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How to make the most out of surfing the internet

I have been using the internet since around 1994.  Initially I used CompuServe " Internet Service Provider (ISP) " along with their truly dreadful browser.  I soon switched to Netscape Navigator, shortly after it was launched in 1994.  I later switched to Microsoft Internet Explorer " primarily because of work " although I always preferred Netscape.  Users now have a number of options  include Flock, Google Chrome, Lynx and Safari  although I am a massive fan of Mozilla Firefox, which is my browser of choice and I’ll be explaining how I use Firefox at work.  I’ll share with you some of the tools that I use to get more from the internet.

Introduction

Most browsers support a set of common features that include Toolbars and Bookmarks and some of the information contained in this will be transferable to your browser of choice.  Others will not, although some will offer alternatives and I’ll leave you to explore this options and would welcome your comments (especially for other browsers).  We’ll start with the common features and how I use them to make surfing the internet more productive.

Bookmarks

Bookmarks

Bookmarks are enormously useful and help you save a reference to websites that you regularly visit or simple want to re-visit when you have more time, but your bookmarks menu can quickly become cluttered if you don’t keep on top of it.

  • When bookmarking a URL don’t feel obliged to accept the authors title.
  • Organise bookmarks into folders containing similar links.
  • Use separators to split up your bookmarks menu.
  • Use the “Organize Bookmarks …”  screen to drag and drop links into relevant folders.
  • Clean out links you no longer want.

This should help you keep things organised and make it easier to retrieve links when you need them.

You may have noticed that I store blogs in the main bookmarks menu; this is because I use the bookmarks toolbar for bookmarklets " pieces of JavaScript code, packaged and used as browser bookmarks " that we’ll discuss later.

The screen shot of my bookmarks menu " shown to the right " is only a partial view of it, but you can probably understand the logic of how I store related content.  The bottom three links are actually new bookmarks I haven’t had a chance to sort through and will stay there until I have five minutes to review what I have recently bookmarked.  I’ll review each link and then decide to either delete it or transfer it to a new or existing folder.

Bookmarklets

Until recently I had not come across bookmarklets, but find them really useful (especially Readibilty, a simple tool that makes reading websites easier by removing design elements).  If you are interested in bookmarklets you will find some background information about them on http://www.bookmarklets.com/.  I have added a couple of links with the resources at the bottom of this article " that contain lists of useful bookmarklets " that you might find useful.

Bookmarklets

The screen shot above shows some of the tools I use: 

  • Word Count displays the number of letters, words and lines selected.
  • Take Screenshot does exactly what it says on the tin (although I don’t tend to use this one very often).
  • Save Page as PDF " again " does what it says on the tin.
  • Readibility is my favourite and helps when doing a lot of on screen reading, especially when researching.
  • FireBug Lite will be familiar to web designers and developers and is a useful tool for debugging and fixing issues on websites.

Toolbars

Toolbars are great, but can end up reducing your screen if you have too many.  To reduce the screen real estate or  footprint I have created my own customised toolbar that contains everything I need.  To create your own custom tool bar: 

  1. Right mouse click " anywhere with Firefox’s toolbar " and select “Cusomize …”.
  2. Click “Add new toolbar” and give it a name and then drag and drop the various elements on to your toolbar.
  3. When you are finished click “Done”.

Customised toolbar

Once you have created your own toolbar you can hide the other toolbars that should have become redundant.  Obviously the choice of toolbar items will be different to mine as I use a number that help me in my day to day work and web designers and developers will recognise the Web Developer, Firebug and LoremIspum.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) enables you to subscribe to blogs and keep up to date with information published by various individuals or organisations and is a great way to stay in touch.  They are slightly addictive though, so you need to set aside a specific amount of time for reviewing new content.  We’ll be publishing an article about RSS in the near future so will not dwell on it now, but it is an excellent way of distributing content on the web.

Blogs

Firefox Add-ons

Add-ons are one of the reasons why I love Firefox; they allow you to extend the functionality of your browser.  Some add-ons are more useful than others: 

  • Alerts & Updates
  • Appearance
  • Bookmarks
  • Download Management
  • Feeds, News & Blogging
  • Games & Entertainment
  • Language Support
  • Photos, Music & Videos
  • Privacy & Security
  • Shopping
  • Social & Communication
  • Tabs
  • Web Development

I use half a dozen, but my favourite is Web Developer " that adds a menu and a toolbar with various web developer tools " written by Chris Pederick.  New add-ons are being constantly added and if you use social media there are over 1,400 tools that include toolbars for FaceBook, Twitter and StumbleUpon.

Here are some of the add-ons that I have installed and regularly use:-

  • British / English Dictionary " standard English dictionary.
  • Firebug " a web development tool.
  • Firefox Throttle " a plug-in for your favorite browser, that allows you to cap download/upload rates and monitor current bandwidth.
  • Google Toolbar " share and contribute to web pages.
  • IE View " lets you load pages in Internet Explorer with a single right-click.
  • LoremIpsum " a content generator used by website designers.
  • Web Developer " a web development suite of useful tools and one of my favourites.

You might also want to check out AddonFox " Best Firefox Addons that automatically installs the best Firefox add-ons and includes over one hundred hand-picked add-ons and get them installed all at once.

Conclusion

The way we use the internet has changed over the years.  It is important to structure the way you use information.  Taking a logical approach to saving bookmarks and organising toolbars makes it easier for you to retrieve information when you need it again.  Firefox provides a wealth of tools " in the form of add-ons " that can help surf the internet and make the most of your time, enabling you to become more productive and work smarter.

And one last point worth mentioning, I use MozBackup " a simple utility for creating backups of Firefox " that ensures you don’t loose anything.  It also allows me to transfer information stored by the browser from desktop to laptop.

Resources

Mozilla " the home of Firefox
Guide to Most Useful Bookmarklets for Chrome, Firefox and Safari
13 Handy Bookmarklets for Web Developers
Readibilty " possible the most useful tool I have ever come across recently!
Add-ons for Firefox
Web Developer
MozBackup

Date: 15/11/2010

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