Sunday, April 23, 2006

Greasemonkey Paving the Way for Frankenstein Software?

I'm not real big into Greasemonkey, and I've never written a userscript, but I love what they can do for me. Blogger drafts are posted for the time I post them, not when I originally wrote them, just like I wanted when I first started using Blogger. Gmail labels can be color coded. There is a huge array of improvements to existing webapps, and what can be done beyond that is amazing. The biggest impact is to webapps, rather than websites. The impact is both in the current set of modified apps, and in what it means for the software landscape. There have been plenty of people to suggest this, but if you haven't heard it you should consider what the greasemonkey mentality could lead to in making software fit every individual user's needs better. Firefox extensions have a lot in common, not surprisingly, sometimes altering core fundamentals of the program to tailor better for users who are frustrated with something that other user's might enjoy perfectly. This kind of pick-your-parts software customizing is going to increase, and sooner or later the developers will emprace it and we might even see webapps that function as a base and implement some more of their functionality as userscripts. What if greasemonkey started to recognize a way for websites to publish large sets of userscripts that apply to them, and you could easily enable or disable the ones you want. The application would become a channel for its own customization through external scripts, lower the bar to using the scripts drastically. Just how much development could we push into userscripts, and how much of a framework could we build out of them, to make them more stable between versions, work together more safely, and one day be able to build entire apps with them? Can the userscript concept go beyond the web? How could something be implemented for a Python or Java application?

2 comments:

Matthew Marshall said...

"""
Just how much development could we push into userscripts, and how much of a framework could we build out of them, to make them more stable between versions, work together more safely, and one day be able to build entire apps with them? Can the userscript concept go beyond the web? How could something be implemented for a Python or Java application?
"""

I've been working on something along those lines. Hopefully I can start tech/prealpha releases within a month or so.

MWM

Anonymous said...

What if greasemonkey started to recognize a way for websites to publish large sets of userscripts that apply to them, and you could easily enable or disable the ones you want.

That would be so cool. I run across a lot of posts from people that don't know about the very extensive scripts that exist and dramatically change the webapp.

I'm not sure that complex web apps will embrace greasemonkey addons soon. I know that the gmail faqs take a negative/dismissive stance towards addon scripts but I don't know of any others that even acknowledge them.

Just how much development could we push into userscripts ... [could we] one day be able to build entire apps with them?

I'm rather into greasemonkey hacking, and have a particular interest in completely redesigning websites I frequent. By looking at the url structure and the basic layout of a page, it's quite possible to generate your own data feeds for websites by screen scraping the page.

The DOM isn't terrible as a screen scraping environment, there are usually a few bits of semantic info in the page which improves resilience, but you still have problems with site redesigns. Unfortunately, I get distracted and don't finish my projects.

I have a half complete redesign and had just completed the scraper when they redid the site for HTML 4.0. I got annoyed and dropped the project.

Similarly, I have a parser for oreilly's safari that can grab the full contents of a book when you hit the book index. I intended to create a nice columned layout but got distracted by work projects and haven't gotten back to it.

Alas, too many ideas. Not enough time.

As for userscripts in python programs, it seems the answer is eggs. Ian Bicking gave a talk on it at PyCon and the TurboGears project makes fairly heavy use of eggs as plugins.

Karl "grayrest" Guertin -- I refuse to sign up for a blogger account

I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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