Google tips to superpower your Web browsing experience

Recently one of my kids asked for a TankBot for Chanukah. I’d never heard of it, so I went to YouTube to see one in action. Turns out it’s a pretty cool smartphone-controlled tank. However, when I scrolled down to read the comments for the TankBot demo video, I discovered a lengthy, profanity-laden flame war between two idiots.

If you want to protect your children’s eyes (as well as your own) from this sort of thing, try Comment Snob for Google Chrome and YouTube Comment Snob for Firefox.

These handy extensions remove undesirable comments from YouTube video pages. (And the Chrome version works with other Web sites as well.)

Comment Snob isn’t foolproof, but it definitely helps–because, sadly, YouTube doesn’t filter out objectionable comments. You can flag a comment as spam, but other than that, there’s no way to block all the a-bombs, f-bombs, and the like. (And, believe me, YouTube has become a veritable cesspool of inane, obnoxious, hate-filled commentary.)

Comment Snob blocks comments based on one or more criteria: all capital letters, no capital letters, excessive punctuation and/or capitalization, and so on. It can also kick in when it detects a certain number of spelling mistakes.

Do browser filters ‘dumb down’ Web search results?

Most importantly, it filters comments that contain profanity (though this option is, curiously, disabled by default). And if you’re a Chrome user, you can set up filtering for custom words and phrases (great for blocking the more PG and PG-13 comments that the stock profanity filter misses).

I find it a bit ridiculous that Google doesn’t offer any kind of comment blocking or filtering, nor even any parental controls. Comment Snob is a good start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. I want my kids to enjoy YouTube, but I’d rather not expose them to foul-mouthed rants, inappropriate jokes, and outright hate speech. How about a little action, here, Google?

Use Google Alerts to keep tabs on the news you want

A couple weeks ago I was thrilled when Roku finally added its HBO Go channel–and then crushed to discover that my cable provider, Comcast, wasn’t supporting it. (I’ve already fired off an indignant–but polite!–e-mail, believe me.)
Since then I’ve been obsessively searching the Web for any news to indicate that Comcast might be rethinking this idiotic decision. Of course, that’s a huge waste of time (the searching, not the obsession). Why go to Google when I can bring Google to me?

I’m talking about Google Alerts, which are custom, saved searches performed automatically and delivered to your inbox or RSS reader. I’ve written about them before, but not for a while–and they’re so perfect for my situation, I just had to revisit the topic.
To set up an alert, start by entering one or more search terms (just like you would for a regular Google search, and with the same optional parameters). Then, click the Type field to specify what source(s) Google should use: Everything, News, Blogs, Videos, Discussions, or Books.

Next, decide how often you want to receive alerts: “as it happens,” once a day, or once a week. The first option is nice if you’re following, say, a breaking news story, but keep in mind it can lead to a huge influx of e-mail: You’ll get an alert every single time Google finds a match to your search term(s).

Fortunately, you can keep things manageable by tweaking the Volume setting to Only the best results. If you set it to Everything, you’ll get, well, everything–and that’s very often overkill.

Finally, decide if you want the alerts to arrive via e-mail or feed (i.e. RSS feed, which can go to your Google Reader page or the feed-reader of your choice).

I’ve used Google Alerts for many years, and continue to consider it one of the unsung heroes of the Google tool collection. It’s a great time-saver, and an incredibly handy way to keep tabs on topics you want to follow closely.

Google Chrome tip: Enable AutoFill for fast and easy form completion

Google Chrome is rapidly earning my vote as the best Windows Web browser. It’s fast, increasingly versatile, and just plain smart at certain things. For example, Chrome offers a built-in AutoFill feature that’s not available in Internet Explorer and not included with Firefox (though you can add it by way of plug-ins like Autofill Forms).

AutoFill, of course, is the magical tool the automatically populates online forms with your personal data: name, address, phone number, e-mail, and so on. It’s a huge time-saver when you’re faced with, say, a Web shopping cart or site registration. Instead of typing all that same information over and over, you can make it appear instantly with just one click.

Chrome can even store your credit-card number(s) to make online shopping faster still. (Don’t worry: it’s totally encrypted.)

Here’s how to enable and configure AutoFill in Google Chrome:

Open Chrome, click the little wrench icon in the upper-right corner, and then choose Options. Click Personal Stuff.

Click the check box next to Enable Autofill to fill out web forms in a single click. Click Manage Autofill settings, and then Add new street address. Fill out as much of the form as you want, keeping in mind that AutoFill is pretty much an all-or-nothing tool: when you use it, it will insert every piece of information it can into a form’s matching fields. Thus, if you make it a point not to provide your phone number or e-mail address unless absolutely necessary, you might want to leave one or both of those fields blank. Click OK when you’re done. If you want, click Add new credit card and supply that information as well.

One other note: You can add multiple addresses and/or credit cards, then use whichever ones are appropriate for any given form.

When you’re done with all that and you’ve closed out Options, you’re all set. The next time you’re faced with a Web form, just click something like the Name field and you’ll see a drop-down list of AutoFill choices. Mouse over one of them and you’ll see how AutoFill would populate the various matching fields. If you’re happy with the results, just click that option and presto: your form is filled in. (Or is that filled out?)

If you’ve got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can’t promise a response, but I’ll definitely read every e-mail I get–and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: [email protected]. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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