With over 1 billion users globally, the internet theoretically forms the third largest country in the world. My guess is only a very small percentage of those users ever look beyond the default settings their computer comes delivered with. In this article, I’d like to share with you five ways in which I have personalised my own internet experience over the years. Please keep in mind I’m talking about my own personal experiences here, and am in no way trying to make you purchase anything — everything I’m linking to in this article is available for free anyway.
Although Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is still the most used browser around, Mozilla’s Firefox has been able to gain a market-share of up to around 20 percent nowadays. ((W3Schools claims 30 percent, Wikipedia says it’s only 15 percent, and according to my own stats it’s somewhere around 25 percent.)) Firefox has quite a number of advantageous features: fast page construction, very good security, tabbed browsing, themes, etc.
These days, innovative features like tabbed browsing have become a standard for most other browsers as well, but because of it’s level of customization, I chose Firefox for my online endeavours. With a few simple clicks you can add extra search engines like YouTube, Wikipedia (in your own language or any of the 250 other ones), Flickr, Google Images, or even the BSG wiki. Firefox also allows the installation of extensions, which can greatly enhance your user experience and are kept up-to-date almost automatically. More on this later.
One of the most obvious trends in recent years is the emergence of web-based applications. Things as simple as a calender, and as impressive as online radio stations or advanced image editors are now accessible from any connected computer. Ever since Google launched its Calendar last year, I’ve been eagerly using it to keep track of all my appointments. GCal makes it really easy to manage my schedule of all those promising job interviews. And the free sms service that sends you a free sms reminder when you have a new upcoming event is a nice touch.
More or less the same applies to Gmail: after it’s introduction in 2004, I switched over from Hotmail (2 MB inbox) to Gmail (2 GB inbox) and haven’t looked back since. Of course, e-mail has been available online for a relatively long time already, so to some people this service may not seem so innovative anymore.
One service that holds somewhat of a middle ground is the Google Reader, a web-based RSS reader that allows you to keep track of your feeds without too much problems, but also provides sharing functions and readership trends. I still know a lot of people who like to keep track of their news with “offline”, installed software. But personally, I feel that if you’re away from home for a couple of days each week, having your feeds available and up-to-date wherever you go is much more convenient.
Now before you all start branding me a Google Evangelist, I’d better mention some other good applications as well: the online radio stations Pandora (unfortunately terminated outside US/UK, but you can proxy ((Frantic Industries has a great post on “How to: access Pandora from outside the US“.)) ) and Last.fm (if you love to share), online television station Joost, and online image editor Picnik. Those are all great services, and they only need an internet connection to work. No software to install equals more free space on my harddrive.
Now that the groundworks for my explanation have been laid, I can continue discussing those Firefox extensions I mentioned earlier without confusing anyone. Mozilla makes it easy for anyone to install extensions: you just go to their website, select the add-on you would like to have and click install. Downloads automatically. Did I already mention you never have to pay for these expansions? So why hesitate…? Well, the hardest part is actually figuring out which extensions you actually need.
For me, using the internet without such extensions as Fasterfox or Customize Google, and the many notifiers for services like Gmail and GReader, we cost me a lot time I could be spending on other topics. No more clicking and checking all the time, just sit back and your notifier will automatically inform you when a new e-mail is waiting for you. Since I’m an avid user of Gmail, I greatly enjoy Better GMail which provides loads of extra possibilities for managing your e-mail: coloured labels, attachment icons, skinning, etc. Another great find was Stylish, especially in combination with the GReader theme by Hicks Design — I warmly recommend this one (try it, Joke).
And last but not least, there is Greasemonkey. ((I actually do use more extensions then the ones listed here. Right now I’m counting 49, of which 30 are enabled. I’m not going to list all of these here, but if you’re interested I’d be happy to add a list to the comments.))
One of the most useful scripts I use is a little Ads Remover that has been installed nearly 17 000 times and hands you back more of that precious on-screen real estate by removing ads from the pages you view. Another scripts that proves itself useful to me on a daily basis is Download Video (installed 50k times) which provides an easy link for downloading videos from most big video websites such as YouTube for example, and Protect Textarea which protects you from closing a tab/window when there is still unsubmitted text that could be lost. Very handy for people who don’t want to lose that excellent post they just wrote by mistakenly clicking the wrong button. ()
My fifth and final item of this top five concerns something completely different: television. Although I hardly ever watch it anymore, it still surprises me how little original and interesting content they are showing these days. ((Example: I took a look at what tv1 is broadcasting today and nearly 30 percent of what’s on are reruns. And most of what’s shown on the news was taken from earlier bulletins anyway.)) No wonder I almost never watch it. Especially since I discovered what the internet has to offer.
Earlier, at number two, I mentioned Joost tv, but there are a lot of other good stations out there. My two most favourite examples are Tv-links and Alluc (thanks Charlotte). Not only do these communities contain most of my favourite tv series and new films, I don’t have to download anything in order to start watching. In other words: you only have to wait a minute or two for the buffer to load, and then you can lean back and enjoy the show. In two weeks I was able to watch all three seasons of ‘Battlestar Galactica’, which was a hugely better experience than tv could ever provide. I also remember watching ‘Happy Feet’ weeks before it was premièred in Belgium.
Some sites have specialised in particular content. There’s iFilm, which provides daily updates of Comedy Central. ‘The Colbert Report’ is hilarious if you follow US politics a little. If you are into ‘South Park’, then I recommend AllSP.com, which has all 11 seasons of the satirical cartoon, and usually features the newest episode only a couple of hours after it’s been shown on regular television. No hours of waiting, accesible anywhere, … me likes! No wonder the global bandwith is almost monopolised by video content.
So, that was that. Took me a while to write but it was a rewarding experience nonetheless. And if this post was helpful to you, a short message in the comments is always welcome. Thank you for reading.
This post was written in English because it’s my entry for the “Top 5 Group WritingProject,” organised by problogger Darren Rowse. I figured that since I was making the effort to compile a top 5 about something, I might as well write the entire thing in English so more people could benefit from it. My only fear is that my submission may or may not be late, since Darren lives in Melbourne, Australia. I’ll just keep believing and hope for the best. The rest is up to the FSM to decide.