Browser, Google Chrome, Ideas, Internet Explorer, Life, Mozilla, Programming, Safari

An API for Browser Screenshots

What do the following screenshots all have in common?

From Amazon’s Cloud Reader Installation:

From the University of Virigina’s guide to setting proxy settings in Firefox:

From HootSuite’s TwitterBar acquisition announcement:

From Tecca’s Guide to Internet Explorer:

That’s right: they all include portions of browser chrome. (Chrome 13, Firefox 3, Firefox 4 for Windows, and Internet Explorer 9, I believe.)

What else do these screenshots have in common? They will all one day be out of date (if they aren’t already). As soon as Google modifies their extension installation dialog, or Mozilla changes their proxy settings tab, or the Firefox address bar gets a new background color, these screenshots will no longer accurately represent the interaction through which they’re meant to guide the user.

A Modest Proposal

I propose that this problem of stale browser screenshots could be alleviated by the creation of a Web service that exists solely to serve semi-dynamic screenshots of browser chrome. Allow me to explain with examples.

The Amazon screenshot above could be replaced with a call like this:

<img src="" />

Or the TwitterBar image could use this URL instead:

<img src=",icon&icon=" />

(Note the idea of being able to merge existing images into the screenshots.)

The IE add-ons dialog screenshot could just as easily call this URL:

<img src="" />

The API would automatically use the user’s user-agent to determine what browser, version, and platform to show in the screenshot (although these could also be specified manually, as seen in the IE example). If images from the exact current version aren’t available, the most recent version could be used instead.

I think that with a couple dozen high-resolution, high-quality screenshots of the various windows and dialogs in each major browser version on each major platform combined with metadata defining the position of key elements in those screenshots (e.g., the home button, the address bar, the History menu), 90%+ of the browser-specific screenshots on the Web could be replaced by calls to this service.

What do you think?

Is this a solution in search of a problem, or is it a legitimately useful idea? I think it would be worth its development costs just for organizations like Mozilla or Google to use in order to populate their help documents with screenshots that would always be up to date. Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Ideas, Social Networks

That’s right of you

This post at TechCrunch about residence-based social networks reminded me about an idea I had about a year ago for a similar system.

I was going to call it and register the obvious domain (.ly being Libya’s TLD). Users would register with their physical address and would then be grouped into dynamic networks consisting of all the other registered users within X number of city blocks. The features available to users would be the standard message boards, marketplace, invitation system, etc. I think it could be successful (and I’m sure there are already a few sites doing something similar) but at $150/yr for just the domain, I decided that it was too spendy for something that I might never get off the ground.

So now that I’ve put it out there, you’re free to go ahead and register and see my plans through, but I want a 5% stake. Deal? Deal.

AutoAuth, Browser Add-ons, Flock, Ideas, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape Navigator, Software

New browser extension: AutoAuth

Note: AutoAuth is now being developed by Steffan Schlein. If you would like to leave feedback, pleaseĀ create an issue on GitHub.

AutoAuth is an extension for Mozilla-based Web browsers that automatically submits HTTP authentication dialogs when you’ve chosen to have the browser save your login information. (If you’ve already told the browser what your username and password are, and you’ve told it to remember that username and password, why not just have it automatically submit it instead of asking you each time?)

The extension is pretty simple right now (very simple, actually), but I think it has the potential to become a very useful base for enhancing the HTTP authentication process in the browser. For example, a future feature might add the ability to specify login credentials for wildcard subdomains, so that once you’ve entered a password for, you don’t have to manually re-enter that password for,,, if they all take the same username/password pair. Just tell AutoAuth the username and password to use for *, and let it do the work.

You can install AutoAuth from the AutoAuth homepage. (AutoAuth is compatible with Firefox 1.5 and 2, Netscape Navigator 9, and Flock.)

Blog, Digg, Ideas, Social Media, Software

On resurrecting Digg’s Top Users page

My restoration of Digg’s Top Users page yesterday got a lot of press around the Web:

Both the list and my blog post about the list were submitted to Digg, but both were buried off of the front page. (Buried, or manually removed?)

Michael Arrington mentioned the list at TechCrunch, and the readers commenting on his post inexplicably turned against Netscape. Even though my actions had nothing to do with Netscape, the fact that I write code for them as well apparently makes my reproduction of the list “lame”:

“If this would have come from someone NOT at a competitor (in this case Netscape), I would have thought ‘cool!’ The fact that this comes from someone at Netscape makes me think ‘lame!’.”

Deep Jive Interests (a personal favorite of mine) was the first to wonder how long it would be until I heard from Digg’s infamous legal team. Nothing yet, but I’ll blog about anything that comes in.

This blog somehow decided to go with the headline “Netscape Bringing Top Digg Users Page Back.” I think if Netscape was sponsoring this effort, they’d want some kind of mention somewhere on the page. What? It only links to Digg? That’s awfully strange.

Like many others, Technacular incorrectly reported that I was scraping user profile pages for the rank number that is displayed there; kudos to them, however, for being the only ones to update their post after I sent them a clarification on how the script actually works.

Additionally, my blog was linked from Techmeme, blurbed on Download Squad, and mentioned at ValleyWag.

Oh, and there’s one question that I’ve been asked a few times that I’d like to address here: Sorry ladies, but I’m already taken.

Digg, Ideas, Nerd, Software

Something I can’t stand about Digg

Here’s something I can’t stand about Digg:

Say you’re not logged in and browsing the front page, opening stories and discussions in tabs (or new windows, if you’re stuck in the past) as you go, and you see a story you want to either digg or bury. So you go to the login box on the left and enter your information.

Now, any decent system would process your login and send you back to the page you logged in on. (A better system would prompt you for login information when you try to vote for a story, and after logging you in, process your vote and send you back to the correct page.) Digg, however, will always redirect you to the last page you loaded in Digg, whether or not it was the page from which you logged in. So if I’ve opened a Digg discussion page in a new tab since loading the home page, I’ll be sent there after logging in.

That is extremely lazy programming; instead of checking which page sent the login request, Digg must just store your last loaded page in the session and assume that’s where you want to go. Come on, Kevin; is it that hard to just add something like

<input type=”hidden” name=”referrer” value=”<?=sanitize($_SERVER[“PHP_SELF”])?>” />

to the login form? With as many users as Digg has, you’d think enough people would have complained about it by now for it to be fixed.

Ideas, Life

TV Channel Bookmarks

If you’ve ever used Macromedia Homesite to write code, then you’re probably aware of a feature it has called “bookmarks.” You can bookmark (or unbookmark) a line of code with Ctrl-K and then visit each consecutive bookmark by pressing Ctrl-Shift-K. This way, you can keep your proverbial finger in several parts of the page without losing your place.

Am I the only person that thinks that this would be a great feature for a TV (or satellite/cable box)? Instead of having only the “Previous Channel” button, you could have a “Bookmark” (“TV Mark”?) button plus a button for scrolling through your marked channels. With the myriad of channels available in some cable packages, surely there are more than two things that people are trying to keep an eye on at once…