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This wild Chrome extension lets you bend websites to your will

PixieBrix can declutter Amazon, bring to-do lists into Gmail, add custom search options to Google, and more.

This wild Chrome extension lets you bend websites to your will

Last week, while staring at Amazon’s overly cluttered website, I finally decided to do something about it.

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Using a Chrome extension called PixieBrix, I began removing all the superfluous widgets and distractions from Amazon’s product pages, including the Alexa banner ad at the top, the “frequently bought together” promo below the product picture, and the sponsored product listings further down the page. Now I can find what I’m looking for with less scrolling and fewer upsells along the way.

The ability to remove the unwanted parts of any website is just one of PixieBrix’s features. You can also add custom action buttons to your favorite sites, create sidebars that gather supplemental information as you browse, and send webpage data off to other services like Google Sheets or Trello. PixieBrix originally launched last year, but now it’s releasing a simplified version of its original product, with a marketplace where users can find new ways to modify their favorite sites. (The New York-based company is also announcing seed funding of $3.5 million.)

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[Animation: courtesy of PixieBrix]
As a business, PixieBrix caters mainly to businesses that want to customize the software their employees are using. But it’s also a powerful tool for personal use that’s free for individuals. If you’re unhappy with the way a website works—and don’t mind mucking around with a little bit of code—you can create your own tweaks to make it better.

[Photo: courtesy of PixieBrix]
“The vision is around how to democratize anyone’s ability to customize the websites that they use,” says Todd Schiller, PixieBrix’s cofounder and CEO.

Cracking the code

PixieBrix works by tapping into the developer tools offered by Google Chrome (and other Chromium-based browsers, such as Microsoft Edge). These tools, which you can bring up by pressing Ctrl+Shift+I or Cmd+Shift+I, let you scrutinize and modify the code of any website. PixieBrix adds an extra tab to this menu with a simplified interface for making those changes, so you can add or remove page elements without deep knowledge of web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

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Using the Amazon decluttering as an example, you start by navigating to Amazon.com and creating a “Trigger” that runs whenever you visit the site. Then, you add a series of “Hide” actions (PixieBrix calls these actions “Bricks”) that run as part of the triggering event. For each action, a selector tool lets you choose which parts of the page you want to hide.

PixieBrix can add new elements to pages as well, which is where things get really interesting. With a bit more tinkering, I was able to add a “Search on eBay” button to Amazon product pages, which scans the page for the product name, then opens the eBay search in a new tab. I also added several custom search shortcut buttons to Brave Search—currently my private search engine of choice—letting me easily look up the current query on Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Reddit.

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The PixieBrix extension also has its own sidebar menu, which can pop up in response to things that are happening on the page. I used this to add an “Agenda” link to my Gmail inbox, loading my weekly to-do list from Tweek in a sidebar menu.

As someone who’s not a coder, I wouldn’t say the setup process for those additions was intuitive. But PixieBrix’s sample documentation gave me a general sense of how everything worked, and after a couple hours of playing around, I was able to set up some shortcuts that I’ll likely use for a long time to come.

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A marketplace of mods

My early experiments with PixieBrix only scratch the surface of what’s possible. The company’s Marketplace reveals all kinds of other uses for the software—uses that I’ve yet to try, such as adding data from webpages to Google Sheets or a Trello Card, showing supplemental information (like weather directly inside webpages), and filling out forms automatically.

But I’m also not exactly the target audience. PixieBrix is primarily enterprise software, and it sees a big opportunity in areas like sales and customer service, where workers are often bouncing between browser tabs and cross-referencing information from multiple places. Instead of creating an entirely new application to solve those problems, PixieBrix wants to help companies customize the tools they’re already using. To that end, “A lot of other companies are building new applications, which just ends up being yet another login,” Schiller says. “We think for a lot of business cases, this is a lower risk, higher return on investment way to do things.”

PixieBrix says it charges around $50 per month per user for its enterprise version, but it’s free for individual users that don’t need the service’s collaboration features, user access controls, or email support. And those users will stand to benefit if PixieBrix gains traction. The company’s newly-launched Marketplace lets users search for new “Bricks” to modify websites, and it’ll expand over time as more people create and share Bricks of their own.

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Shiller says there’s ultimately no limit to what users can do with the software.

“It’s going to have a profound impact on the way that businesses and users interact with the internet,” he says, “because it puts more of the customization power in the hands of the end users.”

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