15 May 2009

Hi folks. I'm sure some of you might be wondering at my rather long absence from blogging here. The reason is partly unavailability of time, and partly was saving this announcement until everything is in reasonable shape. It has been a very interesting 6 months. I was contacted by Taylor Norrish, founder of, to work on a simple, nifty tool to clean up web pages for printing. He was frustrated to see how much paper and ink end up getting wasted due to printing this useless/needless junk from every webpage.

Enter PrintFriendly. It's a simple-to-use tool (but was definitely not so simple to implement, but we'll come to that later) which cleans up a page of all needless junk like ads, background colors, fancy graphics, etc. to print the most important part, the content. Of course, it's definitely not the first tool which does this -  PrintFriendly takes a slightly different approach from others - we tried to make the tool dead simple to understand and use, without bogging down the user with too many options. Also, we made it easily installable, by just inserting a few lines of javascript code in your site if you are a publisher, or you could use our wordpress plugin if you are a blogger. Perhaps the most convenient from the user's perspective - a browser bookmarklet, which you can just drag into your bookmarks folder and you're good to go. You can even generate and save a PDF copy of the cleaned up content. Do give it a try. I'd love to hear your feedback.

Regarding what went into it, there's been plenty of effort. Javascript wasn't my strongest suites when it comes to programming languages, but it's certainly different now. Writing cross-browser compatible javascript bookmarklet that has so much of functionality baked in, yet tries to make it very easy for the user, did teach me a lot. In the process, I learned the strengths and weaknesses of several javascript libraries (my favorite is YUI, I have to admit - though jQuery comes pretty close), learned a ton about javascript itself, got to know so many cool projects, and in the process understood why javascript will stay at the forefront of web innovation for a long time to come.

Working with so many browsers with something as finicky as DOM behavior, and the differences between their event models, was a relevation. Needless to say, Firefox has been the easiest to work with, and IE the toughest. Chrome and Safari behave pretty much the same way, due to their being powered by the WebKit engine. While development is a joy in Firefox due to the venerable Firebug and Web Developer plugins, it was the toughest to debug on IE7. Interestingly, IE8 has a very good developer mode. Both Safari and Chrome slightly disappoint - though powered by an open-source engine, yet not having really good developer tools to test and debug. YUI's well-documented, rock-solid libraries helped immensely in smoothing over some of these differences.

All in all, it has been a very challenging yet fun project to develop, and a huge learning opportunity on so many levels. There were ups and downs, when we were able to deploy it as the default print tool on, which was a great experience for us. We were excited when we got invited to interview with YCombinator, but slightly disappointed when we couldn't make it through the interview. But work continues apace, and as we always thought and PG wished, we will continue developing the tool, as the "world needs something like this".

We're still working furiously on bringing out more ways of distributing the tool - I'll definitely keep you posted about the developments. Meanwhile, go check it out, and tell us what you think. If you want a quick demo, you can test it out on this blog itself - just click on the 'PrintFriendly' button at the bottom of this article. You can mail in your feedback on support AT printfriendly DOT com or simply click on the feedback tab on the left side of the page. Thanks! Stay tuned for updates.