Building the Perfect Browser


Baby, we’ve come a long way.  I remember working with Internet Explorer or Netscape, browsing the web when it was just a matter of “looking for stuff”.  Being connected to the internet today means so much more.

Recently, I shared my browser with another person who looked at the layout and said “What’s this stuff?” – pointing to the various icons that adorn the top of the browser.

As I started to explain, it really occured to me.  I couldn’t get along with a vanilla web browser in this day and age.  I’ve taken the browser and made it mine.

Depending upon the day, I might be working in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Opera Next but there’s a common thread.  I’ve added extensions or add-ons to make the browser mine.  As I scroll through the extensions page, I may have 20 or 30 installed.  From this big list, I figure that there’s at least five goodies that get me through the day.

ScribeFire – I use this daily.  It’s my in browser blog editor.  It’s got all the features that I could possibly need when composing posts like this one.  Fully featured, and it does a great job with all that I need.

LastPass – Every service that I access on the web seems to have a customized spot that requires logging in to access.  Confession time – there was a time years ago when I used the same password on every service.  “cat”.  OK, just kidding.  Now, I let LastPass create a very secure password every time I create an accound and store it for me.  It’s so nice to have the software remember passwords for me and let me keep my grey matter for other things.

Shareaholic – I’ll admit to being a sharer and I like to tuck away things that I find to my own services.  Shareaholic lets me configure the services that I want to use and I’m just a right click away from assigning it appropriately whenever I visit a web page.  It also serves as a launchpad to a bunch of other services like Diigo, Pinterest, Instapaper, Bit.ly, …

Adblock Plus – Like most people, I like to think I can have a bit of control over what I see when I visit a website.  My use was really initiated by a slow internet connection.  It’s bad enough to have to wait forever for content to appear; but it’s even worse when you’re slowed down by advertising.

Ghostery – I don’t know if there’s any way of perfectly protecting your privacy when connected, but there’s a sense of satisfaction when Ghostery indicates it’s blocking all of 1746 trackers.

There are a number of extensions that are installed but these are visibly active on a regular basis.  I can’t imagine browsing without them.  In fact, if I ever do, I just feel so handicapped and exposed.

What extensions make your good browsing experience great?

Tracking Elements


I think most of us recognize that there are many elements that exist on the web to track your movements.  You may even think that you know who or what these are.  You may even be aware enough to install software in your browser to block the tracking of your online activities.  You may even have installed or use the analytics from a web service so that you know where your visitors are coming from, how they’re referred, what type of browser they use, their operating system, …

I know that I use the statistical information that WordPress provides, for example, so that I know just how many hits I get on a particular day.  I also know that I use the Ghostery extension to try and keep the information that I share to other websites at least to a minimum.

Recently, I noticed an interactive service that Ghostery provides that tries to educate you as to who the big players are in the tracking business.  Colour coded, it presents them as Advertisers, Analytics, Beacons, or Widgets.

The layout takes the familiar form of a Periodic Table.  It’s available online here and looks like this.

When you visit the website, hover your mouse over any of the elements to reveal the details.  You’ll notice a pulldown menu for the dates and the chart has data created and posted every couple of weeks.

It’s fascinating reading and the results are very interesting to try to understand.

It’s an interesting world out there.

Thinking About Privacy


I think that the quality of a keynote address, at least for me, is the ability for it to make me think.  Driving home from ECOO, I’m still mulling around Nora Young’s talk about Big Data.  You can watch it, or rewatch it here.

She gave lots of great suggestions about the types of data we share:

Now, I like to think that I’m as cautious as the next guy.  I have Ghostery, AdBlock Plus, and Do Not Track Plus installed on all of my computer.  I have geolocating turned off when I send Twitter messages.  I’m well hidden, right?

I wrote myself one of her quotes which I think is verbatem.  “We leave digital trails behind us”.

In part of her discussion she talked about the geolocation abilities of cellphones.  Both GPS enabled and nonGPS enabled.  Heck, anyone who has ever watched Law and Order knows that this is how serious criminals or missing persons are tracked – by their cell phone location.  As I type this, I have my perfectly hidden computer in front of me but my cell phone beside it.  I have another Nora quote – “Data sets coming together to generate more data than either one”.  So, if you wanted to find me, find out when I’m on my computer and then zero in via my cell phone.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve had the extensions to my browser.  Before that, as I was learning, I was wide open.  And, if it’s not from that information, certainly I’m somewhat identifiable by my IP address.  Or, try finding me old school – in the phonebook!

So, just what is privacy and to what extent can you control your privacy?  Or, can you even control it at all?  Is the best that you can do some sort of damage control and just minimize what you’re sharing / broadcasting?  How about students?  Do they have a sense of this?  How paranoid about this things should the average citizen be?

If you’re concerned, I would highly recommend watching and listening to her keynote.  I really found it food for thought.