Customise your Internet

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It's quite hard to have your own piece of internet these days. Blogging isn't easy, even if you don't have many readers. Sites ran by companies don't let you have your own piece, and they're made less usable by attempts to track the movement of your eyeballs and the like. My reader, I know you are yearning for something different. This post will teach you how to make bits of the modern Internet into what you may want them to be.

Change content in the browser

It is an intuitive fact but worth reflecting on: after a server sends you a webpage, it's yours, so if you don't like what it says you can just make it say something else.

This is a post from a social media account of an American politician. It's something he wanted to say to people, entirely within what he and the site thinks are acceptable speech. You can reply to the post if you feel your opinion will add to the discourse about whatever this was a discourse about, but I advise against it. If you'd rather the site said something else, you can just change the content using "Inspect Element", and "Edit as HTML" options of a modern browser:

Great! Now the site says something else:

Everyone else's copies of this site will not be changed by this operation. You could take a screenshot of your version, and show it to people, but please don't make them confuse it for an original, there have been enough lies like this elready.

Unfortunately when you refresh the page, your customisation will also be gone. We will attempt to address this now.

Serve your own version of the site

Download-and-edit

The social media site we have modified in the previous example is served from somebody else's computer. Your computer can serve sites too. Very empowering!

You can download somebody's site, change it, and serve it from somewhere else. I've used this technique at work e.g. here. I saved a site I wanted to change, added a feature I wanted the site to have, and added comments to it, by hand-editing the HTML code.

Use with an iframe

This way of customising Internet is mostly for other people that visit your version of the Internet by accident. Dear reader, I trust you have good intentions, so I'll tell you how to do this.

Put up a site on static hosting you control that is merely a shell for a full-length iframe, together with some Javascript code for making the page as you want it to be. Some sites ask not to be iframed because a malicious actor with intentions worse than yours could put a usually trustworthy site inside a snoopy or password-stealing site.

Proxy

If you want a more dynamic, "continuous" solution that doesn't involve saving a site to a folder, I recommend a proxy server, perhaps nginx.

I did this recently to try improve a subcomponent in the site with worm genomes I look after data for. I hosted the alternative version from my computer, and delegated everything else, with an nginx config. It was a good day at work: I improved something and the development process I have used has made me very enthusiastic about customising my Internet.

With proxying, the page appears the same no matter how many times you refresh - what an advantage over modifying bits of the page in the browser! Unfortunately you have to use a different address for the customised page: with http://localhost:8080 instead of http://parasite.wormbase.org at the beginning.

Proxy but with URLs staying the same

parasite.wormbase.org is a DNS record, referring to a computer somewhere out there. dig parasite.wormbase.org will consult some good people and tell you the IP address of this computer is 193.62.193.83. Your own address is 127.0.0.1, so if you somehow get one to be the other inside your computer...

Say you make the DNS record parasite.wormbase.org resolve to 127.0.0.1, and then run a proxy which listens to the requests on port 80, changes small pieces, and forwards them to 193.62.193.83:80. Then you can do all kinds of things!

Proxy that Twitter page

So could we do the same with that Twitter page? Twitter serves the site over HTTPS, so they try not let you. Feel free to conduct a search on "https man in the middle attack" and see if you can do something about Twitter's security. Good luck!