Google Chrome Extensions – Fourth Edition

One of the most attractive characteristics of Google Chrome when it launched in 2009 was its speed.  Everyone I knew had already added enough plugins to Firefox to choke the browser as it tried to load.  Even worse, Firefox add-ons, which the industry now calls plugins or apps, were an integral part of the browser’s loading time.  A misbehaving program was enough to crash your browser, potentially losing work and certainly losing time.  By comparison, Google Chrome seemed mysteriously sleek, like a racehorse running on an empty track early in the morning.  Even better was the way Chrome handled crashes for its extensions, allowing one part of the program to crash while keeping the browser intact.

I vowed to never add so much baggage to Chrome to cause the program to lag.   And I’ve been fairly faithful, pruning unused extensions whenever they’re unused.  That cyber-take on the “stop sending the report and see who complains”  has kept Chrome running fast.   The time to launch Chrome on my system, the only one I care about, is about 3 seconds.   Firefox typically runs 5-6 seconds unless it’s updating an add-on, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was apparently tested for speed using a sundial.   That’s one takeaway for you as a small business leader:  it’s nice to know how software and machines perform in magazine testing, but you should ultimately care about how they perform in your office.

Since then, Big Thinking has published a list of must-have Google Chrome Extensions with a short explanation of each.  The list was divided last year into extensions for everyone and extensions for marketers, and that’s still a method that works well for me and readers who have commented.   Since the first list in December 2009, only StumbleUpon has been on the list each time, but the venerable page recommendation engine is on my endangered list because I know I’m not using the tool very often any longer.  Whether the lack of use is due to lack of time or burnout after years is irrelevant because it will be uninstalled if still aboard Chrome when it’s time for this summer’s list.

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Why Do Not Track Hurts Consumers

Chains wrapped around computer keyboardEveryone is hurt by “Do Not Track” and other well-meaning privacy initiatives that  hurt the economy, reduce the number of online options consumers have for news, entertainment and research and could even change pricing of mobile phone, Internet, television and other plans.

Most business leaders would agree that any short-term gains generated by compromising customer privacy would be offset by reputation damage and may eventually drive an organization out of business.  But consumers may not understand what happens when they install ad blocking software or take advantage of Firefox’s proposed “do not track” flag.

By informing companies that they don’t want their activities tracked or they don’t want to see advertising on websites or smartphones, consumers will block  the activity that allows organizations to provide free and subsidized services.   Google said that today that they would make code available for Internet developers to embed this opt-out mechanism in future browsers, but even The Washington Post conceded that doing so might cause repeated or less relevant ads.

Smart advertisers aren’t tracking you–they are tracking the activities of a computer session to serve better, more relevant advertising.  That tracking leads to better advertising targeting which means the companies sponsoring the information and connectivity are more profitable and can continue offering free services.  Imagine a world where  you pay a membership fee for access to a search engine or for Facebook or to watch a video.

Advertising pays for all of the services and more, including subsidized telephone services, broadband pricing initiatives and a global economy where a small business in Europe can compete with a multinational conglomerate in Los Angeles for the same consumers in South America.

You must know that companies have to be paid.  Someone pays the employees, pays for the lights to be on, pays for the things we all enjoy now free.

Forget free applications and consider how your daily surfing habits would change.  Email would likely remain free, but would probably have more restrictive sizes that wouldn’t allow pictures or files to be transmitted.  Even browsers are advertising or product supported.

Two popular browsers, Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome, are directly supported through donations from Google, an organization that creates almost all of its revenue from online advertising.  You don’t pay $29.95 to buy browser software as you were expected to during the web’s nascent days.  And that’s true in so many situations because online advertising is affordable and effective.

I know that because I help small businesses and non-profits generate more revenue from their online advertising efforts.  That profit means they can create new jobs, keep prices stable a longer time and fund philanthropic activities.  Today’s Wall Street Journal print edition featured a story about Mozilla’s “do not track” future capability on the front page of its Marketplace section.  Further inside the section and no coincidence was an article about The New York Times’ plans to begin charging consumers for access via Amazon’s Kindle and the Apple iPad.

The Journal called this “the biggest test to date of consumers’ willingness to pay for news they’re accustomed to getting free.”

Providing bandwidth, content and creating websites costs money.  When consumers realize that some of their favorite activities may now be unavailable for free, it may be too late to restore some of those services.  Online ads are effective thanks to the tracking mechanisms that make ads appeal to the proper audiences. If ads become random and less efficient, you just may pay for the privilege of telling law-abiding companies that you don’t want to be tracked while organizations who don’t follow the practice or are not based in the United States will do as they please.

Ad blocking and “do not track” initiatives are bad for America’s businesses and worse for America’s consumers who use free Internet services.

Source:  ”Web Tool on Firefox to Deter Tracking”, Wall Street Journal, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Times Prepares Pay Wall”, Wall Street Journal, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Google, Mozilla Detail New Privacy Procedures“,  Washington Post, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Do Not Track FAQ“, Mozilla, 1/24/11
Source:  ”Keep Your Opt-Outs“, Google, 1/24/11
Image:   Courtesy of Armin Hanisch

Officially Stable, Google Chrome 4 Launches

I think Google Chrome is the fastest, most user-friendly browser on the market.

Opera is close, but Google added speed and usability to the mix. I’ve been so enamored of Chrome that I only use Firefox for testing anymore.

I’ve also been using the developer channel for months.  Think of it as a big beta test.   That means I’ve seen more crashes than most.  But the way Google Chrome runs means that a bad extension, add-on or site with bad code doesn’t cause your browser to crash.

Even better?   Google’s announcement today that Google Chrome 4 is a stable version.    That means I can recommend using the browser to my clients, friends and family.  And I do.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer lost amazing amounts of market share to Firefox (which Google helped develop) because it was slow, bloated and bogged down like a typical Microsoft product.  Like lemmings, however, many users including me began bogging down Firefox as well.  And now Firefox crashes because there are 20 add-ons competing for resources and the system is sluggish.

Google Chrome’s architecture helps solve that.

My recommendations are that you download Google Chrome now. After that, take a look at the extensions gallery.  We wrote about Google Chrome extensions last month.  Many of your Firefox favorites are here, as are some new extensions from Google.  It’s almost time to update our list because there are some terrific new extensions and some that seemed great but were never used. Try Chrome out for a week.  I think you’ll enjoy the speed and usability.  But be careful about deleting any existing browsers. There are still sites that do not work well with Chrome.  You won’t be surprised to learn that Microsoft is one so if you’re an Office user or even just use Excel or Word, don’t get rid of Internet Explorer. Here is a Google video on Chrome extensions:

5 Browser Tools To Use Daily

Plugins, skins and toolbars made browsers unique user experiences. During a typical workday, I will use 3-5 different browsers and more if we’re testing a new site or doing a site audit. But even visiting familiar sites in “standard” browsers can bring chuckles.

Visit Google’s main search site, for example, while using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and you’ll be prompted to “upgrade” to Google Chrome. That message won’t appear if you’re using Firefox, but the software guys get their revenge on the search folks when you try to download from Microsoft using a browser they didn’t create. Never mind if you have a legit copy of a Microsoft product you’re attempting to support. You’ll simply be messaged to use a supported browser.

Puhleeze.

But there are five tools I use every day in my browser of choice, which happens to be Firefox, closely followed by Google’s Chrome.  Try them out yourself and see if they make your workday easier.

1.  MeasureIt [Firefox only plugin] -  I don’t think there has ever been a time when I’ve sent a plugin to CDS (Creative Director Sara for those of you who haven’t been playing the home version of our game) and seen it installed it within minutes.  MeasureIt is simply that good.  Sitting almost hidden in the left corner, MeasureIt does one thing remarkably well:  it measure an area of real estate on your screen.

2.  A live character counter – I use the awesome, fast and easy program at JavaKit.  Yes, I could boot Word or install another plugin, but why bother?   Copy, paste, click and move on.  Sheer elegance.

3.  A date calculator – Someone tell you the project is due in 100 days?   Well, 100 days is a couple of clicks away.  The very long-lived timeanddate.com has a large selection of date calculators.  Figure out date intervals, go back in hours or weeks or forward in years and months.  The site is wonderful.  There are some fun calculators too.  I turn 400,000 hours old this summer.  We’re having a party.  And in lieu of the traditional one dollar for every year in a birthday card, you may bring pennies.  If writing a check for the 400,000 pennies is easier, that’s fine too.  Or Amazon gift certificates.  I take those.

4.  Color Data – More simple elegance online.  Go from hex colors to RGB.  Lighten or darken the values and hand them off to your developer.  Sometimes it really is that easy.

5.  The blogs you read in online magazine format.  This is my newest tool, and I don’t know if I can rave enough.   Feedly is in beta, but essentially acts as a front-end overlay for Google Reader.  You’re reading this as a blog entry.  Maybe you’re on Facebook, maybe you’re on the Silver Beacon Marketing site, maybe you’re on some other platform.  Feedly in your regular browser will change your mind.  This could easily be the blog interface that makes aggregation more familar and thus more accessible popular.  I just like it because it segments and sorts and content flows into the columnar format I’m familiar with.  Go play with this one if you read more than one blog.

Read It Later Saves Your Bookmarks Now

Small business owners are barraged with data.  Those who once worked in larger companies may find the incoming links, email and well meant suggestions difficult to keep up with since the entire support team is usually whittled down to those who don’t do support and do focus on revenue.

Read It Later screenshotLike many, I often found myself adding items to my bookmarks to look at “later”, a time which came rarely and resulted in me either forgetting why I bookmarked the page or in shuffling bookmarks into cascading folders so they were “organized”.

Tagging helped some, but the most disruptive change has been a great Firefox plugin called Read It Later.

The bookmark fundamentally changes what is a bookmark and what is something to explore later and perhaps promote to bookmark or simply delete.    The “reading list” the plugin generates has a great built-in search function, tagging, syncing, offline reading and an RSS feed.

My bookmarks are saved.  I’ve saved plenty of items to my reading list.   Every so often I flip through the oldest.   Two of dozens have made it to the bookmark list.  I forwarded a few more and deleted the rest.

I can be a digital packrat, but Read It Later helps me declutter my bookmarks while changing the way I explore new sites.  For a free beta plugin, you can’t beat “changing the way you [to] explore new sites.

Definitely take a look at this one.