Platypus Brings Point & Click to GreaseMonkey

Story Text:

Thanks to O'Reilly Radar, I found a point and click interface to GreaseMonkey called Platypus.

From the project page:

Platypus is a Firefox extension which lets you modify a Web
page from your browser -- "What You See Is What You Get" -- and then save those
changes as a Greasemonkey script so
that they'll be repeated the next time you visit the page. Editing pages to suit
your needs is dandy -- but making those changes "permanent" is the real payoff.

Some of the things you can do with Platypus include:

  • Remove parts of the page you don't wish to see.
  • Move a part of the page to a different location.
  • Change the style and format of page elements.
  • Modify all the links on the page using a regular expression.
  • Insert your own HTML code.

Amazingly enough, Platypus actually works. I was able to make a few changes to the Adwords interface w/o writing a line of Javascript. I'm sure the program is a waste of time for those intimate w/ Javascript, but it does bring the power of GreaseMonkey to the rest of us.


yet another small step

...towards putting the user in absolute and full control over the web page(s) s/he is viewing.

Very few people "get it" - the bloggers don't even get it yet. There's something very interesting happening here.


you should really read this page after installing platypus. Otherwise you'll just see pink squares on your screen as you move your mouse and you will not even be able to turn them off.

Hint: Press "q" for quit.

you might shout at me for this

but I'd prefer you didn't on my pages thanks :)


Gurtie, whatchamean? I sure haven't shouted on anyones pages, not even yours :-)

sorry claus

that made sense to me when I wrote it :)

Obviously some of you love this Platypus stuff but to me it's in the same camp as AutoLink, although less of an issue because it really isn't targeted at general web users and it won't be earning someone else money.

So I suspect saying this might upset a few people but aside from changing pages for reasons of genuine usability (wanting a larger font, issues with colours etc) I'd really prefer people leave pages close to how they were designed. I don't remove ads (aside form using a pop up blocker) for that reason - and I don't remove lumps of text, change layouts or insert html code that effects the page in a meaningful way (I do use a nofollow indicator so I guess I do change html a little).

If I find a site valuable enough to want to visit it I do feel that I should at least broadly respect the wishes of the designer/owner. I have a choice not to visit if I find the site annoying. Changing their web pages without their consent isn't reasonable whether it's done by evil google or by trendy greasemonkey imho.

I completely shared your

I completely shared your fear Gurtie, until I realized users are going to gain control over my pages whether I like it or not. Once GreaseMonkey-type features are introduced in a major browser, the average user will be able to easily modify any site. As such, I had to find a way to embrace it.

IMO, the largest redeeming factor is the relationship it builds with each individual user.

When a user goes out of their way to customize your site, they're most likely already a regular user. Now they've developed an even deeper bond with your site. One that takes them time to replicate.

How much harder is it for a Google user to switch to Yahoo, if they've already gone through the trouble of making the G interface "just right"?

On a personal level it's great for adding functionality to websites I use on a daily basis. Within minutes I'd binded many of my most used links in Adwords, such as creating a new Ad Group, to access keys. Now I can finally use their interface w/o having to touch my mouse.

lots of thoughts and issues

>> for reasons of genuine usability

That's the main thing. The second is convenience. If you can easily list all links on a page, or make them blue and underlined as you're used to, or make sure they don't open new browser windows (or indeed make some kinds stand out from the rest) then -- as a user -- your benefit of the page will be higher.

Perhaps you've always wanted a search box on some site - well, just add it. Or graphics make some pages load slow - just remove them. Or, the form for posting should be bigger - well, make it bigger. The end result is that the user will get higher benefit from your pages than otherwise, so it's not really negative.

(Some of what I declare "convenience" will be called "usability" by others)


The cons, of course, are that

- as a writer you don't want others to take credit for your writings, and
- as a publisher you don't want people to remove your ads / other sources of income
- as a designer you want your site(s) to "look good"

And possibly more. I don't really see the user being able to modify the pages as a threat in any of these cases.

Writer: Well, your writing is what they come for, right? They won't remove that. In fact, if they can remove annoying features of your site they might come back more often.

Publisher: Well, if ads are relevant and don't offend you, why remove them? Fortunately, these days ads are generally relevant, or at least not very annoying. If it's a shopping site, otoh, the link to "basket" will probably be the last thing people will remove - they'll probably make it more visible in stead.

Designer: Uhm, you canĀ“t please all, right? So, the people that aren't pleased by your design are now able to apply changes so that they can again become pleased (and you don't even have to watch it, as it's personal)



Of course, technically it's much the same thing. The major difference for me is that Google does the AutoLinking, while this other thing is employed by the user.

Google might very well be a good search engine, but that's about it. I have no reason to believe that Google in general does what's best for users, or for me. Google is a company, they have their own agenda.

OTOH, the user is king. Dot-commers got it all wrong; it never was "the content"

Just like that other king, "the customer". If they want ketchup with that article, so be it. If they want to bring their dog, well, fine. As long as they're happy they'll return.

[OT] access keys

>> Within minutes I'd binded many of my most used links in Adwords,
>> such as creating a new Ad Group, to access keys

One of my absolute favourite extensions: Hit-a-Hint

Just hit the space bar, and you'll see a little number next to each and every link on any page. Enter the number while holding the space bar down, and when you release it the link is activated:

Instant access keys everywhere :)

>>The major difference for

>>The major difference for me is that Google does the AutoLinking, while this other thing is employed by the user.

I doubt that Google, or any of the 'users' who didn't understand the objections to AutoLink, will appreciate or understand that distinction.

Good writers/publishers/designers put everything on their page for a reason, or leave it off for a reason. That reason may not be immediately obvious to everyone visiting the site but it may be a good one.

Anyone who's ever worked in client services knows the customer is not always right. The customer is frequently a self opinionated idiot with a litigious streak who will take you to court with screenshots *proving* your website did not contain essential information and was therefore illegal in 50 states.

I really do doubt that 'my' type of websites are going to be effected by a huge rush of clients removing hotel information because it annoys them, and I'd be enthusiastic about stuff like this if it would support the opt out meta's - but considering that it actually does something we've (most of us) been protesting about for the past 3 months I can't not say something about it now.

Of course the issue is what Goog will most likely do in the future not what any of this stuff does now but there's not enough difference to make this OK imho


(great discussion :-)

I doubt that Google, or any of the 'users' who didn't understand the objections to AutoLink, will appreciate or understand that distinction.

... this thing can modify pages. I can already do that in a lot of ways - eg. by:

  • viewing pages on PDA, cell phone,
  • import to spreadsheet, text editor, html editor, etc.,
  • use Lynx browser, screen reader, etc.
  • using bigger/smaller/alternative screens or different types of browsers/OS'es
  • (spider and) set spider not to include images, js, css, whatever
  • enable/disable images, cookies, javascript in browser
  • apply my own stylesheet, or overrule stylesheets with browser defaults
  • use or disable browser extensions and plugins
  • print out and physically modify
  • and probably more...

There are really quite a few possible ways to view a web page. The user chooses his/her preferred method regardless of the webmaster. That is one thing. All is well. Platypus belong in this group.

The second group is when one webmaster (or firm, eg. Google) modifies the site of another webmaster. In some cases this is good, in other cases it is not.

  • Ads (like, eg. AdSense) are good - there's an agreement here
  • Content partners are good - there's an agreement here
  • All kinds of affiliate stuff is good - there's an agreement here
  • Various feeds, etc are good - there's an agreement here (of some kind)
  • Active / modifying proxies like 1bu cache, Babelfish, etc. - are either good or bad dependign on who you ask. For the user they're mostly good. They could be against copyright as well (afaik, ianal).
  • Passive proxies / mirrors are mostly good, as long as there's an agreement
  • Displaying copies of my pages from your servers without consent ("cached copy") - is either good, neutral, or bad depending on who you ask. It's against copyright in either case (afaik, ianal).
  • Putting my affiliate links on your pages without your consent, and hence making it appear like you recommend the advertisers I have a deal with - is not good.

(There's even a word for the latter case, I believe)

Only if the user specifically wants to see my (your) affiliate links on your (my) pages, then the last case is good as well. Because then it's a deliberate user choice. This scenario requires an action from the user.

In the AutoLink case(***) the user didn't even see the page first. In fact s/he didn't even choose. AutoLink was a Toolbar feature, so it was bundled, just like the IE browser or the windows media player. Because you wanted one thing you also got another that you had not asked for.

The user was tricked into accepting advertising for Google's current best buddy, Amazon. And advertising it is. That would be "Adware" - it's sort of the same as "spyware" only in spyware it's not always that there's a visible "benefit" to the user.

(***) I believe AutoLink was later changed so that the user had to press a button in each case s/he wanted to activate A.L. That turned it into an opportunity, which is good, although it's still just an ad.

not right :)

you always needed to press a button with autolink, and it didn't use affiliate links or earn money (directly, according to Goog, insert disclaimer here) for Google.

All I ask is that anything which provides this functionality gives sites the opportunity to opt out.

I do understand why you think it's different Claus, and to an extent I agree with you, but it's so close in principal that the same basic concerns have to apply.


... you're very close to convincing me that AutoLink is something I should feel good about.

However, advertising is advertising, even if it's given away for free. ISBN numbers linking to a sales page is advertising. I simply cannot see it any other way. Amazon is nothing but an internet shop - it is a very large internet shop, but that's still all it is. As for "free" I really doubt that Amazon does not pay for this regardless of which words Google-people like to use in public.

So, if I put an ISBN number on my site without linking it to something, Google turns that number into an ad for Amazon. Even if I thought Amazon was the best internet shop there was, I would still not receive any compensation for having my site acting as an advertising vehicle for Amazon. And if I personally preferred another bookstore, well, that's too bad.

I think the real issue that bugs me is that not only is it advertising that's not clearly labelled as advertising; in fact it's advertising pretending to be something else.

That might be expected from others but not from Google. Especially not from Google I should add, as they've always stated that "links are votes" and so on. But then again, the firm itself has changed fundamentally from an altruistic operation to an ad agency (with a search engine).

I think we're getting well off topic but....

>>the firm itself has changed fundamentally from an altruistic operation to an ad agency (with a search engine).

well it was started by two student geeks to prove they could. I guess they grew up!

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