Home Mozilla Upgrades Firefox Add-ons Site; Interview with Mike Shaver, Mozilla Add-ons Guru

Mozilla Upgrades Firefox Add-ons Site; Interview with Mike Shaver, Mozilla Add-ons Guru

today Mozilla is launching an upgrade to its Add-Ons website. Add-ons are extensions to the Firefox
browser and Mozilla is aiming to make them more accessible to mainstream users with this
upgrade. Last week I spoke with Mike Shaver, Mozilla’s Director of Ecosystem Development and “add-ons
guru”, about the new add-ons upgrade and also Mozilla’s plans for the future in regards
to add-ons.

Add-ons Site Upgrade

Mike told me there are 3 main focuses for the upgrade:

1) Localization – they have 8 7 localized communities at launch, with a couple
more on the way. The current languages supported are: Chinese, German, French, Japanese, Korean, Slovak, Spanish, Turkish. Update: Turkish now won’t be supported in the initial release.

2) Improved search and categorization – also Ajax previews for add-ons.

3) Perhaps most significant, Mozilla is enhancing the community aspects of the
– enabling users to review and “self-select” add-ons. Essentially this effects
how new adds-ons join the site. Previously selection decisions were made by a small
approval community, but the new site features a “sandbox” so that general users can
select, review and rate add-ons. The more popular an add-on is with the community, the
more coverage it gets on the site. The flip-side to this is that less add-ons will get
onto the site, because only the most popular ones will make it. A full list of add-ons
will still be available, but on Mozilla’s developer community page. Note that this
“self-select” process also enables the site to scale better (add-ons are
showing a lot of growth currently).

Another benefit of the increased community participation is that it increases the testing process for add-ons – providing code review, feature testing, usability feedback for add-on developers.

Also Mozilla has removed a bunch of old add-ons (a.k.a. extensions), due to trimming down
of add-ons that are now redundant (e.g. subsumed within Fx), not being used or no longer
being maintained. All add-ons that are not compatible with Fx 1.5 or later have been
removed from the site.

The Future of Add-ons

Mike said that add-ons are becoming more popular with non-technical users and that
this is a key area of focus for Firefox add-ons. Firefox has 80 Million users now and so
it’s important that add-ons can be easily used by all of that audience. More than 7 million Firefox users currently have add-ons installed on their browser.

I asked Mike whether Mozilla will be promoting add-ons more to mainstream audiences.
He mentioned some partnerships with “major brands” – an example being the Firefox Companion for Kodak EasyShare Gallery, which was released late last week. But upgrading the add-ons site is part of this process of making add-ons usable
for mainstream users. Mike said:

“The key for us and for our partners, or for people who are working as developers on
add-ons, is figuring out what the essence of the service being provided to the user is –
and seeing where that makes sense to have it be more tightly integrated into what they’re
doing on the Web. […] I think we’ll see significant energy with partnerships and
independent developers – so that they can find something on the browser they want to make
better for their users, and present their own spin on the Web that way.”

Add-ons and Widgets

I asked Mike whether add-ons for Mozilla are similar to widgets/gadgets for Microsoft
and Google? He replied that the main difference is that Firefox add-ons integrate with
the browser – “a piece of software that a user spends all of their time in” – and so
add-ons are able to “integrate into those experiences really tightly”. Also Mike
mentioned that there’s a lot of re-use that goes on, with open source code and
components. So Firefox plus add-ons, he said, is a powerful developer platform.

Add-ons and Information Brokering

I asked Mike about Firefox 3 being an information broker
– will this mean that add-ons utilize web services more over time? Mike said that the
browser’s job will increasingly be to “represent the user on the Web and to bring the Web
[to them] on the user’s terms”, so he expects add-ons to utilize technologies such as web services and microformats; and also some add-ons will be brought into the core Firefox product. Overall he thinks that
because Firefox is an extensible product, add-ons are a key part of its ongoing

Note: I will update this post when Mozilla pushes the changes live. In the meantime, check out our Review of Firefox Recommended Add-ons from October 06.

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