The PixieBrix Manifesto: Web Customization for the Masses

The PixieBrix Manifesto: Web Customization for the Masses
Photo by Thomas Serer / Unsplash

My freshman year of college, I interned as an “equities analyst”. What this meant in practice was that I was supposed to look up numbers in a terminal, and then type them into an Excel spreadsheet. The software provider hadn’t gotten around to implementing export for the data yet.

Not wanting to spend a whole summer entering data, I set out to put my computer science classes to use. I coded up a flow where I took screenshots, passed them through off-the-shelf OCR software, and then had a script add them to the spreadsheet. The two-month project took one week, and I spent the rest of the summer enjoying World Cup Soccer matches on the office TV.

That’s when I realized, given the right tools, even basic coding skills can translate into massive productivity and quality of life gains.

Now almost 15 years later, I see a mixed landscape. Improvements in development tools and AI are creating new possibilities. However, non-devs are often worse off. Perpetual licenses and open-source software have given way to subscriptions and walled gardens. Software providers artificially limit the productivity of their software by designing for the average user. Or worse, intentionally restrict functionality.

We started PixieBrix because we believe three things:

  1. There is no such thing as an “average user”
  2. Everyone should be empowered to customize their software to give them superpowers
  3. Computing should be delightful

To this end, we’ve set out to create low/no-code tools for customizing the behavior of software, web pages, and SaaS. But we won’t be able to do it alone. That’s why we’re also working hard to build a diverse and vibrant community of makers.

Our first PixieBrix product is a low/no-code platform for extending web browsers. Web browsers are the new OS, and everyday people are constantly switching between countless web pages and SaaS apps. Now, with a bit of configuration, anyone using our platform can add functionality that previously required custom browser extension development. This ranges from adding elements to a page, to automating workflows à la robotic process automation (RPA).

Currently, building new features in our system requires common coding skills such as YAML, CSS selectors, JSON Schema, and regular expressions. Over time, we’ll be working hard to reduce the barriers to use, mix, match, and create.

Fitting with our beliefs, I’m proud to say our browser extension is open source (GPL v3). That means everyone can inspect what code they’re running and modify it, as long as they’re willing to extend that benefit to others.

I’d like to personally invite you to join us on our journey. To keep up to date, subscribe to our newsletter. And, if you have an idea you'd like to build, send me an email at [email protected]. I’d love to hear about it and help turn it into a reality.