Tag Archives: extensions

Privacy: Ghostery helps you elude online trackers in all browsers

Ghostery browser add-on
Ghostery shows you who is tracking you and let's you stop them.

Browser cookies are the black helicopters of the Internet age. Everyone seems to believe they’re only used for a secret, evil purpose.

I guess it depends on your definition of evil. Companies use cookies  to store information about Internet users. That information is coupled with other data collected via “tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior.” That idea helps them deliver ads and marketing messages to you online. Probably the biggest problem is that this is done without you knowing that you’re building a customer profile simply by reading blogs and watching videos.

Ghostery is a free browser add-on that exposes who is tracking your behavior and allows you to block them. It is available for Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Apple iOS. That’s right – you can use it on your iPhone.

When setting up the add-0n, it’s easiest to go with a broad brush by blocking all third-party extensions and cookies. It doesn’t seem to do any harm (depending on your definition of harm).

For example, it blocks almost all the social media sharing buttons you see on web content. So if you use them a lot to “Like” pages, tweet stories and add to social bookmarking services, you’re going to miss them. But it’s easy enough to allow the functions you want by clicking on the ghost icon at the bottom of your browser. That will bring up an info box that tells you what is blocked and lets you unblock it. You can also click through to get information on the service that is tracking your behavior.

That window also lets you temporarily turn off the blocking. Once you do that, Ghostery still identifies the trackers and gives you the same information.

One of the benefits seems to be increased browser speed. Sometimes the blocking takes time but overall pages load faster without the third-party extensions.

Another casualty is advertising. Some ads are blocked. Sometimes the space is there but no ad can be seen. Annoying pop-over ads still appear but don’t show any advertisement. I still have to close out the ad space to continue reading.

Other than that, I don’t seem to be missing any functionality, except my online banking site seems to be glitchy while Ghostery is blocking trackers. Pausing the blocks lets me do what I need to do though.

I see two problems for publishers though:

First, Ghostery can block your analytics – Google Analytics and Omniture for example. That means your stats could take a hit even if you’re only tracking traffic to pages not who is reading them.

Second, if you run a metered paywall – a limit to the number of pages that can be viewed for free – Ghostery can let readers bypass those limits since they rely on information in cookies. But it doesn’t break down paywalls that protect certain pages.

What I like about Ghostery

I don’t need a tin foil hat anymore. The add-on makes me feel invisible to all kinds of tracking. Since not all of it is evil, I have the ability to accept the services that I want to use. It’s easy to use and worth the time to install.

Ghostery
Ghostery blocks some ads from being displayed

[Download Ghostery]

Write Blog Posts From Inside Your Browser with ScribeFire

blogThat seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? Blogging from insider your browser, I mean. That’s how most people do it — go to whatever blogging site they use, log in, and start typing.

But that’s not necessarily the best way. And it’s not the most convenient, either, especially if you have more than one blog. So, what is the best way? That depends on your needs. But a good choice is a browser extension called ScribeFire.

Let’s take a look at ScribeFire and what it can do.

A little about ScribeFire

ScribeFire ScribeFire is an extension for Google Chrome (it also works with Chromium, Chrome’s Open Source cousin), Safari, Firefox, and Opera. It adds a WYSIWYG blog editor to your browser that supports posting to most blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger, Movable Type, Posterous, and Tumblr.

Instead of logging into each blog, you can just pop open a ScribeFire window, type a post, and then publish that post with a couple of clicks. You can also save drafts on your computer to post later.

Now that all the background information is out of the way, let’s walk through how to work with ScribeFire.

Getting set up

The first thing that you’ll want to do is install ScribeFire. Just follow one of these links:

Once ScribeFire is installed, click the toolbar icon to open it. Then, click Add a New Blog. In the window that opens, enter the URL to your blog, select the type of blog it is from the Blog Type dropdown list, and enter your user name and password. After that, click Finish.

Adding a blog

Now you’re ready to go.

Writing posts

You’ve set up your blog or blogs. You probably want to start posting. To do that, select the blog for which you want to write the post from the BLOG list in the top-left corner. If you’ve only got one blog, then it’s already selected. Then, click Start a New Post. The WYSIWYG editor opens. Just start typing.

Editing a post

You can add various types of formatting to your post, like bold and italic text, indents, or highlighting. You can also add links, images, and YouTube videos as well as lists. You can’t add tables or actual headings in WYSIWYG mode, though.

But if you know some basic HTML, you can add a bit more formatting. Just click Switch to HTML Mode. In the HTML editor, add HTML tags (including the ones for headings and tables).

You can also add tags to your post by typing them in the TAGS field on the left of the ScribeFire window. You don’t need to do that, but it can help the folks who read your blog find posts on a specific topic faster.

Editing HTML

Once you’re done, click Publish to send the post to your blog. Or click Save Progress if you’re offline or still have some work to do later. ScribeFire saves your work to your hard drive and opens the unfinished/unpublished post the next time you start it up.

Moving your data between computers

If you’re using ScribeFire on more than one computer — say, your desktop and a laptop — and you have several blogs, it’s a lot of work to re-enter the information for each blog. Instead, you can back up your data. Click Transfer your ScribeFire data to/from another computer.

Transfer data

Then, do one of the following:

  • Click Export. A new browser tab containing some information opens. Copy and past that information into a text editor, then save it to your hard drive or something like your Dropbox account.
  • Click Choose File. Find the file that you saved, and then click Open. You’ll be prompted to close and then reopen ScribeFire.

ScribeFire is an easy-to-use and flexible tool for blogging. While it’s not a fully-featured as tools like BlogJet, ecto, or MarsEdit, ScribeFire is more than capable of handling most of your blogging needs. And you can’t beat the price.

Photo credit: svilen001

TweetDeck for Chrome is a Flexible, Lightweight Version of its Desktop Counterpart

TweetDeck Desktop is arguably one of the best desktop Twitter clients for power users. It offers endless columns of information, multiple account support, and many features that Twitter itself had to copy. This app can basically do it all, and might even be getting purchased for $50 million by Twitter.

My only major complaint is that TweetDeck Desktop runs on Adobe Air, and while I have no qualms with the technology itself, it often suffers from major performance problems, especially when starting the app for the first time. With a modest seven columns (okay, maybe that’s not modest?), I usually need to “warm up” TweetDeck like I used to warm up my ’97 Ford Escort in a brutal North Dakota January.

With the launch of Google Chrome’s web store, an app store for its popular web browser, TweetDeck jumped off the Adobe Air bandwagon and onto the new Chrome platform. The result: a screaming fast, delightfully useful version of TweetDeck that runs directly from your browser.

To get started, head over to the Chrome web store (while using Chrome, obviously), and install TweetDeck for Chrome.

Once you have TweetDeck installed in Chrome, you can access it from any new tab page (press CTRL + T) or, alternatively, install the TweetDeck Launcher extension to open TweetDeck directly from your browser’s toolbar.

My favorite part about getting started with TweetDeck for Chrome was that I didn’t have to reconfigure my columns or information. If you already have TweetDeck for Desktop installed on your computer, it can automatically import your settings. Otherwise, you can log in with your TweetDeck account which should also restore most of your settings (although I think it only restores custom columns).

TweetDeck for Chrome in the New Tab page
Skip the tedious configuration process by importing from TweetDeck Desktop

Note: You’ll have to approve the import process through TweetDeck desktop before the data can be imported to TweetDeck for Chrome.

The first thing you’ll notice: TweetDeck for Chrome is crazy fast. Opening columns for two Twitter accounts, Facebook, and a couple of search columns takes mere seconds. Even better, those columns are immediately usable (I’d usually have to wait several minutes before TweetDeck Desktop would let me actually interact with it.

If you’re combining multiple accounts and social networks in TweetDeck, you’ll probably be greeted by a few “merged” columns that showcase messages from all of your accounts together. I’m not wild about this (I like my Facebooks kept separate from my Twitters), so I opted to delete those columns and instead make account-specific columns. Hey, some people like their pickles cucumbered.

To add new columns or accounts to TweetDeck for Chrome, just click the TweetDeck > button in the top left. This will present you with all of the fantastic options you’d expect from all TweetDeck clients.

To delete a column, click the wrench icon that appears when you hover over the column and then click the red Delete button at the bottom of the column. Clicking the wrench icon also gives you the option to edit notifications for that column. You can also move any column when in wrench-mode (but it appears this is the only time you can drag-and-drop columns, otherwise they remain locked).

Overall, TweetDeck for Chrome is probably my new favorite desktop Twitter client. It might take a little bit of time to get used to opening a separate Chrome window to run it on a second monitor, but it’s worth it for the performance and the fantastic feature set.

How to Prevent Facebook and Google from Tracking You Online

These days it’s impossible to casually surf the web and avoid sites that use tools from Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others that make the experience more social and immersive.  Still, with privacy issues at the forefront of technology news, it is worth noting that many of these social media tools make your e-life more convenient at a price – they track your behavior.

In most cases, this isn’t at bad as it sounds. Google tracks your search and browsing history with cookies to deliver more relevant advertisements to your favorite pages. Facebook performs similar tracking of your social behavior to gain a better sense of your browsing habits as it builds tools for its users.

The troublesome part of third-party tracking of your daily surfing is that there are many things companies can do with this information that isn’t so beneficial to its userbase; after all, they needs to make their money somewhere. Imagine a scenario where your personal searches and browsing habits were sold to advertisers or used against you – the possibilities are nearly endless.

Note: For more information on cookies and third-party tracking, refer to this Lifehacker post which does a decent job of explaining some facts and myths.

End Third-Party Data Collection

A former Google engineer, Brian Kennish, developed an open-source browser add-on called Disconnect to avoid such possibilities as he began to learn more and more about cookies, third-party tracking, and Internet privacy while working at the Big G.

Disconnect is available as both Chrome and Safari browser add-ons and unobtrusively stymies third-party tracking scripts from major data gatherers like Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter, and Digg. The function is pretty simple: Disconnect blocks tracker scripts from collecting information from you, such as Facebook ‘Like’ buttons or those pesky auto-login sites, and de-personalizes your searches on Google.

While it’s true that Google has the option to turn off your Search History, it can do what it pleases with your search habits. Disconnect is a good way of staying logged in to your social media accounts without needing to worry that your sudden interest in “red spots on my inner thigh” will come back to haunt you.

The browser add-on is easy to install and shows you with a counter how many scripts were blocked from collecting personal data. It is also easy to disable and re-enable (just click the big icon of your choice) should you decide that you want to re-Tweet, Digg, or ‘Like’ something on your favorite sites.

Seven blocked scripts during a visit to Huffingtonpost.com

I hope that one day the internet will become a place where the big social players such as Google and Facebook won’t be able to collect information about you unless they expressly ask your permission, but until that day comes Disconnect has you covered.

As a side note, Mr. Kennish forfeited his golden ticket job with Google to work on this passion project, so he must be serious about it. He was kind enough to keep this project open-source, so should he be forced to abandon it surely another developer would pick up the slack. With any luck, protection for third-party tracking is here to stay.

Score Great Deals on Woot.com with Firefox and Chrome Browser Extensions

If you don’t know what Woot! is, it’s a site sells a single item each day (usually at an exciting price).  There are several different versions of the site – selling things like shirts, wine, and stuff for kids – but the original Woot! is the place where most of the action happens.

Every once in awhile, Woot! has a “Woot-Off”, where they abandon their usual deal-a-day methodology and instead offer limited quantities of items, sold one at a time, with a new item appearing as soon as the current one is sold out.  Mixed into Woot-Offs are “bags of crap”, which are blind grab bags full of random goodies.  At times, these bags of crap (lovingly referred to as BOCs) contain really nice things, like HDTVs and Xboxes.  Needless to say, it’s really hard to get a bag of crap, and the woot.com website is usually completely unreachable when one comes up for sale.

If you enjoy the occasional impulse buy, you can use some extensions for your Firefox or Google Chrome web browsers to stay up-to-date on the latest deals (and even get a better chance at purchasing the fabled bag of crap).

Woot! Watcher for Google Chrome

Chrome has a great extension called Woot! Watcher that gives you all the functionality you’ll need to grab deals on all of the Woot! websites.  This extension shows you deals from each website in a single window, and has optional notifications to let you know when new items are available.

woot-watcher-chrome

If a Woot-Off is going down (which is happening right now, if you’re lucky enough to read this article when it was posted), the Woot! Watcher icon turns into a flashing yellow siren.  You can set up optional Woot-Off voice alerts and notifications, and Woot! Watcher can even be configured to auto-buy bags of crap if they come up for sale (well, it doesn’t automatically buy it for you, but it will take you to the purchase screen to speed up the process).

woot-alarm

woot-settings

You will also see a percentage of how much stock the current item has left during a Woot-Off.

Woot BOC Purchaser for Firefox

The same developer of previously mentioned Woot! Watcher for Chrome makes the same extension for Firefox, but it is much less elegant and requires a giant sidebar window to display the daily deals.  I had preferred the less obtrusive Woot Watcher add-on, but unfortunately it hasn’t been updated since February 2010 and no longer functions properly.

Luckily, a different developer decided to pick up the abandoned Woot Watcher for Firefox add-on, fix the code, and add some new features.  You can download it at the Shopper Addon website, and to install it you’ll have to click Allow at the top of your browser window.

boc-1

boc-2

After restarting Firefox, today’s Woot! deal will be displayed in the status bar of your browser.  Clicking the item’s name will take you straight to Woot.com.  If a bag of crap happens to come up for sale, you will be automatically taken to the purchase page.

boc-3

Conclusion

With these extensions, you should be well on your way to blowing your hard-earned cash on impulse purchases.  And if you’re lucky, you might catch the Woot-Off that is going on right now.

Make Gmail into a Carnival with 0Boxer, Earn Rewards for Being Productive

Time to face hard facts: Checking your Gmail inbox is not the most enjoyable thing you do during the day.  To be honest, it can be quite boring, really.  Reading, replying, trashing, and repeat; it never ends.  Even using Priority Inbox doesn’t solve the mediocrity email sorting creates.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually get recognition for your inboxing skills?  Shouldn’t your inbox duties be rewarding and fun at the same time?  Well the solution to all these boredom issues in Gmail is just one download away.  The solution?  It’s 0Boxer!

0Boxer (pronounced Zero-Box-er) is an extension currently available for Google Chrome and Safari that takes the drag out of Gmail sorting and filtering.  0Boxer is set up in three (or four) easy steps as shown:

After 0Boxer is added to your browser, you create a profile on the 0Boxer website and allow the program access to your Gmail account.  Then the fun begins.  If all went well, a toolbar appears on the top of your Gmail inbox showing your 0Boxer profile.

Like a traditional game, the whole point of 0Boxer is to get points.  One point is issued for every deletion, spam flagging, writing, or archiving you do in your inbox.  These points are then logged on your 0Boxer profile and shown on the toolbar.  The more points, the higher you climb the leader board.  How thrilling!

If you get lucky, you might stumble across a badge for your 0Boxer profile…and we all know from those Xboxes and games like Call of Duty that achievements and badges are the hip things these days.

So what are you waiting for?  Grab 0Boxer, start cleaning your inbox, and watch the points roll right in.  Oh, did I mention it was workplace safe as well?  Join today.

Image Courtesy: Ceasar Sebastian’s Flickr

How to Fix Chrome’s Broken RSS Feed Handling

If you’ve ever tried opening an RSS feed in Google Chrome, you may have been dismayed to find that it does a horrible job of handling them.  RSS feeds (like ours) are meant to provide an easy subscription method to a website, allowing you to view your favorite websites all in one place with an RSS aggregator like Google Reader.  I use Google Reader to help manage the dozens of sites I follow for personal interest and article ideas.

Most browsers can interpret RSS feeds properly and give you the option to subscribe to the feed with several services.  Chrome, however, just dumps a bunch of text to your screen.

Luckily for us, there’s an easy fix for this problem.  Head over to the Chrome Extensions Gallery and install the RSS Subscriptions Extension (by Google).  This extension was developed by Google (as you might have guessed) and adds some much-needed functionality to Chrome.

After you’ve installed the RSS Subscriptions extension, a small RSS notification will appear in Chrome’s omnibar when the site you’re viewing has an RSS feed available.  Clicking this icon will take you straight to the site’s RSS feed.

RSS Subscriptions will also kick in whenever you access a feed directly.

You can choose from four popular RSS readers: Google Reader, iGoogle, Bloglines, and My Yahoo. If you use a service not listed, simply click the Manage option to add your own.

From now on, Chrome will properly render your RSS feeds!

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out the rest of our articles about web browsers and Google Chrome.

How to Install Adobe Reader Without Installing Adobe DLM (Download Manager) Browser Plugin

As a quick follow-up to my previous article about installing Flash player without installing Adobe’s DLM browser plugin, I’ll cover how to avoid installing this unnecessary intermediary software when installing Adobe Reader.

If you didn’t read my previous article, here’s what you need to know:

  • Adobe DLM is a “download manager” plugin that is installed in your browser by default when trying to install some Adobe products such as Flash player and Reader.  This software simply performs the download (just like your browser normally would), and has no real added benefit.
  • These products will run just the same whether you use Adobe DLM to download them or use the standard installer directly.
  • The standard installer is not the default method to install these products, so you’ll want to follow this procedure whenever installing Adobe products to avoid extra software.

Update 10/6/2010

As noted in the comments, Adobe has now changed their website so the Reader installer is even harder to find.  By default, you are now required to download Adobe DLM, then cancel the download, click a secondary link, then remove Adobe DLM.

Not fun, right?  Don’t worry, here’s the solution:

Step 1: Open Adobe’s FTP server in your browser and select your operating system (“win”, “mac”, or “unix”).

Step 2: Select the most recent core version of the software.  In my case, this was “9.x”.

Step 3: Select the newest version listed again.  In my case, this was “9.4.0”.

Step 4: Select your language from the list.  United States English is “en_US”.

Step 5: Download the .exe installer and install Adobe Reader as usual.  That’s it, you’re done!

Removing Adobe DLM

If you’re using Firefox and have installed Adobe products in the past, you can check to see if Adobe DLM was installed by going to Tools –> Add-ons and locating it in the list.  From this menu it can be disabled and/or removed.

How to Install Adobe Flash Player Without Installing Adobe’s DLM (Download Manager) Browser Plugin

Most of us use Adobe Flash, that’s simply a fact of the internet.  YouTube, Hulu, Pandora, and dozens of other sites currently use Flash to provide you with interactive media and applications, and until HTML5 (hopefully) gives us a viable alternative, we’re stuck with it in many ways.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind Flash.  What I dislike is when Adobe starts forcing me to install an intermediary application, Adobe DLM, to install Flash instead of directly installing the software.  For those of you that have been on the internet for a while and remember “download manager” applications, when was the last time you needed one in the age of high speed internet?

I’m sure Adobe has plenty of reasons for wanting you to download and install two applications instead of just one, but I’m not having it.  And unfortunately for all of us, the default (and only obvious) way to install Flash is to install the Adobe DLM plugin to your browser.  You’ll probably notice this little yellow bar at the top of your browser when you try to install Flash:

Even I am tempted to quickly grant access to Adobe DLM so I can get my Flash fix on.  But you can install Flash without Adobe DLM with just a few steps:

Installing Adobe Flash Player without Adobe DLM

Step 1: Instead of installing Flash from the normal installation page, head to the Flash troubleshooting page.  You can alternatively get to this location from the normal installation page by clicking the link “click here for troubleshooting information” as shown below.

Step 2: On the troubleshooting page, click the link that says “Troubleshoot Flash Player installation”.  I haven’t tested this in other operating systems, but I was presented with a specific Windows link.  Please post in the comments if you’re using another OS and see something different.

Step 3: Skip all the steps presented on this page and instead click the link that says “Download Flash Player with the manual installer”.

Step 4: Select the correct file for the browser you are using.  One file is for Internet Explorer, the other is for all other browsers.

Now just install Flash as usual.  It was a little more work, but now you are only installing the software you wanted to use in the first place.  Hooray!

If you’re using Firefox and have installed Flash in the past, you can check to see if Adobe DLM was installed by going to Tools –> Add-ons and locating it in the list.  From this menu it can be disabled and/or removed.

Google Chrome: Quickly View Larger Facebook Pictures with Facebook Photo Zoom

Lately, I’ve realized how little I like clicking on things.  When opening programs, I’d rather type a command with my keyboard than open my Start menu.  If I need to open a file in a folder, I type the first few letters of its name and press the enter key.  So when I’m on Facebook, I’d much rather hover my mouse over an image to see the full size than to interact with that licentious mouse button.

The Facebook Photo Zoom extension for Google Chrome is a welcome relief to us mechanomusophobics (ok, I made that word up, but the roots are syntactically correct!).  To start using Facebook Photo Zoom, simply install the extension from its Chrome Extensions page and it will automatically be activated.

The next time you want to view a larger version of an image on Facebook, simply hover your mouse over it.  This works on both profile pictures as well as photos.

If you ever feel like turning Facebook Photo Zoom off temporarily, just press CTRL + SHIFT + Z or click the small photo button to the left of your Facebook chat bar.

Image credit: John Stansbury