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Garth Callaghan

Napkin Notes Dad





The Napkin Notes Blog

Five Useful Chrome Extensions

WGarth Callaghan

Many of the popular web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome have a huge library of free extensions that add functionality or change the appearance of the browser. None of these features are essential for surfing the web, but quite a few give the user additional features and controls that save time by making common tasks simpler and improve the overall experience of browsing.

This article will talk specifically about Chrome extensions, but many (if not all) of these can also be found in Firefox. To download these extensions and many more just visit the Chrome Web Store.

1) Smooth Gestures: This extension is made for either the lazy or for the efficient, depending on how you look at it. I choose to think it's for efficient people, but as a devoted user I'm a bit biased. By holding down the right mouse button and moving your mouse in a certain direction (or directions) you can perform a simple navigation or tab management task. For example, holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse up opens a new tab, and holding the right mouse button and moving to the left navigates back one page. You can customize the gestures to perform dozens of other tasks using more complicated gestures. None of these features are things that you couldn't accomplish with a click or two of the mouse, but Smooth Gestures saves the trouble of navigating your cursor to the button or tab by letting you perform the action anywhere on the page.

2) Xmarks Bookmarks Sync: Have you ever been using a different browser or computer and needed to get to a page you had bookmarked but couldn't remember what it was called? With Xmarks you'll never have that problem again. Once you create a free account, Xmarks will keep track all of your bookmarks and even transfer them across browsers. It also has the ability to keep track of your open tabs and the passwords you have entered if you choose to allow it. When you log onto their website you can get a list of your bookmarks without ever having to remember to back it up manually. This extension is essential for people who make a million bookmarks for all of the sites they visit and for people who don't want to repopulate this list manually in each browser or computer they use.

3) Adblock Plus: This one is a bit controversial. Nobody likes advertisements...except of course for the people who make money off of them. By installing this extension almost all of the ads on your favorite websites, from news sites to Facebook to Youtube, will magically disappear. You can whitelist certain websites you like which are able to stay free because of ads, but there is clearly a gray area surrounding this product. Millions of people are enjoying a cleaner web experience by using Adblock Plus or similar ad blockers, so if you can deal with it ethically you might want to see what all of the fuss is about.

4) Facebook Notifications / Google Mail Checker: While these are two separate extensions I believe they go hand in hand. Both install a small icon towards the top right of the browser next to the address bar and discretely notify you when you get a new notification on Facebook or a new email to your Gmail account. In the Facebook extension you can even enable a small notification window to appear saying who the notification is from, or you can click the icon to take you directly to that message. After installing these two extensions I found myself checking these sites much less frequently than before, as I could see that nobody was trying to contact me since I last checked, minimizing the opportunity for distraction. Of course, if that doesn't work for you there is one more extreme option...

5) StayFocused: "Alright, I have 24 hours to finish this report -- that's plenty of time. Let me just check Facebook...oh, Anna wrote on my wall. I better reply. And I should look at Sam's new photos...Ok, let me just check my email...I should check Twitter, too...Okay, back to that report. I still have...FIVE MINUTES?!?!"

That might be a bit extreme, but it's certainly a situation that many of us have been in. We're addicted to distractions online and sometimes we have to do something to force our way out of it. StayFocused allows you to make lists of blocked sites and allowed sites and allow yourself a certain amount of time per day to spend on these time-wasters. After that time is up they will be blocked until tomorrow. There's also the "Nuclear Option" which blocks all sites (or all but those which you allow) for a certain amount of time to make sure you don't get distracted. It's a simple concept but if you stick with it it will force you to be productive, or at least as productive as you were before the web.

There are thousands upon thousands of extensions out there, some of which are more useful than others. There's even a whole productivity section in Chrome's Web Store with similar options. I find these extensions listed above to be very useful and I feel that they save me time every day, either by making simple tasks simpler or by keeping me from distractions. Are there any extensions you couldn't live without? Let us know by tweeting us or by replying in the comments!