Send in the clones: Firefox and the Overwhelmerati

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009

There is a secret society called the Overwhelmerati, whose goal is to overwhelm us with cool, free software. You might think they do this in order to distract us, so they can do things like melt the polar ice caps and sell mortgage default swap guarantees when we aren't looking. But no. Their mission is to promote cloning.

They know it is a short matter of time before we will either a) give up our social lives just to play with all the new stuff out there, which would eventually extinguish the human race, or b) hire ourselves to help ourselves remain Web literate. And if you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?

Firefox, a very popular Web browser, runs the Overwhelmerati. As Firefox turns five, it has produced enough add-ons - those little software programs you add to Firefox to really give it some fire power - to keep you and a few clones working around the clock. Finally, we will be able to be beside ourselves with joy. I'm not cloning around about this.

Just go to Firefox's Add On page, and wade through all the add-ons yourself. How many are there? Firefox says they have, get ready for it, 5,000. Only 5,000 add-ons to read about, install and try.

If you give each 10 minutes of your life, that would only take you 833 hours, or about 35 days. This assumes you are doing this non-stop, no sleeping, eating, family (no big change to our lifestyles there).

OK, let's say you cloned yourself three times, and each clone gets to spend some time doing what normal people do, like eating, sleeping, etc. Now you are down to about 20 days per clone. The problem is that in another 20 days there will be 5,000 more add-ons to consider. Your clones will need clones.

What to do? I read the titles. When in doubt, go superficial. Here are a few I like, along with Firefox's description of them:

• TimeTracker: Do you spend too much time on Firefox? Keep track of how much you browse with TimeTracker. (My comment: Are they serious? God these guys love irony! It's like giving a sugar tracker to someone who is addicted to donuts. Actually this is a great idea but I am too afraid to use it. There are some things about yourself that you are just better off not knowing.)

• Nuke Anything Enhanced: Who hasn't been annoyed by ads and banners that show up when you're trying to print something and waste both paper and ink - not to mention your time. Nix these items with this extension, which allows you to hide virtually any part of a Web page you're not interested in. (My comment: Now we're talking. A tool that actually gives us less to do.)

I have actually employed students in the service of determining the utility of add-ons and social media software. Everyone tries a few and then reports back to the group about the must-have apps. The problem was that everyone basically loved everything they tried - or thought you might.

So, we might able to solve the shopping problem, but finding time to use all the stuff remains. Perhaps we can use our clones for that too.

• Jason Ohler is a retired professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at His Web site is

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