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Bookmarklet bliss

Bookmarklet bliss
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First Published: Tue, Aug 16 2011. 11 06 PM IST

Launch code: Bookmarklets can help you multitask and get organized
Launch code: Bookmarklets can help you multitask and get organized
Updated: Tue, Aug 16 2011. 11 06 PM IST
After years of dithering, I finally sat down this week to clean up all my Internet browsers, bookmarks and browser-syncing applications.
Most people, I assume, use just one browser all the time. And I suppose a lot of people only have a single browser on their machines. Usually this is the default browser that comes with the operating system.
Launch code: Bookmarklets can help you multitask and get organized
Not so, I am afraid, for the even moderately tech-inclined. One of the first things any respectable geek does with a new machine is to install a third-party browser: Firefox, Chrome, Opera or one of those newfangled social ones like RockMelt.
These days, you don’t really have to do this. Both Windows and OS X come with fairly sophisticated browsers. Both Internet Explorer and Safari are fast, stable and allow you to install add-ons, extensions and other small bits of additional software.
Yet, for many people, installing additional browsers on a machine is a rite of passage. If you are ever in a position to loiter around free Internet terminals at an airport or a hotel lobby, it is easy to pick out the geeks or semi-geeks. They are the guys who sit down in front of a monitor, roll their eyes, and first download and install a new browser. Even if they really only want to print a ticket or check an email.
As a result, your columnist has a plethora of browsers strewn across the various computers at his home. Per se, this is not a problem. Normal people would eventually settle on one browser and use it all the time.
But then normal people don’t write or read columns about browser bookmarklets.
So one week you are happy with Chrome. And then Firefox launches a much-hyped update. And then suddenly the week after that the new Safari has gestures baked in! Soon you’re playing this Russian roulette of browser software.
The thing is, I usually use the same extensions, bookmarks and bookmarklets, irrespective of the browser.
Now, browser extensions can be pretty powerful. Chrome and Firefox have superb add-ons. For instance, recently I’ve been very impressed with two: QuickWiki and CloudMagic.
Often come across names or concepts while browsing that you make a mental note to research on Wikipedia? Often completely forget about this 5 minutes later? QuickWiki is one way of dealing with this problem. It is a simple add-on which quickly searches Wikipedia or Wiktionary for information and then displays an overlay on your window with a snippet. Perfect for a quick reference.
CloudMagic makes the vast dump of data that is your Google account available for speedy search. Once you’ve signed up and linked all your Google accounts—Gmail, Calendar, Contacts and Docs—CloudMagic indexes everything and allows for speedy search. Its search is faster than Google’s. Hands down.
But the problem with using extensions is that not all are available for all browsers, and not all of them work uniformly. Which is why I often seek solace in the mundane sameness of bookmarklets. Bookmarklets are small pieces of Javascript code that are wrapped inside a bookmark in your browser. Click on it and, instead of summoning a page as most bookmarks do, bookmarklets execute the piece of code to get something done—send a page to Instapaper, email a URL, create a short-code for a page and then tweet it out, even send a page to your iPhone or your Kindle.
The great thing about them is that they usually work irrespective of the browser you use.
So this week, I tried a somewhat temperamental extension called Xmarks to sync the bookmarks and bookmarklets across all my browsers. Now if I add or remove any bookmarklets on one browser, the change is reflected on other browsers on that same machine, and on every browser on every other machine at home. Trust me, this familiarity is quite satisfying.
So what bookmarklets am I clicking away on these days?
Bit.ly, the URL-shortening guys, have an excellent bookmarklet that summons a versatile sidebar. From this sidebar, you can then comment and tweet links. Scrible is a useful tool when you want to share a URL, but with notes or highlighting. Great when pointing out a particular line or fact in a very long piece.
There are several bookmarklets that you can use for better reading and for Kindle integration. Instapaper text and SendToReader are particularly good. AirLink is a really simple way to send URLs from your desktop to your phone with one single click.
And these just scratch the surface. If you’ve ever used your browser and wondered “What if I could...”, then stop wondering and hit a search engine. Your bookmarklet is out there.
Write to Sidin at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Aug 16 2011. 11 06 PM IST