How to rewrite your favorite Web sites.

Inside the Internet.
Sept. 26 2005 1:05 PM

How To Monkey With the Web

The software that lets you rewrite your favorite sites.

(Continued from Page 1)

After spending a weekend looking for the most striking example of Greasemonkey's power, I gave top honors to two scripts. (And an honorable mention to this goofy but eye-opening script that turns Boing Boing into an interactive quiz by replacing the author bylines with multiple-choice popup menus.)

Magic Line crawls every page you visit and creates a searchable history of links and RSS feeds you might have missed. Hold down Ctrl-Shift-L and a semitransparent search pane appears atop your browser window. I typed "New Orleans" and found a blog entry from the storm zone that I'd overlooked while speed-surfing.

The American Memory photo collection, before and after Greasemonkey. Click image to expand.
The American Memory photo collection, before and after Greasemonkey
Advertisement

The other winning script overhauls the Library of Congress'American Memory photo collection, a valuable archive hobbled by HTML pages straight out of 1995. Install the American Memory Fixer and the exhibit gets a makeover: tidy white pages with new fonts, a smarter layout, and large photos rather than thumbnails. It's more than a modification—it's a renovation.

These demos inspired me to write my own user script to streamline the site I've been working for into a lightweight search page. After an hour of fruitless keyboard-pounding, I realized the guys who wrote Magic Line and American Memory Fixer spend a lot more time on this than I do.

That's the limitation that threatens Greasemonkey's potential: Unless you're a natural programmer, you'll just have to hope some hacker shares your annoyance with, say, Slate's front page. So far the distribution of scripts is twofold—they're either for superpopular sites like CNN or programmer's hangouts like Slashdot, with a few niche favorites thrown in. (I haven't found a single script for Slate yet.) You also better hope the guy who programmed your script knows what he's doing. Buyer beware, because not all Greasemonkey scripts work flawlessly: My editor installed one that promised to trim the ads on IMDb, but it erased his whole page instead. (A script that doesn't work as advertised is annoying but won't cause any permanent damage—it's easy enough just to turn it off).

Greasemonkey recalls the giddy fun of when browsers first came out a dozen years ago. It also suffers from the same problem that hamstrung the Web before the arrival of easy-to-use site-building tools. Only a tech-savvy elite knows enough to play with it. The rest of us are still consumers. What we need is a Greasemonkey Remix Tool, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor that lets us redesign other people's Web pages on-screen, then spits out a script to make it happen. Something this powerful is too good to let the hackers have all to themselves.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Mad About Modi


Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.


Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.