For years browsers have included options for “User Defined Styles”, allowing users to define a custom style sheet. But recently there has been massive innovation in allowing website users to customize the underlying sites.
The core of this innovation is XML and CSS, which has succeeded in finally separating the content from the presentation of websites. This is for practical purposes fully realized. Now for the next revolution.
The Revolution: User Scripting Websites
When we visit YouTube, Google, NY Times, or any other website, we’re never quite satisfied. The site always could have been better. It could have been easier to navigate. It could have been less cluttered. It could have included some key feature that would have made the site so much more useful. Like every engineering problem, the solution has always been possible – but the cost has outweighed the value, so modification of websites has not been wide spread.
Greasemonkey/Userscripts are leading the way into a new future. It can be commercialized. This will be bigger than Peer-to-Peer. Bigger than BitTorrent. Once this is integrated into every frequently used browser (IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera) UserScripts will become as important as XML RPC is to the modern internet.
User Scripts allow users to customize the look of any given website to match their preferences. Moreover, User Scripts allow the customization of the way that the given website actually works! For example, want Google Reader to look more like iTunes?
Default Google Reader in Safari
Google Reader Customized with “Mac OS X Snow Leopard” User Skin
Want to download .MPEG4 videos directly from YouTube?
Default YouTube in Safari
YouTube Customized with YouTube Perfect
Not only does this provide the ability to download FLV or MPG4 videos directly from Safari, it provides the ability to automatically select “HD”, to turn off the “Auto-Start” and even to change the color of the buttons!
Want to get rid of all the adds on the page you’re reading and focus only the content in a big, pleasant to read font? Usually the only rescue is to hit the “Print” button and try getting a reasonable page.
However, thanks to the “Readability” experiment, you can save yourself from any website and just focus on what you want to read – in a style that is most comfortable on your eyes.
Consider how many people enjoy “tuning” cars? Adjusting the suspension, the exhaust system, the interior, the lighting. Look at how much people customize their icons, their desktops. Once you can customize the software that you use, online, in an easy way, it’s going to unleash a revolution unlike any that have been seen in traditional software development to date.
- Some customizations can be very efficient, saving users time or bandwidth
- Customizations can change the feel to match the needs of certain groups of users (teens, employees of a specific company, seniors, students at a specific university)
- The “cost” of customization will be much lower than what’s ever been seen in software because the changes are done automatically on the client side at runtime
- The scale of such customizations will be vast. Imagine if Windows, Office, and Internet Explorer were released as Free Open Source software in 2000 – we would have hundreds of different versions of each. This will be even bigger!