Mozilla Reassures Users Over Firefox Ad Programme

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Mozilla has said it will test its Directory Tiles programme to ensure it delivers ‘user value’ before rolling it out in the Firefox browser

Mozilla is pushing ahead with tests of a programme intended to deliver advertisements on the page the browser displays when a new tab is opened, but reassured users it will “talk about” the results of the experiment before finalising it in the Firefox browser.

The advertising programme, called Directory Tiles, was first mentioned in February, and at the time “it didn’t go over well”, said Mozilla’s vice president for Firefox, Jonathan Nightingale, in a Friday blog post.

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‘Mess of logos’

“A lot of our community found the language hard to decipher, and worried that we were going to turn Firefox into a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder,” he wrote.

Mozilla hasn’t changed its plans, but Nightingale said the programme will be thoroughly tested to ensure it delivers “user value” before it is added into the release version of the browser.

“These tests are purely to understand what our users find helpful and what our users ignore or disable – these tests are not about revenue and none will be collected,” he wrote. “Sponsorship would be the next stage once we are confident that we can deliver user value.”

The tests will be carried out in the coming weeks on the pre-release browser versions across different platforms, according to Nightingale, and will include layout experiments. During tests, the page will display “a mix of our own sites and other useful sites on the web”, and Mozilla will seek feedback from users.

The “new tab” page normally displays websites from the user’s browsing history, arranged in nine “tiles”, but these are blank for new users who don’t yet have a history. Mozilla has said that its plan is to fill these blank tiles, including adding sponsored content, for a period of about 30 days until the user has enough browsing history to fill the tiles.

Revenue diversification

The Directory Tiles project is intended, in part, to help Mozilla diversify its revenues, which currently derive almost entirely from the fees Google pays in exchange for searches carried out via the browser’s built-in search toolbar. Relations with Google are cordial from all accounts, but there is a potential difficulty in Google funding a rival to its Chrome browser and Android OS.

The programme will place “clearly labelled” sponsored tiles from “hand-picked partners”, the company said in February. It will also place content relevant to the user’s geographic location, Mozilla said.

The company said it doesn’t plan to collect any user information for the programme apart from this geographic data. It will provide marketers with “basic” metrics including the number of times a tile was displayed and the number of clicks it received.

Opera Software has collected revenues through a similar programme in its Opera browser for several years.

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