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Fixing the City of Palo Alto's Web site

You've seen the new City of Palo Alto Web site, and decided it's not user-friendly?  This is a product that will help.  It doesn't solve everything, but it's a good shove in the right direction.  Here's an example of how it will change the site for you:

Before

After

(The text above the icons is now "real" text that can be resized, the headline is now a brighter green that matches the green in the city's logo and may be more readable.)

If you are already using Firefox and already have the Greasemonkey plugin installed, you can load up my script right now.  If you don't have Firefox or don't know what the heck to do, read on.

Get Firefox

Only certain browsers allow users to customize the Web sites they visit.  The one I'm using is Firefox, so you'll need that.  You can generally tell what browser you have by looking at the top title bar.  For example:

BAD

GOOD

So if you need to, go get Firefox and come back to this page once you're using it.

Get Greasemonkey

Greasemonkey is a plugin for Firefox.  It changes Firefox so that it can run site-changing scripts.  You should install Greasemonkey (on the page I'm linking to, click the green button that says "Install now"), restart your browser if it asks you to, and come back here.

Get my script

The final step is to grab my Greasemonkey-compatible script.  You will be asked if you wish to install it, and you can say yes.  Then my script will be run whenever you visit the City of Palo Alto's site.

City of Palo Alto Alternative, version 1.0 (released September 10, 2007)

Cool tricks

There is a very visual way to see what I've changed on the City of Palo Alto Web site.  It involves the Greasemonkey icon near the bottom of your Firefox browser.  It looks like this:

Working

Disabled

Here's what you do: visit the City of Palo Alto site; then, left-click the little monkey and click the reload page button.  Do this as often as you wish.  What will happen is that you will toggle the site between the "fixed" and "original" state.  In this way, you can visually see what I've changed by comparing the two states of the page.

Hey!  Isn't hacking a site illegal?!?!

Possibly.  But I'm not doing that.  What I'm doing is 100% perfectly legal.  When a bad guy attacks a Web site, he breaks into that server and changes it for everyone.  What Greasemonkey allows people to do is change the data on their personal computer.  In other words, the server sends a page that I've asked for.  My computer gets a copy of that page, and shows it to me.  It's my local, personal copy on display only to me.  That is what this script changes.  The server is left untouched, and no one else will see the changes you've made, unless you show them.

There are thousands of Greasemonkey scripts, modifying all kinds of Web sites, from Google to tiny personal blogs.  Try 'em, you might like 'em.

Full list of changes

  1. Fixed a broken link on the site map page.
  2. The department section had seeminly random colors for the menu bar, whereas all the other sections of the site are color-coded in a consistent way.  This forces the department section to be consistent.
  3. The text on the navigation icons in the masthead is now "real" text that can be resized.
  4. Add PDF icons to PDF links.  Not 100% accurate – 1% of these links appear to actually be .xls or .doc files.  But 99% is pretty good!
  5. Fix the "more" links to be readable.
  6. Fix the dull green headers to be more readable.  The brighter green matches the green in the logo, too – bonus!
  7. Fix the header & footer menus to be readable.
  8. Make the orange highlight color more prevalent & consistent.
  9. Each section has a submenu that includes a "previous page" link.  Essentially, it reproduces the "back" button on your browser.  Also, it makes it seem that the previous page is part of that department, since it's in the department menu.  However, it may not be.  For example, if you came into the page from Google, then the back link takes you back to Google.  This is dumb.  Google is not a department in the City of Palo Alto.  So this redundant link has been removed from each submenu.  Besides, we all know how to use our browser's back button!
  10. The home page has a "bot trap" link hidden under the main text on the home page.  It's easy to accidentally click this trap, because it's right below a "real" link.  I don't know what the bot trap does, but I assume it applies some kind of penalty to anyone who uses it.  Since only real humans can use my Greasemonkey script, I have this bot trap set to NOT display for us.  We don't want to accidentally click it!