Friday, April 11, 2008

Modifying the net

The internet is a great tool, both for research and for procrastination. But as any other tool in order for it to be used with maximum effect, we need to know how to use it and how to "modify" it according to our needs. This post is a short overview of the ways we can modify how the web looks and works for us - unfortunately most of the tools discussed here requires Firefox, sorry IE users..

Photo by Lida Rose


If we want to find some information we usually use Google or another search engine. It is possible to modify the results a search returns, so that it would be easier to find what we are looking for.
I currently use four extensions to achieve this.
Googlepedia - it is a Firefox extension that shows a relevant Wikipedia article on the right side of the screen.
Customize Google - removes ads from the search results (can also remove ads from Gmail and other Google products), and adds links to other search engines. It also can stream search results, thus eliminating the need to go to the next page.
StumbleUpon - it can be used as a search engine on its own, but it also can show reviews of the results shown by Google. If you have friends on SU it will also show who of them liked the page you see in the search results. This is especially good if you have a lot of friends with similar interests on SU.
Google toolbar - One of the most useful features of this toolbar is its ability to highlight your search terms on a page you visit. Unfortunately it doesn't work in Firefox 3 beta - without it I find it much more difficult to search for things on the net... Hopefully Google will release an update for it soon...

For me it is almost a thing of the past. Since I installed Firefox and ad-block, I almost never see any ads. You can read more about it in my post "I like ad-block plus".

Portals/Often used sites
We all have something set as our homepage. I personally use iGoogle. I find it both useful and having a nice layout. However just as most of the other sites on the net it isn't perfect. One example of this is its footer - it has ads in it and it just takes unneeded space.
There is a simple way to get rid of such annoyances - all you need is to install a Firefox extension called Greasemonkey. This little program allows you to use scripts to modify how a web site will look to you. There are a lot of people using it, and a lot of them don't mind sharing the scripts they wrote with the rest of us - most of these are available on
If there are no scripts for your favorite website, or none of them do what you want, you can always write one yourself. There is even a program for helping with this - Platypus. It can be regarded as a visual editor fro the web I guess... I used it to add a rss subscribers counter to my iGoogle homepage, for example. It is very easy to use.

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