Smart RSS Reader is a feed reader extension for Firefox and Chrome

Web based feed readers are kind of a pain to use. They often implement changes that you don’t want, while taking away features that you like.  Local readers are much better when it comes to this, because you can revert to an older version in case of adverse changes.

SmartRSS extension for Firefox

Smart RSS Reader is a feed reader extension for Firefox and Chrome that I have been using for a week; I’m quite impressed by it so far.

Install the add-on and click its toolbar icon to open a new tab with the extension’s RSS reader. It has three panes, each of which has a toolbar at the top. The left pane is the feeds pane and lists all RSS feeds that you’re subscribed too. Selecting a feed displays the title of the articles published by the site in the center pane. It also displays the author’s name and the date when the article went live.

Click on an article’s title to open it in the browser view, aka the right pane. Smart RSS Reader displays the article in its native format (i.e. no misaligned text or items) and it contains the images included in the post too. Use the Pin icon in the top right corner of an article’s page to favorite it.

Smart RSS Reader supports offline article reading which is useful when you’re away from an internet connection. The extension’s toolbar icon flashes a badge when a new article has been published, so you won’t miss out on reading your favorite sites.

Smart RSS Reader badge

Adding RSS Feeds

The toolbar on the top of the Feeds pane has a plus button. Clicking it brings up a box where you can enter an RSS Feed’s URL. For e.g. http://www.ghacks.net/feed/

Smart RSS Reader adding a feed

The extension automatically picks-up the name of the website, its favicon and you’ll immediately see the list of articles available for reading. Another way to add a feed is by right-clicking on the extension’s toolbar icon. This context menu is useful for subscribing to the RSS feed of the website that you’re currently on. This doesn’t work for every site though, it needs to have an RSS or XML feed available which the add-on pulls automatically.

SmartRSS extension for Firefox - subscribe context menu

If you’re subscribed to a lot of feeds already, don’t worry you don’t need to waste time re-adding each of those to Smart RSS Reader. Click on the wrench icon in the top right corner to go to the options page, scroll down to the Import section and select the OPML > browse button to pick your OPML file.

Smart RSS Reader import OPML

The feeds are imported instantly, and the add-on preserves the folders that you have set in your previous RSS reader.

Smart RSS Reader imported feeds

Managing Feeds

Right-click on the “All feeds” option to view a context menu which allows you to “Update all, Mark all read, and Delete all articles”.

Smart RSS Reader manage all feeds

Select a Feed and right-click on it, click on Properties to change the URL, name etc.

Smart RSS Reader managing site feed

Use the “New Folder” option in the Feeds pane’s toolbar to create a new folder, and move RSS feeds into it. This can help you organize things. Each feed has its own context menu that has options to update the list of articles, mark all as read, delete (unsubscribe), refetch (redownload), Openhome (opens the feed’s website).

Smart RSS Reader managing feeds

The feeds list pane has yet another context menu. This one can be used to jump  to the next unread, previous unread articles, or to mark articles as unread, mark and next/previous as unread, unpin articles, and to open the article in a new tab. The toolbar at the top of this pane has three icons: mark all read, update, delete. The Search box is handy to search for a particular article in your feeds.

Smart RSS Reader feed options

Smart RSS Reader options

The extension has a bunch of options including a 2-pane view, sorting options, article font size, reader behavior, export feeds to OPML or SMART (text document), etc. Smart RSS Reader has many keyboard shortcuts that you can use to read and manage your feeds.

Smart RSS Reader options
Smart RSS Reader options 2

Get the Firefox extension from the add-ons repository, and the Chrome version from the webstore. According to the developer, the extension is a fork of an add-on made by Martin Kadlec, which was made as an alternative to the built-in RSS reader in Opera 12. Smart RSS Reader is an open source extension.

The fact that you don’t need an online account to manage your feeds, and that everything is stored locally is really nice. Add-ons like this and Feedbro are the closest alternative for desktop readers, though I do use QuiteRSS myself. Smart RSS Reader is very fast and fluid.

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Humble New Tab Page is an elegant new tab replacement extension for Firefox and Chrome

There are many new tab replacements available for Firefox and Chrome. One of my favorites is Group Speed Dial.

Humble New Tab Page default

But if what you want is something simpler and elegant, Humble New Tab Page is a very good choice to go with.

HNTP as its abbreviated requires permissions to read and modify bookmarks, access recently closed tabs, browser tabs and the browsing history. You will see why it needs these in a minute.

Once you install the add-on, it takes over the new tab page. The design is quite simplistic, with a plain background and two columns of folders displayed on the page. The left column contains the following: Bookmarks Menu, Bookmarks Toolbar, Other Bookmarks, Mobile Bookmarks.

And these are the ones on the right column: Most Visited, Recent Bookmarks, Recently Closed. The add-on pulls the information from your browser’s Bookmarks Manager, that’s why it needs those permissions. Those folders open their namesakes, i.e., the “Most Visited”  section displays your most frequented sites, the “Recently Closed” folder has tabs that you closed recently and so on.

Select a folder to expand it and list its contents; this displays all bookmarks in the folder including sub-folders, the title of bookmarks and the favicon of the websites. You cannot manage your bookmarks directly from the Humble New Tab Page, you’ll have to use the browsers’ tools for deleting, creating new links and folders, etc.

Right-clicking on a folder allows you to open all links in a folder, create a new column or move the folder up/down or right/left. You can drag and drop folders to create a new column too. Creating a new column doesn’t add a new folder, instead it expands a folder permanently. This is not a bug. If a column contains a single folder, it will expand the links in it.

However, if you add one more folder to the column, they will appear as normal directories. Let me show you an example. I want to move the Games folder to a new column.

HNTP example

Humble New Tab Page will expand it like this, it does look a bit cluttered, doesn’t it?

HNTP example 2

Moving a second folder to the new column fixes the problem.

HNTP example 3

The appearance of Humble New Tab Page is fully customizable. Use the wrench icon in the top right corner to go to the Options page.

Humble New Tab Page is an elegant new tab replacement extension for Firefox and Chrome

There are four tabs on this side-panel: Settings, Appearance, Import/Export/Advanced.

Settings

This tab has options to set the tab behavior: open in current tab, new tab and new tab background. You may choose where the extension gets the website icons from, using the favicons from a site or from search engines. Don’t want a particular folder to be displayed in new tabs? For e.g., the Most Visited folder. The Content section can be used to disable the default folders which I mentioned earlier. This panel is kind of like a soft-reset for the default folders, so in case you mess something up with those, you can uncheck the corresponding option and enable it again to “reset” them.

Appearance

This panel allows you to change the font type, size, colors of the text, background, highlight, highlight text, shadow. There are a few themes available that you may use; these are basically presets and some of those shades are the ones you see in the screenshots on the add-on’s official page.

Humble New Tab Page themes

The extension uses hex color codes for text and background. If you’re on Windows 10, open the Settings app and search for Font Settings. Get the name from it, and enter it in the “Font” field of HNTP’s options. Of course, you’ll need to download and install your favorite fonts to use them.

You may select an online image or a local one and use it too. So, you can transform the new tab page to look like anything you want like your favorite music album cover, movie poster, game art, brand logos, etc. Here are some examples. I customized it to look like Star Wars and Yakuza 0.

Humble New Tab Page star wars theme
Humble New Tab Page yakuza 0 style

You don’t have to use images, plain backgrounds look fine too.

Humble New Tab Page star wars style

Import/Export

Humble New Tab Page import and export

This tab lets you copy your settings which is the export option. To import previously saved one, just paste the code in the box. Since the add-on does not support Firefox sync, this is the only way to preserve your settings across installations.

Advanced

Humble New Tab Page advanced

There are two panes in this tab, generated CSS and Custom CSS. Observe the first one and you will see that it has your current settings. That’s because the whole concept of the extension is dependent on CSS code to replace to the new tab. Essentially, the settings serves as a GUI and all its options are there to generate the code.

Humble New Tab Page is an open source extension.

Closing Words

The only real problem with the add-on is the lack of a reset or undo option. I had to remove and re-install it many times while testing the create columns feature. That and the fact that you can’t edit bookmarks directly are the real issues.

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How to reduce YouTube's Bias for Mainstream Media

De-Mainstream YouTube is a browser extension for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and other browsers based on Firefox or Chromium code, that reduces the bias of the YouTube algorithm in regards to mainstream media.

YouTube’s algorithm has changed significantly in the past couple of years. What you may have noticed is that the site tends to favor certain publishers — usually larger well established ones — and that this is reflected in the site’s trending section and when you search for content on the site.

Tip: check out SponsorBlock for YouTube if you want to skip sponsored ads in YouTube videos.

De-Mainstream YouTube comes with two main features to address this: first, by returning videos in the trending category by view count and second, through integration of a blocklist that may be used to block certain channels on YouTube.

Note that the custom blocking feature did not work at all during tests; this will hopefully get corrected in an update.

The extension requires one extra permission to work on the youtube domain. It works automatically after installation as it comes with a set of mainstream channels that it blocks outright on the site.

youtube de-mainstream

You can check the list with a click on the extension icon in the browser’s toolbar. There you find options to deselect every channel (unblock) to start using the extension without any banned channels or to deselect individual channels instead that you like included on YouTube. Channels like Fox News, Buzzfeed, ESPN, The Verge, or Vox are all blocked by default by the extension.

You may notice the absence of these channels when you run searches on YouTube. While the list of channels the extension comes with may be handy for some users, the ability to block custom channels is even better, if it would work.

I tried the blocking functionality in various Firefox and Chromium versions, and it did not work in any of them. Theoretically, it allows you to block any channel that you come across so that it is excluded from results as well by the extension.

Extensions like VideoBlocker or YouTube Recommended Blocker may be used for that; then again, you may use these to block the mainstream channels you encounter as well which would make De-Mainstream YouTube superfluous.

The main thing that the extension has going for it currently is that it comes with hundreds of pre-set channels that it blocks automatically. If the developer manages to add blocking so that it actually works, it could very well become a great option for users who don’t want to be exposed to mainstream sources on YouTube.

Now You: do you use YouTube regularly? Is the site biased?

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What are Firefox Containers?

You may have heard of Firefox Containers. But do you know what they are? How do they help us? To understand the purpose of this feature, you need to understand how web tracking works.

What are Facebook Containers

Let’s begin with Facebook.

For e.g. John looks up used cars on a search engine and visits some pages for more information. Later he visits Facebook, and starts seeing recommendations for used cars. John is puzzled because he never searched for these on the social network.

How did this happen? The pages John visited may have contained elements related to Facebook, such as the Share and Like buttons. The site also most likely used Facebook Pixel which is a piece of code from the social network, and I’m quoting the official description here “a snippet of Javascript code that allows you to track visitor activity on your website.”

Facebook pixel

The website may have had ads, and/or third-party tracking cookies. The cookies may be used to link activity to a particular computer, and they remain active unless they expire or they are deleted on the local machine.

All these are part of your digital fingerprint which may include personally identifiable details such as your IP address, browser information, location, or operating system. This data is “shared” by the website you visited (through the elements on the page), to the social network. So when John logs into Facebook, the cookies are used to identify him as the one who visited the used cars website.

This is how they track you and display “Relevant Ads”, “Recommended Pages”, and all that. In case of ads and third-party cookies, it can be worse. The data may be shared with companies affiliated to the advertising network, in other words unknown entities.

Facebook uses different kinds of tracking methods, this example is just one of them. That’s the reason why Mozilla has a Facebook Container add-on, an extension dedicated to prevent the tracking atrocities of the network.

I still hear stories of privacy horror like “I was planning a trip with my friends, and began seeing Facebook ads for hotels located there”. This was from friend, and he had used Google Maps to look up the distance from his city to the destination. How did Facebook know that? He claims the app was listening. I cannot confirm such theories without evidence, but yes these have happened to me too. Recently I was discussing visiting a book fair with a family member. A few minutes later he handed me his phone and I saw that the phone app was recommending a page about books. That’s creepy. I have no explanation for these things.

Note: I don’t hate Facebook, I have had clients contact me through the service. It’s a pretty good way to stay in touch with friends/family, but the tracking has gone too far. That’s why I don’t use the app, I login to the mobile website only when required (or when someone texts/calls me to say “Hey Ash, check Facebook”). But that’s me, I understand that people need to use messenger for day-to-day communication. You should definitely use the Facebook Container extension to minimize the tracking.

Cookie based tracking

Not all cookies are bad. The ones you used to sign in to your accounts, and stay signed in are helpful. You want to store these.  But some cookies do more than that, they track your internet usage, even when you leave their website, i.e., they can know which website you visited after you left their site. Firefox blocks third-party tracking cookies by default. Some can be even more intrusive and use information from other cookies.

Time for another example.

Let’s say you bought some cookies, they are of different kinds. But you have a single cookie jar, so you put them all together. What happens? Bits and pieces, crumbs of cookies get mixed up with one another. It’s a mess.

Now, replace the edible cookies with browser cookies. For e.g. Google, Facebook, Shopping sites, Financial sites, etc. Your browser stores these cookies together. That ends up in a digital breadcrumb trail. So they can know what you searched for, or which pages you previously visited etc, all in the name of offering a “personalized browsing experience”.

This is the reason why you will see ad banners or pages related to the product you search for or purchased. At what cost, though? Would you be okay with some random company having (parts of) your medical history, insurance or banking information, your home address, or your family information? NO.

What are Firefox Containers?

One unique way of preventing cookie based tracking is to isolate them, sort of like storing them in different jars. But in this case, we use Firefox Containers. Note that you may also block all third-party cookies in the browser, and that should deal with the bulk of cookie-based tracking as well.

Firefox container tabs

You can have a container for Google, another for Twitter, a separate one for Amazon, one for your bank, a different for PayPal, and so on. Each of these act as a digital container, each containing the cookies of the website you want. Your Amazon cookie is restricted to its container, your bank’s to its container, etc. Get it? This way, none of the websites have access to the cookies or the history of the other websites. This enhances your privacy greatly.

Firefox containers always open

Another advantages of using Firefox Containers is to use multiple accounts, in case you have more than one on the same service. While you are at it, you should also use uBlock Origin to prevent ad banners and malicious scripts from tracking you.

Firefox containers

Will Firefox Containers guarantee my privacy?

They can minimize the tracking. Nothing can guarantee your privacy, because most services are constantly finding new ways to track users for marketing, advertising, affiliate purposes and some of them have unlimited resources for this. We live in a digital world, we can only do so much. Don’t use cloud services for storing personal data, passwords, clear your cookies regularly, avoid shady sites and suspicious URLs, use throw away accounts if you have to. Tor and VPNs can help too, but make sure you don’t use them with your regular account’s containers.

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Simple Tab Groups is a Firefox extension for organizing your tabs

Simple Tab Groups is a Firefox extension that can help you organize your tabs. The extension was inspired by one with a similar name, Tab Groups.

simple tab groups toolbar menu

The extension includes five plugins (add-ons from the same developer) merged into one for a functioning Tab Group manager extension.

After you install Simple Tab Groups, it opens a local web page with a screenshot to guide users how to “Enable the restore previous session” option in Firefox. That’s because when you restart the browser, the add-on will load the last accessed tab group.  You will see that the extension added a button to the toolbar. Click on it to see three options.

Create New Group

This is the option you will be using the most. Selecting it will prompt you to assign a name, and this creates an empty Tab Group.

To add tabs to the group, mouse over to the tab bar and right-click on a tab. Select “Move Tab To Group”. This adds the tab to the created group and hides it from view. If you have multiple groups, you’ll have the option to select which group you want to move the tabs to. You may also create new groups from the menu. Once saved, a group can be opened anytime. This works in new windows too.

Simple Tab Groups tab bar

Managing Group Settings

Let’s get back to the Tab Groups’ toolbar menu. Now that we have some groups, we can manage them. Right-click on a group’s name to view its context-menu. This allows you to open all tabs in a group in a new window, sort the groups alphabetically, export the selected group to bookmarks, and to reload all tabs in the group. You can discard the selected group or all other groups, or delete the group completely.

simple tab groups toolbar right-click menu

Select the Group Settings. Here you can rename a group, select its icon style. The tab’s icon (the website’s favicon), can be set as the Group’s icon, do this from the tab bar.

The Group Settings panel also has options to mute tabs when a group is closed/restored, make a sticky group (tabs are never moved from the group), show/discard tabs after moving. Simple Tab Groups works with Firefox Containers, and can be configured to automatically move specific containers to a particular group. For e.g. If you have a container for shopping websites, and you have created a Tab Group called shopping, it may be a good idea to move the tabs in the Shopping container to the group.

The extension also supports RegEx for capturing tabs from the same domain.

Add-on Settings

The main menu of the add-on has a caret icon, click on it to view other tabs (not part of the group). There are 3 options here all of which perform a single-click action to: close all these tabs, move these tabs to the current group, or create a new group with these tabs.

simple tab groups - show other tabs

The gear icon in the menu can be used to access the add-on’s options. You can customize the open, close, discard behavior of tabs, optionally discard a tab after hiding it or enable a dark theme and more from this screen. The Manage Groups option opens a new tab with a speed-dial like representation of each tab groups, you can right click on a group to manage it.

Simple Tab Groups is a Firefox extension for organizing your tabs

The extension is an open source project. The add-on is compatible with Gesturefy, though it needs a little tinkering to get it working.

Note: Simple Tab Groups is NOT a session manager. If you have many tabs in a group and close it before exiting other windows, you will lose the tabs. To prevent this, you should close all the other windows first. I recommend using the Bookmarks option. You can also use OneTab, which does save a history of the tabs and has a restore option.

Simple Tab Groups provides an easy way to de-clutter your browser and organize your tabs. It does not interfere with the new tab page, so add-ons like Group Speed Dial work alongside perfectly.

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