Gmail Fighting Off Greasemonkey?

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I’m not sure of the reasoning behind it, but it appears that Google may have made some behind the scenes changes to Gmail that disrupted the scipts and extensions I rely on to get the most out of my account. One of the Apache devs noted here that his Greasemonkey enabled persistent searches were no longer functioning, and in the same timeframe I’ve lost my delete key. It’s not just Greasemonkey scripts, however, as my Gmail Notifier extension for Firefox has apparently been disabled as well. While it’s Google’s perogative to make changes to the service as necessary for maintenance or other reasons, I’m hoping this is not a deliberate play at preventing would-be participants from enhancing the value of Google’s service. It’s remarkable how much less useful Gmail is to me when I have to log in to see if I have mail, or can’t easily delete the many frivolous emails I receive each day (yes, I’m aware that I can use a POP client for this, but I’d rather not).

Service providers must of course balance the demands of those wishing to extend their platforms with their ability to sustain additional load, licensing and contractual restrictions on the content or platform itself, etc. But as Alex Bosworth has previously noted, the incentive for developers to make your offering more valuable, more relevant, and more usable is dramatically affected by what you do – or don’t do – to facilitate their continued participation.

To Google’s credit, even in situations where the T’s and C’s are violated, they’re not sending in the goon squad. The requested takedown notice for gMerge was written by a human, not a lawyer, and comes across as distinctly non-threatening.

But if – and I do emphasize the if – Google’s actively thwarting Greasemonkey type extensions to Gmail and otherwise, I think it’s either a mistake or they need to be transparent about why they have to do so (scale?). Even if they’re not, and this is nothing more than an application upgrade that breaks enhancements – hardly an unheard of occurence – I think they could more actively and explicitly encourage participation both with more permissive T’s and C’s as well as clearer guidelines about what can and can’t be done. Developers are ready and willing to make your products better, for free. You just have to let them.

Update: As one reader and a few posters to the GM listserv have noted, one thing that’s disrupted a variety of user scripts has been the fact that the domain to Gmail has changed from gmail.google.com to mail.google.com. While simply adding the domains into the GM interface had no effect on my Gmail, a reinstallation of a version of the script with updated domain returned my beloved Delete button. What do developers think of this change with Google’s service? Here’s one take from the GM list: “I noticed [the domain change] too. Why they can’t just leave it alone, I can’t understand.” To be a bit less harsh, while Google probably had good reasons for making the change, it would have been great to see them be proactive and notify people of the change via their blog or some other mechanism.


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I've come to the conclusion that the only reason we'd even remotely expect that they'd be transparent about anything is a) we like their products, and b) they say they are not evil. In the final analysis I'm not sure that a + b = transparency. It's mostly just wishful thinking on our part…

  2. Jesus, saying that Google's being bad by breaking Greasemonkey scripts is just wrong; Greasemonkey is a self-acknowledged hack, relying on bits of code that aren't part of any API or other interface to do its thing.

  3. same happened with me…the Gmail Power tweaks that let's you persist your searches has stopped as a result of it too. There is a fix but you have to edit the script…something i'm not too happy about either.

  4. DeWitt: well, i'd be a bit more generous and say that we expect transparency not just b/c they say they are not evil, but b/c for the most part they haven't *been* evil. not perfect, but their corporate history as such things go is not all that bad.

    that said, i do not think – as Jon Udell said in a Gillmor Gang podcast ages ago – that Google's transparency is adequate given their increasingly omniscient role with respect to our personal information. if they don't grasp that sooner rather than later, i think they'll learn the lesson harshly.

    Jason: i'm not saying they're "bad" for breaking GM applications, i'm saying it's bad practice for an organization that's actively courting developers (e.g. Summer of Code), and shortsighted. ask yourself what it would have cost them to post a quick entry to the Google blog saying, "Hey, by the way, we're changing the domain for Gmail, because of the German lawsuit" – nothing. the potential benefit to such an announcement? developers might not be complaining today.

    Javed: thanks for the link to the fix. for those wishing to repair their Gmail extension, pick up the new version here (http://nexgenmedia.net/extensions/) or by updating within Mozilla.

  5. The kind of transparency you are asking for is *very* hard to deliver.

  6. well, i think it depends, pb.

    for example, i don't expect Google to assess the potential impact to the plethora of GM scripts of every little minor change they make to their application. you're absolutely correct, that kind of transparency is difficult.

    but would it be that difficult to post a notification that they're changing the entire domain of the service? i don't think so.

  7. If Google's is "actively thwarting Greasemonkey type extensions to Gmail", then that's hilarious, because the person who initially coded Greasemonkey now works for them.

    Talk about coming full circle.

  8. I'm sorry, but I do not have any sympathy for you at all. Gmail must be a *massive* operation, and if the decision-makers are even aware of greasemonkey, let alone the gmail-specific scripts people have written for it, I doubt it registers very high on their priorities list. They would only notify you as a courtesy, not out of any moral obligation. You simply have to be prepared to make changes to play catch-up with the not-API. Let's face it, they could have been a lot worse than simply dropping one letter from a domain.

  9. Rubikzube*: that's a great point, i'd forgotten that.

    Jon: couple of points.
    1. i guarantee you Google's aware of GM, if only b/c of Butler.
    2. as far as priorities, you're correct – it's not high currently. the question to me, however, is should it? i think yes, you think no.
    3. all i'm really pushing for here is the courtesy, nothing more.
    4. when i speak of what Google should/shouldn't do, morals aren't my concern (though with their don't be evil stance it could be argued that its theirs) – developer relationships are.
    5. catch-up is inevitable, and i have no issue with that. see further commentary here: http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady/archives/000787.ht

  10. GMail is slowly removing the "G" because in the UK they couldn't get the trademark on the name and as such can't advertise the service as "gmail" without incurring the wrath of UK trademark law.

  11. why should any service provider like gmail favor GM
    1>If GM can rid websites off their ads and stuff that actually pay the cost for what the users are using for free.
    2> if GM provides user-modified content that shows results from more than one service provider, where they are all competitors in the same business
    3>if people can use a tool to use functionality of a site where the tool becomes more popular than the site (something that Scrapboy has done for orkut)

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