Firefox Personas, the designer skins that let web surfers dress up their browser, are now being rebranded "Personas Plus" and are being moved over to Mozilla's add-on gallery to join the other plugins. With the move, Mozilla has also announced that development work on this popular personalization program is continuing with the addition of new features that will transform Personas from static background images to dynamically updating themes that could even include ambient information.
Personas, if you're unaware, are special web browser skins designed for Firefox that let you style your browser with colorful backgrounds and imagery. Slightly different than Firefox themes, which typically change browser buttons and toolbars too, Personas just let you update the browser's background without making dramatic changes to other Firefox features. Also, unlike themes, Personas don't require a browser restart to apply.
Until now, Firefox Personas have been a sort of cute, but somewhat unnecessary feature, and one that seems to appeal more to the "junior" set of web surfers. With Personas for things like Lady Gaga, Twilight, Avatar, musicians, popular TV shows and celebs, older web surfers may have felt a little out-of-place when visiting the Gallery's homepage. However, the future of Personas may have have all Firefox users taking a second look.
Future Plans for Personas
On the development roadmap, Mozilla is considering a number of new ideas for these add-on skins, including dynamic Personas, window and/or tab-specific Personas, page specific Personas and self hosted Personas, among other things. There are definitely some intriguing ideas here, although, on the other hand, Personas that changed too often during web surfing could end up being more distracting than useful.
One of the more interesting ideas under consideration is the addition of ambient information into a Persona. Years ago, we looked at an ambient news reader plugin for Firefox which displayed headlines from articles you would be interested in reading. These headlines, determined by an analysis of your web surfing habits, appeared in a beautifully fading list every time you opened a new tab in Firefox. That sort of low-impact information delivery mechanism is a perfect example of what it means to provide "ambient information."
So what sort of ambient information could be embedded into a Persona, we wonder? Could Personas provide statistics on tweets, Diggs and other social actions the way Feedly's toolbar does? Or could they, too, offer up links to related web pages or news stories? What would you want to see?
With Personas, the Focus is on the Browser, not the Web
Another thing to consider is whether or not this planned development means Mozilla is charting a different course for Firefox than rival Google is with their new Chrome browser. Where Chrome makes the browser "go away" with an emphasis on the web and not the tabs, buttons or toolbars, Personas do just the opposite: they return the focus to the browser itself. This would contradict other plans Mozilla was supposedly considering for Firefox's future not too long ago, most notably a design that would put tabs at the top of the browser just like in Chrome. Last summer, Mozilla requested user feedback about this potential revamp, but feedback was mixed.
What do you think about the plans for Personas? Are they interesting enough that you would give them a try? Or do you like a more minimal look for your browser?