May 16

Rael Dornfest

Rael Dornfest

Hoist by my own petard (was Google has tags and RSS feed autodiscovery)

I stumbled over a rather confounding side-effect of the browser-rewriteable web yesterday, posting:

Continuing it's tradition of throwing in a link to more juicy data or metadata whenever the opportunity presents itself, Google has added tags and straps one of those ubiquitous orange [XML] RSS bugs to every result sporting an RSS feed. ...
Click the "info" link associated with a result and you'll end up on the end of the URL with a listing of just about everything ever said about the link. Click the "tags" link and, through the wonders of Ajax, up pops a list of associated tags. As usual, an ugly-but-functional add-on.
This feature appears, at least by buddy list survey, to be unevenly distributed, so I've attached a screenshot below.

As it turns out, this feature is indeed unevenly distributed: to those who've installed and summarily forgotten about the annotate google Greasemonkey script for Firefox. I'd installed this and other extensions a week or so back after wiping my Powerbook and installing Tiger; but they'd not worked. Meaning to spend some time debugging, I'd spent some time on the road and not gotten around to it. Yesterday, while fiddling with the zoom textarea script, I upgraded my Greasemonkey extension to 0.3.3. It was only then that the Google annotation effect came into full bloom.

Add to this the confounding effects of my usually using the "I'm Feeling Lucky" feature baked into Firefox -- simply type your Google query into the address bar and you'll end up visiting Google's top result directly -- such that I don't tend to visit the Google page proper all that often. Also, Google's habit of weaving new features inconsistently into search results on the way to full deployment means you'll occasionally see something others don't, only to have them disappear a few moments later yourself.

This does present an interesting conundrum: as source becomes not only viewable but browser-rewriteable on the fly, how much of what we're seeing is really on the Web and how much an artifact of augmented Web reality? If I can be hoist by my own petard after knowingly installing a browser extension and (albeit a little later) being surprised by it actually working, how will the less informed end-user adjust? What is the potential here for misuse: perhaps pre-installing Firefox on new machines, outfitted with questionable Greasemonkey extensions in the name of customization and branding. While I'm as much a fan of the writeable and rewriteable Web as anyone (and more than willing to have a laugh at my own expense), is that cute little Greasemonkey in the bottom-right corner of my browser notification enough? (Apparently not.)

(The effect was further compounded by my underestimating the sheer speed of RSS syndication and aggregation. It only took a couple of minutes's instant messenger discussion with a friend to realize my mistake. Add an additional minute or so to drop the post back into Draft status and start on this version about the monkey's trickery. Nevertheless, as evidenced by a couple of trackbacks this morning (before re-posting), a couple of RSS readers or aggregators (most likely noticing an auto-ping) ran aground on the transitory post anyway. The moral: on today's syndicated web, you can't go draft again.)

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Comments: 8

  misuba [05.17.05 04:12 PM]

I propose that being hoist by one's own petard via user scripts in this fashion henceforth be known as "greasing oneself."

  Rael Dornfest [05.17.05 04:23 PM]

Apropos of today's monkeying about, a Wired article "Firefox Users Monkey With the Web

Simon Willison, a computer science student in England who's a fan of Paul Graham's online essays on hacking and programming, grew frustrated with having to scroll from Graham's paragraphs to his footnotes and back again.

So, armed with a little JavaScript, Willison wrote a program that automatically generated links between the paragraphs and the footnotes. A couple of weeks later, Graham wrote Willison to say he would soon start adding the links for everyone.

I've been thinking quite a bit of late about how Greasemonkey might change the way one interviews potential designers and CSS/DHTML/Javascript hires. What could be a better resume than doing something interesting with a potential employer's site... shoehorn in some functionality you've just been dying for them to add and, chances are, they've been dying to add themselves but have neither had the mindwidth nor bandwidth to get it done.

  Rael Dornfest [05.17.05 04:28 PM]

Misuba: touche!

  Mark [05.17.05 06:21 PM]

This is exactly why my Butler user script adds the "enhanced by Butler" banner at the top of the page. Judging from my inbox, the #1 request for Butler 2.0 is to take it out. ( already does this.) But this is exactly why I put it there, because I knew that the line between augmented (personal) reality and shared (public) reality would fade over time, and people would forget why Google looked different, or indeed would forget that it looked different at all.

I actually ran into this problem in a different way, earlier today. I was tweaking my Google Adsense settings and rearranging the ads on my pages, and I had to figure out which layer of ad-blocking was preventing me from seeing the results. Between ZoneAlarm, Proxomitron, a custom HOSTS file, a custom userContent.css file, AdBlock, and about two dozen Greasemonkey scripts -- the web I experience is nothing like the web most people experience.

  Jeremy Dunck [05.18.05 09:06 AM]

Response here.


Point taken. But is this something that should be solved by more obvious changes, or by more awareness of the augmented web?

If we can't agree on that, how could the augmentations be made more obvious? Mouseover'd aura element borders? A monkey icon that smiles more largely when scripts have been injected? A siren that sounds when you've forgotten, again, that this page is augmented?

  Gonzalo Labbe [11.16.06 10:09 PM]

The Rolling Stones cancel a gig in Hawaii and postpone other tour dates as Mick Jagger suffers throat troubles...

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