Best Firefox extensions: Make your browser a communication center
This is the second installment of our series of reviews of Firefox extensions. We've broken the vast array of extensions available for the open source browser into a number of categories, and picked the best extensions in each category based on a weighted formula that takes into account ratings, number of reviews, and total number of downloads as of December 29, 2010. In this installment, we'll consider communications-related extensions, which include those extensions that Mozilla classifies under the Social & Communication and Language Support heading.
One of the most heavily hyped aspects of the Internet today is social media. The ability to be able to share discoveries or information about yourself is the biggest thing to come along, it seems, since e-mail. Perhaps that's a bit cynical, but the idea of sharing information on the Internet is not exactly new. Still, it's nice to be able to instantly share information on the spot with friends and colleagues, so there's something to be said for social media.
Sharing, of course, does little good if you can't speak the language of those with whom you're sharing. That's why translation programs and assistants are vital to making the Internet work. Given the increasingly global focus of even the most casual web denizen, such apps are becoming more important, as people start to clue into the fact that the entire world doesn't speak English.
AddThis. AddThis is a social media extension that enables you to share a web page with a bewildering array of social media sites and services. "Bewildering," in case you're wondering, equates to no less than 285 sharing opportunities. From better known sites like Twitter and Facebook, to social sites like Identica to Link Ninja, to local services like printing and, yes, e-mail. AddThis works as a toolbar, and you can choose which of the 285 available services will appear on that bar. You can also opt to skip the toolbar and just use a context menu to share a given page. The sheer number of services makes this an attractive add-on, though one drawback is that you can only share a page with one service at a time, and you can only use one account per service.
BabelFish Instant Translation. This extension is definitely seamless: select a passage of text and BabelFish will translate from the page's detected language to your browser's language. The automatic settings worked perfectly, and the translation speed was very fast. The passages I test translated were essentially accurate, though the idioms were a bit off and subject-verb agreement was not always clean. What's nice about this add-on is that you can choose between Google or Yahoo!, the default translation services, or add your own.
DeezerMSN. While popular, DeezerMSN is a social extension with a pretty limited functionality: the ability to display the songs you might be listening to on the French streaming music service within the MSN Live Messenger. If you use Deezer and these other applications, then DeezerMSN is definitely worth using.
FoxLingo. FoxLingo, at first glance, offers a lot for a translation application. With the FoxLingo toolbar, you can translate whole pages or just passages as you like. There are many languages and translation services available, so you can very easily drill down to the exact service and languages you want to translate to and from. I especially appreciated the inclusion of details such as knowing the difference between Latin American Spanish and Spain Spanish. The only concern I have with this add-on is the interface: the toolbar is a little clunky and hard to navigate. Plus, for all of the different translation services provided, sometimes all I want is one button that just gives me what I need. If you do have a handle of the best translators to use with each language, FoxLingo is a solid tool.
gTranslate. This translator is a transparent service that plugs a bit of selected text into the Google Translate service. While not affiliated with Google, this app does an okay job in feeding GT. It's a little awkward to use, because it tries to cram larger passages of text into a context menu, which frankly is weird. I would have preferred a "go translate this" command for such passages. It's a time saver for single-word selections, I suppose, but it's still inconvenient.
gTranslator. If you want the official Google Translate extension for Firefox, this is it. Kicked off by an icon in the status bar, gTranslator will auto-detect the language of the page and translate the entire page in frame. Because the entire page is translated, some of the contextual translations actually come across better, which is nice. The drawback for this tool is that only whole pages can be translated, not passages, so if you're looking for an inidvidual word's translation, this is not the add-on to use.
ImTranslator. ImTranslator is not the strongest extension in the translation category. When I right-clicked a passage of text to translate, it detected Spanish as English then proceeded to translate the text into French. Beyond poor marks for auto-detect, the Spanish-to-English translation was weak, and the whole thing seemed to be adware for a speech-to-text service. I was a little surprised, given ImTranslator's persistence in the top-ranked extension lists, but I guess some people don't know what they're missing.
StumbleUpon. I haven't used StumbleUpon lately, but there's a lot going for this link-sharing service, which seems to be enjoying a resurgence since Digg fell on bumpy times. This extension integrates a toolbar well with StumbleUpon, enabling you to share your own links as favorites and Like or Dislike shared links easily. You can even share pages with Twitter and Facebook, which is rather ecumenical for such a tool. A decent add-on for link sharers.
WikiLook. If you're an avid Wikipedia user, this is a nifty tool to use. Once it's enabled, right-clicking on a term will display a pop-up display of the term from Wikipedia, or Wiktionary or the Uncyclopedia. It's not much more than using the search bar to one of these services, but it's a real time-saver if you rely on them often.
Yoono. This sidebar-format extension is a full-fledged client for several social services, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and a quite a few others. Two things make this a stand-out extension: the capability to use multiple accounts for the same services and being able to seamlessly share pages or selections of pages across multiple services and accounts. For anyone who works with social media on anything approaching a professional level, this is a a must-have extension for Firefox.
Viewing content and working with people from around the planet is a lot easier with some of the tools in this group, whatever your native language.
Up next: Money makes the world go round
Soon enough more money will be passing through Web browsers than through physical cash registers. There are a host of Firefox browsers that help make Web shopping easier; we bring you the best in the next installment of this series.