me hopelessly optimistic.

  4. Michael Weinmayr says at May 27th, 2005 at 11:47 am :
    Have you guys actually tried it, or are you just talking about it?

    Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/)
    Greasemonkey (http://greasemonkey.mozdev.org/)
    Platypus (http://platypus.mozdev.org/)

    Platypus is where the fun comes in. Go to a website, start Platypus from the context menu, and rearrange a webpage. Cut and paste to rearrange. Then, Ctrl-S to save the script to Greasemonkey, and voila, your own custom edit of a page, which sticks each time you revisit a page.

    Sure, most of the scripts are about removing advertising, but there are some others out there. The webpage that I use for general news has way too much wasted space at the top; I saved about an inch and a half by removing stuff.

    And the difference between this and the Google Toolbar? If you install Greasemonkey, your intention is to modify the pages as viewed on your screen. If you install Google Toolbar, your intention is probably to have easier access to search, and perhaps Gmail, but this change also happens.

    If a web designer wants to write an entire site in Comic Sans bold italic, in medium blue over a dark blue background, feel free. I’m going to rewrite it on my end so that I can read it.

  5. Jeff Porten says at May 27th, 2005 at 1:59 pm :
    Christ, Michael, if you asked me to try everything I claim to be an expert on, I’d never have any time for pontificating.

  6. Brian says at May 27th, 2005 at 5:28 pm :
    Touche, Michael – I haven’t tried GreaseMonkey, mainly because I haven’t installed Firefox. I’ve been told that it completely mangles your IE installation, and you shouldn’t bother unless you never plan on going back. To me, Firefox sounds better than IE, but I have no desire to create a problem where none exists just to see for sure.

    As for GreaseMonkey/Platypus vs. Google, it sounds like you’re using one & talking about the other too. When you install the Google toolbar, these changes don’t “happen.” You need to enable the appropriate functions/buttons, and then click them on each web page you want to apply them to (i.e., they don’t “stick” like you described).

  7. Michael Weinmayr says at May 27th, 2005 at 10:48 pm :
    Brian, you misheard; the latest release of Netscape does something screwy to IE. Netscape is a bastard combination of Firefox and IE together, to what end, who knows. I’ll troubleshoot for you if you have any questions; I’ve been using it since it was Phoenix 0.4, and I tech support it on a board I frequent. IE has always operated the same throughout.

    And regarding Google; OK, you got me. But I did know (at least most of) what you said. I didn’t install the toolbar, because Firefox has this thing called Smart Keywords and another called Find As You Type that cover everything I would have used in GT.

    And, the GM tool is only a month old or so. They are discussing how to make it more obvious that a script has been applied to a page.

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