Why Greasemonkey is good for publishers

Written by Adrian Holovaty on April 12, 2005

Greasemonkey was mentioned on Poynter's online-news mailing list, which targets managers of online news sites. I just posted this message to the list, after another person brought up the topic.

Greasemonkey rules. Not only for users, but for publishers, too.

The reason it's good for users is obvious: It gives them total control over customizing content within their browsers. If you don't like the layout of a Web page, you can change it. If you want to add features to a particular site, you can. If something on a Web site bothers you, you can remove it.

The reason it's good for publishers is more subtle: It's free usability testing and free product development.

(And let's ignore ad removal for a moment. That technology has already been available, for years, in many other ways -- notably browser plugins such as Adblock. There's nothing novel about ad removal via Greasemonkey, from a publisher's standpoint.)

Look at the Greasemonkey script repository. Aside from the ad-removing scripts, each site-specific script falls into one of two categories:

  • Fixes a usability problem
  • Adds a feature

If I were a site manager whose site were the subject of a Greasemonkey script, I'd be thrilled to get the free feedback! Not only would I have a very detailed report of what somebody doesn't like about my site, or a requested feature -- it'd already be implemented for me, for free! (Granted, it'd be implemented in JavaScript, because Greasemonkey scripts are written in JavaScript, but it'd still be helpful.)

These types of readers should be embraced, not shunned. It's the technological equivalent of Dan Gillmor's well-known line, "My readers know more than I do."


Posted by anonymous on April 13, 2005, at 7:47 p.m.:

One might argue that "including the ad-removing scripts each site-specific script ... fixes a usability problem ... adds a feature.

In many, many cases, ads are a serious usability problem. People are looking at an article page to read the article. When they have to follow the article as it snakes around ads, it slows down their comprehension and distracts them from the article. This is BAD usability. I'm hard-pressed to think of ANY news site from an established media company that serves ads in a usable way. Those that are usable don't serve ads (e.g. IHT.com); those that serve ads impair usability.

Posted by Tony on April 15, 2005, at 10:36 p.m.:

That's true for banner ads and Flash ads but not for Google's TextAds, which don't really distract me at all.

Posted by Tim on April 20, 2005, at 5:30 p.m.:

You're right, but don't expect publishers to see it your way ;)

Look at what happened to Matthew Somerville, the guy who fixed Odeon UK's appallingly inaccessible web site for free (albeit by slurping their site and refactoring it at a new location): he was slapped with a cease and desist notice and had to take his Accessible Odeon site down.

Now, if he'd made a Greasemonkey script or a bookmarklet (ie achieved the same goal with a distributed rather than centralised solution) then the lawyers would have had less luck bringing it down.

Posted by Matthew Somerville on May 15, 2005, at 11:23 p.m.:

What, you mean this Greasemonkey script? ;-)

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