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Munging your world with Greasemonkey

Simon Willison: Greasemonkey as a lightweight intermediary

The latest release of the swiss army knife of Firefox extensions adds support for cross-domain XMLHttpRequest calls from greasemonkey scripts. What that means is that you can create a user script (a short JavaScript that will be executed whenever your browser loads specific pages) that can then pull extra data in from another server.

Although I still use Safari as my main browser, Greasemonkey really gets me thinking about moving over to Firefox full time. Although I’m still getting my head around everything that Greasemonkey can do, I’m really fascinated by the idea that a web site (and now, if I understand this right, a web application?) can be munged to your needs and preferences so easily. I’ve sampled from the page of available scripts, and I have to say it’s a pretty mind-blowing hack. (Thank you for "fixing" All Music Guide!)

The implications of things like Greasemonkey and PithHelmet catching on seem far-reaching. Think about the benefits of taking web standards to the next level and making sites that can anticipate and acknowledge your visitor’s preferences from their first visit (via standard DIV names or calls to your public “preferences??? file). I wouldn’t begin to know how to make this stuff, but I can definitely see myself becoming a grateful consumer.

jeremy's picture

It's funny to watch all...

It's funny to watch all of this stuff come together from what amounts to a schitzophrenic perspective: first and foremost, I'm an average consumer--a browser and user of websites of all shapes and sizes, but I'm also a web developer by trade. So there's always a part of me that rebels against folks messing around with stuff I've created.

On the other hand, I'm fortunate enough that I didn't graduate to the web from the print world. Most print-heads have a difficult time letting go of the absolute control they have over every aspect of design and presentation.

But all that said, more than anything else, I believe (always have, always will) that Content is King. If it's worth reading, it's worth reading. Design should compliment the content and it shouldn't get in the way of people finding what they need. If it does get in the way, or if it doesn't compliment content, or even worse, if it disables important browser functionality, it fails. In the past, there were only two choices: deal with the shortcomings of a crappy site, or forget about it altogether. At least now, if some hack does it wrong (like me!) users of the world can hack it back into shape.

What would be even better: if it were possible to build a tool like this that also pinged the server so that the developer knew exactly how users were hacking the site. That would kind of be like building a grassy courtyard with no pathways and then coming back six months later and paving the spots laid bare by foot traffic.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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