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

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.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Head of Security Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would A Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon Who Wasn’t
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms Off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.