Web & communication software

Top 10 Specialty Web Browsers You May Have Missed

Specialty Web browsers: Browse Wikipedia better with Gollum

Just as Facebook and Twitter are now big enough to justify Flock, a browser tuned to those data feeds, the Wikipedia's success begat Gollum, a browser that displays Wikipedia information and Wikipedia information alone.

I'm not sure if Gollum qualifies as a browser per se because it really just opens up a simpler pop-up window in whatever browser you're using. But people call it such, and I'll go along because it illustrates some of the possibilities of tuning a browser to a particular data feed. The heavy lifting of parsing and displaying continue to be done by your browser of choice, but Gollum gets the credit. Gollum merely passes the requests through a devoted proxy server and updates the page with AJAX.

This proxying will be most important to people who are blocked from reading Wikipedia, because the network traffic looks like URL calls to gollum.easycp.de. Your calls to read a page aren't going to the Wikipedia site, but to some innocuous place in Germany.

There aren't many features to Gollum, but that's sort of the point. All of the sidebars and extra information is stripped away to reveal just the pure text from Wikipedia. This simplicity ends, though, if you click on the edit button. Gollum opens a window in your browser that communicates directly with the Wikipedia server at edit.wikipedia.org.

Despite the thinness and the narrow focus, the project is worth noting because it shows how we can enhance many sites with post-processing. The Web designers think they're doing us all a favor when they add all of that AJAX goodness, but not every user agrees. So why not just scrape the data and reformat it in cleaner ways? It's worth noting that a number of other projects like Wikipedia Diver are adding information as plug-ins, a path that may be simpler and more efficient for everyone who doesn't need a proxy to hide from censors.

Gollum opens a pop-up window to show a stripped-down version of the Wikipedia page. Some basic buttons at the top handle the important chores.

Specialty Web browsers: Browse musically with Songbird

Sometimes you'll be browsing the Web and you'll want to listen to some music. On other days you'll be listening to music and you'll want to look up some information on the Web. In the distant past, our grandparents had to have two different applications and switch between them. We are luckier. We have Songbird, a hybrid application that both manages your music collection and lets you browse the Web.

This is not as arbitrary a combination as the refrigerator with a built-in Web browser so you can frighten yourself with paranoid ramblings about high fructose corn syrup or BPA while you stuff your face. The Web is filled with music, and consuming music today almost requires a connection to the Web. For instance, Songbird comes with a number of plug-ins like Songkick's concert list. Once you set your location, it lets you know when artists you like are performing near your house. There are dozens of similar features that integrate music consumption with information consumption from the Web.

An open platform like this has many advantages over iTunes. Individual companies can create their own plug-ins, and they survive or fail based on their merits, not the whims of the inscrutable executives at Apple. There are plenty of neat Songbird add-ons from companies like Last.fm, 7digital, and Amazon, all designed to integrate their offerings with the browser. Last.fm, for instance, makes suggestions based upon what you're listening to.

Developing for Songbird is similar to developing for Firefox, but it's different enough that Songbird wrote one Web page, Porting Firefox Extensions, devoted to explaining that while both Songbird and Firefox share the same core from the Mozilla project, they add features differently. That is, many pages will render in exactly the same way, but the extensions can be quite different, especially when you're using the multimedia features that distinguish Songbird. In essence, you feel like you're in Firefox until you switch over to play music, at which point you feel like you're in a much more open, Web-enabled version of iTunes.

Songbird has dozens of new features that mix browsing with listening to music -- in this case, the chance to purchase songs.

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This story, "Top 10 specialty Web browsers you may have missed," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in Web browsers and applications at InfoWorld.com.

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