What Are Userscripts, And How Can I Use Them?

Web applications often lack the flexibility provided by their desktop counterparts. Although they’re designed to offer a unified and pleasing experience to most users, they don’t have those configuring options that would otherwise allow you to tweak the app to suit your needs.

Let’s take Facebook. The largest social networking site in the world is best accessed from its web interface because of all the features it provides, but there remain a few quirks that you really can’t do much about. Photos can’t be rotated. There is no threading in comments. You can’t apply themes or even custom colors to your profile. These and more, depending on how you use Facebook (or any  other web app). So how to address these issues? Simple, just install a userscript, and watch along as the problem magically vanishes!

Userscripts are tiny bits of code written in JavaScript that add useful functionality to your web apps. You can think of them as a cosmetic makeover of the web apps that you use. Userscripts are browser-specific and website-specific; a particular script, if installed and supported by your browser, will work only for a particular website (or a group of websites). Unlike regular extensions, user scripts won’t slow your browser down.

How To Install A User Script?

As I said above, you need to install a userscript on your browser for it to work. Now, of all modern browsers, only Google Chrome and Opera support these scripts out of the box, although you can bring the functionality to other browsers with simple add-ons. To install a script in Chrome, all you have to do is download it. Chrome treats these scripts as regular extensions, and will install them as one, which you can then manage from the Extensions page. Getting user scripts on Opera isn’t as straightforward as that on Chrome, but it’s not much difficult either. You can learn how to make Opera use the scripts from this doc.

A vanilla Firefox install doesn’t support user scripts. However, there’s nothing to worry as the awesome Greasemonkey add-on brings the functionality to the open source browser. In fact, Greasemonkey for Firefox is so popular that most user scripts are usually designed to be fully compatible with it.

Where Do I Find User Scripts?

UserScripts.org is the largest source of user scripts available online. All scripts are free to download and use. They’re specifically designed for Greasemonkey, though most will run just fine on Chrome and Opera, if not all. IE users using IE7Pro can try IEScripts.org instead.

Caution

Userscripts are relatively simple to create (for programmers, at least!), hence you’ll literally find thousands of them doing practically the same thing. Finding that exact script for your particular need will need some tinkering around. Whether you’re looking in UserScripts or IE Scripts, make sure that you search with accurate parameters to get the best results. Lets say you’re looking for a script that’ll change Facebook’s colour from the monotonous blue to something else; for this you should search for something like ‘facebook colour’ or ‘change facebook colour’. From the results that will be displayed, look for one that has high ratings and has been downloaded more number of times than the other scripts displayed, and install it.

Again, owing to the ease with which they can be created, there’s a good chance you’ll come across scripts that contain malware. So never install them from unknown sources. UserScripts is huge (and safe), and you’ll almost always stumble across whatever you’re looking for.

Some Useful Userscripts

There are thousands of amazing userscripts available, and it’s not possible on my part to list even a part of them. However, here are three of my absolute favourites. All of these work flawlessly on Firefox (with Greasemonkey) and Chrome, and I’ve no idea about Opera (they should work!).

Greased Lightbox

If you’ve ever searched for images on Google (and you certainly have!), you know how frustrating it is to get to the actual image which you can save to your computer. Enter Greased Lightbox. With this userscript installed, the images, when clicked, will instead appear on a fancy ‘lightbox’ overlay. The images can be scrolled back and forth, and even viewed in a slideshow.

Screenshot 121

[That’s Lady Gaga without makeup!]

Grease Lightbox works on Google Images, Wikipedia, MySpace, DeviantArt, FFFFound!, flickr, and Blogger. Neat!

YouTube Video Download

Well, this userscript is the easiest way to quickly download any YouTube video. Install it, and you’ll find the amazing Download button below your YouTube video. Click on it, and you’ve options to download the video in any of the available formats!

Screenshot 122

FFixer

This adds a ton of stuff to Facebook, and is quite likely to fix any issues that you’ve got with the interface. I don’t use Facebook a lot (though this is changing fast!), but I can assure you that you’ll be a happier soul using Facebook after installing this.

 

I’ll definitely be covering many more userscripts in future, but that’s it for now. Enjoy the web your way with userscripts!