The internet offers a wealth of tools, information and entertainment, and asks very little from us in return. It's huge, diverse, cheap and open to almost all. Little wonder that business models have been turned on their head since the world went online.
For all its breadth, however, the web is far from perfect. It's said that a camel is a horse designed by committee; the internet has been designed by a committee of millions, so it's hardly surprising to find a few flaws. But occasionally these threaten to spoil the entire online experience.
Many big-name sites are plagued by pop-up adverts, unnecessary graphics and counterintuitive navigation. And once you drill down to MySpace pages and obscure music blogs, design polish and legibility are often the first things out of the window.
Websites are intended to be usable by all, and a select few achieve this. But, with some notable exceptions (such as iGoogle), these sites fail to adapt to your idiosyncratic surfing habits. If only it were possible to tailor the look and function of all your favourite websites to your own needs...
Greasemonkey can improve just about anything it touches, from adding must-have features to the Gmail interface and organising your social life in Facebook to speeding up blog posts. The best part: thousands of Greasemonkey scripts are free to download, and installing them is as simple as clicking a single link.
These scripts are written primarily for use in Firefox, but many also work with other web browsers. Install the appropriate add-on and you'll see your web experience improve in no time.
Fine-tune online sites and services
1. Playing music files on web pages is often an inefficient process. Inline Google MP3 Player simplifies things, automatically detecting linked MP3s and embedding Google's Flash player on the page so you can play the file right away, without downloading it.
2. There's no point in going to YouTube to watch a video when you can see it in the page you're currently visiting. Videoembed automatically embeds videos from YouTube, Google Video, Metacafe and similar sources whenever the site you're on links to them. Now you can watch the clip directly.
3. It takes several clicks to view full-sized images in Google Image Search. Greased Lightbox is a fast and attractive script that turns search results - along with gallery pages on sites such as Facebook, Flickr and MySpace - into Ajax-driven galleries that you can navigate from your keyboard.
4. When downloading from filesharing services, you're often kept waiting for several minutes on a landing page before you can get hold of the file you want. NoDelay takes you directly to your download, removing those irritating, unnecessary pauses.
5. It's easy to waste time at work surfing online guilty pleasures. Stealth Kiwi prevents you from accessing specified sites during work hours, helping you to get things done. It's not completely heartless, however: you're allowed to take a 10-minute browsing break each hour. It's like bottled self-control.
6. Film fans can spend hours researching releases on the Internet Movie Database, reading reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and adding DVDs to their Blockbuster queues. Movie Dude cross-links popular film sites to streamline the process of finding and renting or buying a movie.
7. You've just finished writing the ultimate blogger's opus but, before you have the chance to click Submit, your browser crashes and you're back at square one. Had you first installed Textarea Backup, your masterpiece would have been saved after each new keystroke.
8. Some comment text fields on blogs show only a few lines; writing lengthy responses can be like trying to pour the ocean into a teacup. Textarea_drag_resize adds a small resize icon to the corner of every text area on the web. Click it to extend the field to accommodate your verbosity.
9. For some Facebook fans, applications are the site's greatest innovation; for others, nothing is more irritating than a page littered with SuperPokes and Scrabulous boards. Use Facebook Profile Cleaner to remove all custom apps from profiles you peruse.
10. One reason for MySpace's huge appeal is that it invites users to customise their profile pages in ways that reflect their personality. But what if their personality turns out to be loud, ugly and ridiculous? Myspace custom style remover returns profiles to their clean origins.
>> NEXT PAGE: GET MORE OUT OF GMAIL
Get more out of Gmail
1. If you've ditched your desktop email client, but you miss being able to manage your email and agenda via a single-window command centre, give Gmail Addons a try. This handy script enables you to add links to the Gmail interface.
2. By default, the Gmail Addons script embeds Google Calendar in Gmail's interface, conveniently enabling you to access both applications from the same place. It can also embed Google Reader, Remember the Milk and other great online productivity apps.
3. Gmail Macros enhances Gmail's already robust set of keyboard shortcuts, allowing you to navigate your inbox and label email messages on the fly without taking your hands off the keyboard. Better yet, it accomplishes all that through an easy-to-use graphical interface.
4. At its default settings, Gmail indicates email attachments with a generic paperclip icon. The Gmail Attachment Icons script embeds small icons in place of the generic catch-all to indicate whether the attachment is a picture, a Word document, a PDF, an MP3 or a zipped file.