A few weeks ago, I started using iGoogle as an attempt to free up Firefox tabs while feeding my GMail/GCal/GReader addiction. Since then, iGoogle and I have formed a bit of a love-hate relationship. Although I like being able to see all my information in one place, the feature limitations are very frustrating (why can’t I apply labels without going to “real” GMail?!) The design limitations are also painful. In particular, I am continuously irked by how LARGE that header image is. It’s visually distracting and takes up precious screen real estate. This means that when I’m looking for information, I have to try to ignore the distracting image and potentially scroll down to see the bottom halves of my gadgets. Although iGoogle has built up a community around skinning themes, there is no ability to modify dimensions or layout, making the header a consistent annoyance in my iGoogle experience.
Today, I finally found a way to get rid of that header. Meet Chickenfoot, a “Firefox extension that puts a programming environment in the browser’s sidebar so you can write scripts to manipulate web pages and automate web browsing.” Although the basic idea is similar to GreaseMonkey, Chickenfoot’s goal is to allow users to easily write scripts to interact with web pages without having to look through source code. For example, it’s easy to automate a task like running a Google search, or changing the text label on a button. Users can write scripts on the fly using a built-in command line, or save scripts as “Triggers” that can be run manually or automatically later on.
I decided to give the application a try, and was delighted to find that Chickenfoot is very easy to pick up. In about 2 hours, I learned a bit about scripting in the Chickenfoot environment, wrote a script to fix my iGoogle design problem, and exported the fix to a Firefox extension.
The script I wrote is surprisingly simple. Every time you load up iGoogle, the script replaces the DIV that contains the header with a simple 1-line search box. Easy! Converting the script into a Firefox extension was a snap using Chickenfoot’s package function. The only complaint that I have is that the script does not run until after the webpage has fully loaded, which is noticeable since iGoogle loads so slowly. However, since iGoogle uses AJAX, the script only runs the first time you load up the webpage. This is a small tradeoff for the lovely screen real estate which I’ve freed up. Amazing how 2 hours and 4 lines of code have made me so much happier with the iGoogle experience– thank you, Chickenfoot! Now, if only I had time to rewrite the entire iGoogle user experience…