The future is coming ready-or-not

Archive for January 2006

Making the Web your way with Greasemonkey

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Greasemonkey lets you run scripts when you visit a web site. Using a DHTML script stored on your computer it can change how a web site looks or functions to fit your preferences. Think of it as configuring a web site to your needs.

There are lots of uses for this functionality. For example, if you think that the text size on your favourite news site is too small you could make a script to magnify the text – every time you visited greasemonkey would automatically change the site for you. For a more visual overview watch this four minute video.

There is some concern about the impact of userscripts changing websites in ways that content publishers didn’t envisage. This could have a commercial and technical angle if their use becomes wide-spread. For me the wider their use becomes the better: greater user interaction (mash-ups) will benefit site creators, and having control over sites behaviour in the browser is great for users.

The first step to using Greasemonkey is to install the extension. When you restart Firefox you’ll see a cool monkey button in the bottom status bar. The best place to find greasemonkey scripts is the userscripts directory.

To install a script in Firefox take the link to the script so that it’s displayed as text in the browser window. Then in your browser click on the Tools menu and the Install this User Script… menu item.

The scripts I find indispensable are below, and as you can tell I use Google Gmail a lot!

Gmail delete button
The Gmail delete button script places an easily accessible delete key on the main bar. It may be passe but I don’t want a persistent archive of shopping lists and movie ticket confirmations so delete is my friend!

Gmail Secure
This script makes sure that all Gmail traffic is encrypted over SSL so that no-one can read your gmail. I decided to use the CustomiseGoogle extension instead as it has a swathe of google functionality.

Gmail Macros
Gmail already has some keyboard shortcuts but gmail macros extends it. Useful additions are “t” to trash a message, “p” to purge a message (mark it as read and archive). If you press “g” (for go perhaps) you can type the label name and it will take you there (works with inbox and trash as labels). Alternatively, if you click “l” and type a label name it will mark the message with that label.

Add to Delicious Focus 2.0
If you installed the Del.icio.us extension I discussed in my post yesterday then you can use this userscript to make it more usable. When the pop-up window shows this extension focuses input in the Description box, so you don’t have to click your mouse to start typing. It’s available from userscripts.

That should be enough to get started and I’ve only scratched the surface. If you find a really killer user script, or something that I should have mentioned please comment or trackback!

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Written by Steve George

January 20, 2006 at 13:21

A selection of Firefox extensions

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The last six months have seen the Mozilla Foundations Firefox browser achieve momentum among users. It’s share of users has gone over 10%, and it’s reaching 20% in Europe. A double figure share of the market makes it a realistic competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and sites have started to react accordingly. Aside from security a key factor in it’s success is that Mozilla is very configurable. If you’re going to spend most of your day using a single application then you want it to closely match your needs: Firefox lets you add extensions to provide specific capabilities for your requirements.

Here’s a collection of extensions that I use every day. To install one visit the link and click on the filename for the extension. Mozilla may pop up a security box, if it does follow the instructions to permit that site to install files. After you’ve installed an extension you have to restart Mozilla so that the extension loads.

Avoid annoying adverts with Adblock
Adblock lets you block out those annoying adverts that make some webpages useless. By default Mozilla will block pop-up adverts but this extension goes even further. It does take some effort to configure properly but is well worth it. It’s also worth mentioning that blocking adverts is controversial – adverts are how sites pay for the content, so if enough people block adverts sites may not be able to pay their bills and could shutdown. I tend to block really annoying flashing adverts and leave context-sensitive or small and static ones alone. The Adblock site has more.

You’ve got new mail with Gmail Notifier
Webmail keeps me in contact wherever I am, and Google’s Gmail with it’s extensive feature set and generous storage allowance is my favourite. But it’s so annoying having to go to the web page and login every time to check if there’s new e-mail. There are a variety of ways you can be alerted to new mail, this extension is one of the best. It places a small envelope on the bottom bar of your browser window that when clicked takes you straight to your Gmail page. When you have new e-mail the icon changes colour or it can play a sound to alert you. Get the latest version directly.

Fasterfox for lightspeed browsing
The Fasterfox extension speeds up your browsing experience by configuring Firefox’s options for speed. Think of it as a tune-up for your browser. You can either use the defaults, or configure your own settings – and the little page load timer that it places in your status bar is cool.

Del.icio.us post
The Del.icio.us site transforms how you use bookmarks. Freed from your computer you can access them from any browser, share them with others and use tagging to sort or sift for associated sites. The Del.icio.us post extension adds a button making your bookmarks a click away. I’ve always loved the idea of Del.icio.us, but this extension lets me integrate it into my normal browsing – download it now!

Easy editing with Xinha Here
From blogs to forums I’m constantly responding to sites through a text box. This extension provides an easy to use HTML editor – it gives you full access to HTML wherever you use a textbox, and you can save your posts. You access the extension when you’re in a textbox by right clicking and activating the Xinha Here menu item. I’ve only just started using it, so far it’s been very useful for posting to my blog. You can get it here.

I’m also looking at Spellbound, and will post about Greasemonkey another time. All the extensions I use are popular so should be stable, I’ve used them all on Linux and Mac OS X. Have I missed any great ones, and what’s your favourite extension?

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Written by Steve George

January 17, 2006 at 14:42

Marketing Malpractice

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There’s an insightful article called Marketing Malpractise: The Cause and the Cure in December’s Harvard Business Review. It discusses where market segmentation is failing and how purposeful products offer a solution. It’s thesis is that many segmentation strategies lead marketeers to solve the wrong problems and improve products in ways that are irrelevant to customers needs.

One of the authors, Clayton M. Christensen is the author of The Innovators Solution so developing new ways to satisfy customers is part of the fabric. Two points particularly caught my attention:

“The structure of a market, seen from the customers’ point of view, is very simple: They need to get things done … When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them. The marketer’s task is therefore to understand what jobs periodically arise in customers’ lives for which they might hire products the company could make.”

Having done this and decided what product to develop, they continue:

“With few exceptions, every job people need or want to do has a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension. If marketers understand each of these dimensions, then they can design a product that’s precisely targeted to the job. In other words, the job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis”

For technology products I don’t think you can totally exclude the customer’s capabilities from how the job will be accomplished. If the job is reading-internet-email, there’s going to be a big difference between how someone who receives one e-mail a day and someone who receives a thousand a day expects to solve the job. You could more tightly define the product but then you’d land up with a hundred reading-internet-email products.

A post by Havoc Pennington Redhats desktop technical lead ruminates on what this means for complex technology development. He applies this to the development of the GNOME Linux desktop, and to some degree the wider commercial Redhat products. I’ve a feeling that he hits the nail on the head when he talks about flexibility: the jobs that people use technology products for are often sufficently complex that a number of features will be required to satisfy them. This in turn means that the feature set will meet the needs of those trying to accomplish a number of different jobs. Jotspot is an example of this, where they have multiple mini-applications on top of their base product.

Returning to the articles criticims of common segmentation practises. In my experience small businesses’ often segment by types of customer because that’s the data that is accessible, cheap and easy to use for metrics. It’s measurable that a product has 5% penetration of the 0-250 employee sized companies in the UK mainland: good luck saying that a product has an unknown level of penetration in the reading-internet-email job and could you have more money next year?!.

The article also covers building purpose brands and how brands should be extended. There are alternative summaries of the paper at Corante, Marketing Bytes and Noise Filter. If you want some further reading then Manyworlds has an interesting system where you can find related articles.

Is Christensen right, are jobs the fundamental unit of analysis

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Written by Steve George

January 5, 2006 at 21:36


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This page is a quick collection of books that I want to read.

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

David Weinberger points to this book about the formation of the original Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  It gets great reviews on Amazon and as the actual OED is too expensive for my casual use, the story about it’s heroic formation will suffice.

Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web

The cluetrain manifesto is one of the most influential books written on how the Internet is effecting marketing.  One of the writes, David Weinberger, moves on to discuss how the Internet is impacting society.  Sounds optimistic, is probably naive and the reviews on Amazon are variable – but it still sounds like a great read.

Written by Steve George

January 5, 2006 at 10:53

Posted in Uncategorized

WordPress.com blog FeedBlitz e-mail subscriptions

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With FeedBlitz your readers are notified with the full text of new blog entries you publish. On WordPress.com I couldn’t get the default way of linking to work. The Links (the boxes down the side of the blog) section seems to ignore form tags. To get around this you can use a form that is hosted on the FeedBlitz site.

I added FeedBlitz through the FeedBurner service; if you take this route it sets up a login for you on the FeedBlitz site. As we want to edit the default settings you then have to ask the FeedBlitz site to e-mail your password to you. The advantage is that FeedBlitz e-mail subscribers will also show in your FeedBurner stats.

When you’ve logged into the FeedBlitz site go into “Your Published Syndications” and follow the link for your feed that looks like the HTML brackets i.e . In the new page is a section labeled “Alternative Subscription Links” and the first one provides a HTML link that is suitable – Mine was http://www.feedblitz.com/f/?Sub=XXXXX.

In your wordpress.com blog you should add a Link Category and then add a Link with the URL above. Visitors to your site should then be able to put their e-mail into the text field to subscribe to your blog by e-mail. Improbulus has a long review of the service that does a great job of covering how it can be used from a bloggers perspective.

Providing subscriptions through e-mail is useful as many Internet users aren’t familiar with RSS or haven’t yet made the jump. And in many business environments e-mail is the lingua franca, so why not make it as easy as possible for people to read your wisdom! If you need more convincing, Viral Voices points to a good article by Chris Garrett on this topic.

Feedblitz is free but there is a premium service that lets you do more. You can keep up with the latest developments through their blog. I’m very confused about the capitalisation for this service, on their frontpage they have FEEDblitz in the graphic, FeedBlitz in the title!

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Written by Steve George

January 4, 2006 at 18:34

Posted in Uncategorized

Last.fm free music streaming

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I found an alternative to the free music streaming system Pandora that I posted about last time called Last.fm. It’s a free service, uses free software extensively and is multi-platform (Linux, Mac OS X and Windows) – so it hits lots of my targets! As an aside, it’s great to see technology innovation from a team in the UK.

You start by registering on the site and installing a plugin for your media player e.g. ITunes. As I’m using Linux I installed the AudioScrobbler plugin for Rhythmbox.
You then play your MP3 collection with the plugin running. Under Linux you have to start the audioscrobbler plugin manually from the commandline. It collects information on the songs you’ve played and builds up a profile on your personal homepage. For example, here’s my profile.

When you’ve played around 400 tracks it calculates your musical neighbours and builds up a personal radio station from your tastes. In order to use this you have to download the music player which is multiplatform.

You can view other peoples music tastes and listen to music built up from their tastes. If you’re using Firefox then you have to do this alteration to your configuration. There are also lots of collaboration and mash-up features such as blogs and forums

There’s also a full screenshot tour. So far I’ve been very impressed. It’s more complex than Pandora which makes the learning curve steeper, but in return there’s much more to the service. And while I don’t think I’ll be using that many of the collaboration and community features if you’re into music these will be invaluable.

I’m not sure that people will bother tagging all their music, or whether this sort of free-form categorisation is useful. Does Last.fm sound like the sort of music service that you would use? And do these sort of community fostering systems have any hope against the might of ITunes, or are they too complicated?

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Written by Steve George

January 3, 2006 at 14:34

Posted in Music, Uncategorized


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