Firefox + Greasemonkey Turbocharge E-Commerce Site--From The Client Side

Perl hacker Ian Malpass uses Perl, Firefox and Greasemonkey to make Etsy.com, the popular online crafts market, more usable and seller-friendly---without ever touching the servers. Tina Gasperson reports on how he did it, and how anyone can do it.
Posted December 11, 2008

Tina Gasperson

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Etsy.com is a large, successful ecommerce operation for sellers of handmade and vintage goods. Sellers set up a shop on Etsy's servers without having to know any Web design or programming, and Etsy charges a small fee to list and sell items. Etsy's discussion forums are always buzzing with conversation about features that buyers and sellers want, but with a limited staff and a long list of priorities, the wait for new features can seem long. That's where Etsy husband and Perl hacker Ian Malpass comes in, with a little help from Firefox and Greasemonkey.

Malpass set up a site called EtsyHacks.com that includes an RSS feed of all his scripts. He's published about fifteen of them so far, most of which add helpful links and information to parts of the seller's administrative area and to the discussion forums.

"There were things that were difficult to do on Etsy that I felt should be easy," Malpass says. "I'd heard of Greasemonkey, but never actually used it or written anything for it, and so these seemed like good 'learn by doing' projects." Malpass originally wrote the scripts for his wife, an Etsian who makes barrettes and other hair accessories.

Malpass started coding in Perl in 1996, at Jesus College in Oxford. "[It] had a very well equipped computer lab about 30 seconds from my room," he says. "I spent more time in there than I did studying." He started with simple HTML tags, but "pretty quickly reached the point where I wanted to try this CGI thing, and Perl appeared to be the language of choice, so that's what I learned, along with bits and pieces of JavaScript."

Malpass found that having Perl in his toolkit was also useful for "general text crunching," making his work "faster and smarter," he says. He got a job with the BBC, working as part of the quality control and troubleshooting team, using more Perl than every to automate what he calls the "drudgery" of the job.

Malpass' first exposure to open source software was Apache. "I didn't realize it at the time. It was just there on the server, sending out my Web pages. Same, really, for Perl. It was just there, ready for me to use. I think the first software I used that actually register [with me] as open source was The Gimp. The Mac in the computer lab was being used, and I needed to do some work with Photoshop, so the lab manager pointed me at the [computer with] The Gimp instead.

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Tags: open source, Firefox, server, programming, Mac

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