Email Brian Ballentine
West Virginia University
Web Developer
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Introduction Writing as Hacking Web 2.0 and Open Content Hacker Ethics Hacking Writing and Plagiarism Firefox Extensions Sample Hacks Closing References

The two Web 2.0 technologies discussed in this text, Web Developer and Greasemonkey, are “add-ons” or extensions for the free and open source web browser Firefox. An extension is a separate program created to add functionality. Since Firefox is open source, developers are able write extensions compatible with the browser because they are free to download, view, and study Firefox’s source code. Firefox was designed and is still managed for extensibility or future growth by keeping its code open and creating a centralized location for developers and users to locate, download, comment on, and of course hack extensions. The Firefox add-ons main page invites visitors to “Take a look around and make Firefox your own” (Firefox Add-ons, 2008), and all of the extensions (there are thousands) may be downloaded and used “as is.” Extensions pages are set up with features similar to that of a blog where users can post comments about the extension, rate it, and even contact its primary developer. More intrepid users can even try their hands at re-writing the extensions code. However, most often the user’s creativity comes into play with uses afforded by the extension. As Wesch reminded us, we do not need to be professional programmers to participate in Web 2.0. For example, an extension like the Quick Locale Switcher enables a user to easily change between language settings for Firefox so the browser manages multilingual environments more efficiently. How and in what contexts users make use of Quick Locale Switcher will vary greatly. This variance is apparent from the comments and reviews posted on its download page where one user extolled: “For all extension developers, installing this is an absolute requirement. This makes testing your localizations a breeze.” And for a seemingly altogether different use, another reviewer wrote: “My Japanese is much better as a result of using QLS. Thanks!” (Quick Locale Switcher, 2008)

Extension: Web Developer
Since the early days of the Web, developers have taken advantage of a browser’s ability to “View Source” or display the underlying code that makes a web page possible. The resulting effect has been the promotion of a massive amount of knowledge sharing in regard to page construction and web development. With some time and patience, the answer to the question, “How did they do that?” can be discovered by essentially reverse engineering the page by viewing, copying, and editing a web page’s source code.

As the web grew and the programming possibilities expanded to incorporate the flexibility discussed by Wesch, web pages and their source code became exceptionally complex. Wading through the source code attempting to deduce what piece of code was responsible for what functionality became an onerous task. Installing the Web Developer extension for Firefox, therefore, adds a toolbar which enables users to display visually the specific components comprising the construction of a web page in visual rather than code format. For example, among the Web Developer menu bar is a selection titled “Information.” In this menu are options such as “Display Table Information,” Display Anchors,” “Display Id & Class Details” and “Display Div Order.” The “Images” menu has selections enabling a user to “Display Image Dimensions,” Display Image File Size” and “Hide Images.” These options and many others included in the Web Developer extension empower users to show, hide, and disable different stylistic as well as functional or interactive components of a site’s design, thus making it easier to begin remixing or rewriting the page. As one reviewer phrased it, “Its a fun form of web vandalism that doesn't affect everyone else. - And of course what it was meant for- Web Design” (Reviews for Web Developer, 2008).

It should be noted that the spirit of openness and the ability to “View Source” are not relished by everyone. For example, the following text is from a privacy and policy statement from the Dozier Internet Law firm which claims to be “The Lawyers for Internet Business”:


Dozier Internet Law, P.C. has a lot of intellectual property on our site. For instance, we are the creators of all of the text on this website, and own the “look and feel” of this website. We also own all of the code, including the HTML code, and all content. As you may know, you can view the HTML code with a standard browser. We do not permit you to view such code since we consider it to be our intellectual property protected by the copyright laws. You are therefore not authorized to do so. (User Agreement/Privacy Policy, 2008)


The language from the Dozier policy statement is stricter than most, but as hackers/writers we need to consider how statements like this affect our actions as we weigh ethical responsibilities before rewriting a page. I believe the contrast created by juxtaposing protectionist policy statements and Web 2.0’s unregulated approach to accessing data is an effective teaching tool in the writing classroom because it brings students face-to-face with conflicting value systems. This is the point made by Adler-Kassner, Anson, and Howard when they write: “Reclaiming education entails teaching students to recognize and adapt to wide variations in the values that determine how a text is created, used, and represented in specific social, academic, and occupational contexts – values often connected to cycles of credit and credibility that obtain in the academy and the larger culture” (2008 p. 236).

Extension: Greasemonkey
The first step to remix then is for the hacker to decide what he or she would like to alter on an existing web page and then use the Web Developer extension to understand how the page is constructed. To facilitate rewriting a web page, hackers can download and use the Greasemonkey extension for Firefox. Greasemonkey enables users to compose and run “action scripts” which are designed to load in conjunction with the source code for the page being altered. The scripts are written in the common JavaScript language and are “client-side” scripts, meaning that the scripts run on the user’s own computer only and do not require a hack into the server hosting the altered page. The alterations or hacks take place as the page is loaded in the user’s browser and render without the consent of the site owners. Greasemonkey enables users to take on the roles of co-authors and even compose an “oppositional discourse” mentioned by Selber. In the coming examples, I demonstrate how to write two simple Greasemonkey scripts. However, it should be noted that there are hundreds of scripts already in existence and posted for downloading on sites such as These scripts do anything from stripping advertisements out of specific web sites like Yahoo! to using Amazon’s powerful and extensive book database in order to search and buy books from Amazon’s competitors.
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