Firefox Add-on: Greasemonkey

Brenden Schaaf / May 10, 2009

gmThis post piggybacks somewhat on my previous post about Amazon Prime in that the usefulness of Amazon (among other sites) can be extended by another Firefox Add-on called Greasemonkey.  Greasemonkey is easier to understand if you think of it as “an add-on that has plug-ins” because the way one person uses Greasemonkey can be vastly different than the way someone else uses it because the functionality is determined by the Greasemonkey Scripts that you choose to install for it to use and by itself, Greasemonkey does nothing.  It needs scripts installed to be useful.

In brief, Greasemonkey is usually used to change the behavior and/or appearance of a webpage or part of a webpage.  That sounds like a pretty broad concept and I suppose it can be.  This Wikipedia post gives more detail than I will delve into here, because I think looking at a few things that I use Greasemonkey for will better illustrate its functionality.  But since there are no restrictions to who can write a script or what it can do so the list of functionality is constantly changing as new scripts are written/released and users (like you!) could create scripts themselves for a very specific purpose that only they need/desire as well.

First, to install the Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox, visit this link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/748 and follow the instructions similar to other add-ons.  Once that is done, you need to find some scripts to install to make Greasemonkey functional.  There is a site called userscripts.org that is a great place to start.  As mentioned above, though, here are some brief descriptions of the scripts I have found particularly useful:

  1. CamelCamelCamel/Amazon Price History
    • http://camelcamelcamel.com/greasemonkey
    • This brings the functionality of camelcamelcamel to Amazon so that you don’t need to visit a separate site to see the price history of an item.  If you don’t know already, camelcamelcamel tracks the prices of nearly everything sold on Amazon.  It also allows you to set price alerts so that you get an email when the price drops below a level you specify.  Installing the Greasemonkey script means that you don’t have to go to camelcamelcamel to see the price history…just click on the widget on the item page at Amazon and it will show you the price history in graphical form.
  2. Amazon/Hennepin County Library Lookup Tool
    • http://www.hclib.org/blogs/CatalogNews.cfm?ID=494
    • This script will show you right on the Amazon book page whether or not the item is owned by Hennepin County Library (there are similar scripts for other libraries if you live elsewhere).  Simply click on the link to go straight to the HCL catalog page where you can reserve a copy for yourself.  Also, this script (and other HCL scripts listed here) only works for the suburban (i.e. not in Minneapolis) libraries until the catalogs are combined as a result of the library merger completed last year.
  3. BookMania (works on Amazon)
    • http://www.longhighway.com/monkeyisland/
    • What if HCL doesn’t have the book you need but you don’t want to buy it?  This neat script adds links to search for the book from the Amazon page in each of the area library systems’ catalogs.  Also, it provides a link to MnLINK, a computer system that will search across the libraries of Minnesota and from there you can request a book to be delivered via inter-libarary loan (ILL) to your local branch.  I found this very handy for seeing some obscure books (like for geneology, for example) before I decided to spend a lot of money purchasing a copy.
      Amazon alterations from the Greasemonkey scripts mentioned above (click image for larger view)
      Amazon alterations from the Greasemonkey scripts mentioned above (click image for larger view). The Bookmania links show up even for items that aren't books -- sometimes annoying but they don't screw anything up.

      Expanded view of camelcamelcamel widget showing price variation of a hard drive over time
      Expanded view of camelcamelcamel widget showing price variation of a hard drive over time. Scrolling down will show 3rd part New and Used prices in addition to the price charged by Amazon over the past several months.
  4. Barnes & Noble/Hennepin County Library Lookup Tool
  5. Netflix/Hennepin County Library Lookup Tool
    • http://www.hclib.org/blogs/CatalogNews.cfm?ID=289
    • HCL came up with a script that works on Netflix for movies kind of like the one that works on Amazon/B&N mentioned above.  So you can get the movie at the library for free and save your Netflix rentals for things that aren’t availablel at HCL.

      How titles appear on Netflix after installing HCL script
      How titles appear on Netflix after installing HCL script
  6. OnePage StarTribune
    • http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/30022
    • One of the most annoying things about viewing articles on the StarTribune.com site is that they have gone to this format of showing you a few paragraphs and then requiring that you go to the “next page” to view more.  I believe this is so they can show you another screen full of ads, but it drives me crazy.  This Greasemonkey script makes it so that the entire article displays on one page.  I forget how nice this is until I’m looking at a Strib article in a different browser or on a different computer and I’m quickly reminded how annoying the  multi-page articles are.  Examples below are from an article that appears today at http://www.startribune.com/business/44610492.html
      Without Greasemonkey running the article is broken onto several pages
      Without Greasemonkey running the article is broken onto several pages

      After Greasemonkey is turned on (and script is installed) the article appears all on one page
      After Greasemonkey is turned on (and script is installed) the article appears all on one page
  7. Disable StarTribune page refresh
    • http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/41063
    • Another annoying thing that StarTribune.com does is to refresh most pages every few minutes.  This can be annoying if you are reading an article when it happens or if you go offline to read your articles and then you get a “page not found” error when it auto refreshes.  This script puts an end to that behavior.

So there, in a nutshell, is some of the functionality that Greasemonkey offers as a Firefox Add-on.  Depending on the sites you use, there may be dozens of scripts that you will be able to use to make your browsing experience that much better.  Because Greasemonkey is so unobtrusive I often forget that it is running until I use a different computer and/or browser and I wonder why pages looks different.

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