Wallflower stops sites from socializing

A new add-on for Firefox called Wallflower blocks Facebook and Google+ social-networking buttons from appearing when surfing the Web.

As social networking has gone mainstream, so have the flock of buttons embedded in Web pages to get you to promote a story on the multitude of social-networking services you use. One Web developer has written a quick-and-dirty add-on that hides two of those gnat-like buttons from view. Dietrich Ayala, a developer for Mozilla based in Portland, Ore., wrote a new add-on called Wallflower to cut down on the memory use of buttons that he found superfluous.

The top half of this image is a CNET blog post without the Wallflower extension. Wallflower removes Facebook Like and Google+ buttons, as seen in the lower half of the image. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Wallflower is a restartless add-on for Firefox, which means you won't have to restart your browser after installing it, and it performs the simple task of knocking out the Facebook "Like," Facebook "Connect," and Google+ "+1" buttons. In their place remains empty space filled by the site's background color or pattern.

"The add-on took about 10 minutes to write," Ayala said in an e-mail to CNET and mentioned in a comment on his blog announcing the add-on that it is not intended to be track-free browsing. "Wallflower is not written to leave no trace of your passing. It's a few lines of code that I dashed off to detect if one of these pages loaded in an iFrame, and if so, changes [its] location to about:blank."

The real impetus for the add-on was to cut down on memory usage. Ayala was checking out the Firefox's memory usage via about:memory when he noticed spikes coming from Facebook and Google social-sharing buttons. His colleague Shawn Wilsher explores the problem further, concluding that while Firefox could do a better job of memory management in this area, Facebook also uses more than it should, too. This can become a noticeable drag on memory when you have dozens of tabs open, each pulling down active code for social-networking buttons.

"If you have 10 tabs open with Like buttons, your memory compartment for that particular URL will reflect that," Ayala said.

There are other ways to block social-networking share buttons, and they may be more effective. Ayala admitted that Wallflower is buggy, given how little time it took him to write it. If you use the AdBlock Plus add-on, you can grab the "antisocial" blocklist which will knock out Del.icio.us, Twitter, Digg, and many other social networking share buttons.

While the social-networking buttons might be annoying to some, especially those on bandwidth-limited mobile devices, for others they're a quick and easy way to share interesting sites with friends. You can get the word out about this story, for example, using the buttons at the top on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Del.icio.us, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Google Bookmarks.