08 August 2008

Greasemonkey-What It Is, Why You Should Care

If you are using Firefox, you should have heard the term "Greasemonkey" being tossed around once or twice on your internet travels. If you haven't, no sweat. Let this post serve as your primer on Greasemonkey, and by the end you will be itching to get Firefox greased up and ready to speed down that infamous "information highway."

What it is

Put simply, Greasemonkey is an extension (also called an add-on) for Firefox that allows you to manipulate web pages to your liking. More than just a simple add-on that works on a single site or in certain ways, Greasemonkey gets under the hood of your total browsing experience, and allows you to create a more seamless, efficient web.

Sounds great, right? So let's get started!

Getting Greasemonkey

You begin by downloading the add-on here. Simply click the "Add to Firefox" Button and the following box will come up:

Click "Install Now" when the button de-greys, and the extension will install. You will have to restart Firefox for the extension to function correctly.

Give the Monkey Bananas

On its own, Greasemonkey doesn't do a whole lot, but sit idly in the background waiting for something exciting to happen. Much like a banana to a monkey, so is the User Script to Greasemonkey... it's what makes Greasemonkey come alive and start to show its charm.

User Scripts are simply small scripts, written by individuals, which use the power of Greasemonkey to accomplish certain things within your browser. Some user scripts are designed to work along with specific sites (like Google, Amazon, or even online gaming sites). Some make very minute changes to the layout or toolbar options for certain sites. But some user scripts stand out for the ways in which they re-configure the web to make it more efficient and user-friendly.

You can browse the gamut of these scripts at userscripts.org.

Some Very Useful Scripts

So what can greasemonkey and user scrips do for the genealogist?

LookItUp2- A great script that extends your ability to use the web in a more seamless way. LIU2 allows you to select text and search for a word or term in a variety of different websites without leaving the page you are on.

Let's say I am on the Allen County Government Website, and was wondering if this "Allen County" had any genealogy resources I should be aware of. With Greasemonkey and the LookItUp2 script installed in my browser, I can simply press Shift+Ctrl+Space and a screen appears over my current screen:

The top red arrow shows the search field, where I have entered my query, "Allen County Genealogy". Next to this field is the drop-down menu which allows me to select what site I would like to search (the list includes Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Google Images, Google, Websters, Answers.com and more).

The second red arrow shows the results I have gotten for my search in Google. Note that under this pane is the original Allen County Government page on which I started. I can browse as normal within this pane, then, when I am finished, simply click-off of the pane into my standard browser window, and the pane disappears!

Google Extras- Another powerful script that adjusts search results in Google to provide search over multiple different sites like Google Images, Wikipedia, Google Videos, and Dictionary.com.

Let's say I search on Google for "genealogy" with this script installed. This is what I see after performing my search:

This "megasearch" makes use of the traditional white-space in the right margin of Google results pages, and makes short work of finding what data is online related to your search terms.

Custom Sticker-Adds temporary markers to web pages to be used while working on that page. The markers disappear after a page refresh or upon returning to the page, but will remain if the page is re-navigated to by going backwards through your history.

An example of using the red markers on Ancestry:

The nice thing about these markers is that they remain when printing the page, providing an easy way to mark text or lines for printed web pages!

In Conclusion

These are just a few examples of the useful scripts you can find to make Greasemonkey a most useful browser extension. Greasemonkey and its attendant user scripts seems to me to be a glimpse of where the web is headed... a streamlined place where web sites interact across URL, less boxed in to their sites and more energized because of their fluidity and customizable use. As is apparent, the new web is one driven by you and your specific needs... no more waiting for a webmaster to add or removed certain tools, features or functions! The browser is back in the driver's seat.

A Word of Warning

You should make sure that you have installed (or updated to) the most current version of Greasemonkey, as vulnerabilities are always possible, and have emerged in the past. Of course, if you are using Firefox and not Internet Explorer, you probably know how to manage your online security already. But hey... never hurts to hear a helpful reminder.

1 comment:

Kathryn Doyle said...

Thanks - again - for another great tool. I really love your step-by-step directions. I can't wait to get started with Greasemonkey!