Prof. Greg Wilson recently sent me an email, saying the following:
I’d like a Firefox plugin that does ‘wc’, i.e., counts characters, words, and lines on the current web page, and displays the results in the status bar.
Cool, I thought. No problem. That doesn’t sound too hard.
But I’ve been mulling and chewing this around in my head, and it’s actually a harder problem than it first sounds.
“wc“, short for word-count, is a small, simple, yet extraordinarily useful Unix utility that reads in some file, and spits out the number of words, characters, and lines for that file.
So what’s the problem? What’s so hard about coding something like this for web pages?
I certainly don’t think this is an impossible task, just harder than it first sounded.
So here’s what I’m going to do:
First, I’m going to take care of the base case. I’m going to take care of the case where users are viewing a page of all text, with almost zero HTML.
My test page will be an “etext” copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (first folio), hosted by Project Gutenberg.
According to OpenOffice Writer, this text has 32230 words, 173543 characters, and 4257 lines.
So that’s my target. I’m going to create an extension that sits as a button on the status bar. When the button is clicked, an alert will pop up with the statistics. If all goes well, the numbers will match.
Sure, it’s not the most elegant interface, but it’ll do for now.
I’ll post more as it comes.