Tuesday 30 June 2009

Another item from the "That's obvious - in hindsight" dept.

Since upgrading to Safari 4 (why haven't you yet?), I ran into a problem with the single add-in that I've bothered keeping in Safari — Pith Helmet. If you're familiar with AdBlock Plus on Firefix, you've got the basic idea; an add-in to your browser(s) of choice that lets you block advertising, annoying Flash, or pretty much anything else you can identify by file name (e.g., "*.swf*) or by URL (e.g., "http://www.doubleclick.net"), and "magically" removes it from the final content displayed by your browser. This feature has gotten so popular that several browsers are building in more-or-less-competent versions of it by default.

Getting back to the problem... PithHelmet, the Safari ad blocker, was incompatible with Safari 4 because the framework it depended on, called SIMBL, has not had an update since October 2006 — which, as far as Safari or WebKit, equates to "forever". So I do a Google search for "greasekit safari 4", and then start whittling down the results (English language only, please, and only within the last year). Eventually, I ran across a forum post (which I have since lost) saying basically "Yes, PH crashes Safari 4 but has anybody else tried out Fanboy's AdBlock CSS sheet?"

Which, if you know anything about Web development, should have sent the palm of your hand rocketing toward your forehead in a major "D'oh! moment. Of course! Why didn't I (or we all) think of that about 6 or 8 years back?

For those of you who aren't as knowledgeable about the detailed workings of your browser, let me explain. Every Web browser, probably since at least Netscape 1.0, has included support for "user style sheets"; where individual users (or organisations of such users) can choose to instruct their browsers to display certain specific content differently than it was originally specified. For this to work, the user in question (or someone s/he depends on) have to be very literate in HTML and particularly CSS, the languages of Web pages. To do simple blocking, like 'block all SWF files", isn't hard with modern browsers, but the Web developers themselves can make life significantly easier by following modern "best practices". The "practices" particularly relevant here are "add 'id' attributes to all structural and semantic elements." (hmm; what's the difference between that and "all elements"? Another blog post...) If the developer does that, including for the body tag, then it's very easy for even a neophyte user to start filtering just what's wanted.... and learn something about how Web pages work into the bargain.

Thanks for reading — and commenting.

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