Mozilla To Introduce Advertising Into Firefox

The new feature called ‘Directory Tiles’ will display curated, sponsored content

Mozilla is working to bring advertising to its Firefox web browser, through a new feature called ‘Directory Tiles’, which will replace some of the empty tiles which appear when opening a new tab.

Directory Tiles will display a mix of useful information for first-time users, including “sponsored content from hand-picked partners”, enabling Mozilla to diversify its business into digital media and content publishing, and boost revenues. The organisation hopes it will also compliment the other areas of its work.

“While we have not worked out the entire product roadmap, we are beginning to talk to content partners about the opportunity, and plan to start showing Directory Tiles to new Firefox users as soon as we have the user experience right,” said Darren Herman, vice president of Content Services at Mozilla, while speaking at The Interactive Advertising Bureau meeting on Tuesday.

New revenue streams

The Mozilla Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation that coordinates and integrates the development of projects like the Firefox browser and Firefox OS. Unlike its parent, the corporation is a taxable entity fully capable of earning money, but it reinvests all of its profits back into the Mozilla projects.

firefox_new_tab_fullAccording to Herman, a digital advertising executive who was hired by Mozilla in December 2013, Directory Tiles were designed to improve experience for first-time Firefox users.

Today, when you open a new tab in Firefox, it displays up to nine tiles populated by favourite or most visited websites. If you are a new user, these tabs are empty, and the organisation decided that a few of these empty spots could be used as interactive advertising billboards.

“Some of these tile placements will be from the Mozilla ecosystem, some will be popular websites in a given geographic location, and some will be sponsored content from hand-picked partners to help support Mozilla’s pursuit of our mission,” explained Herman.

“The sponsored tiles will be clearly labelled as such, while still leading to content we think users will enjoy.” Herman added that whatever form the advertising will take, it will still align with Mozilla’s values of trust and transparency.

The new feature could reduce the organisation’s dependency on Google. Mozilla is often criticised for its ongoing search revenue deal with the US technology giant. The full details of the arrangement have never been publicly disclosed but in 2012, “royalties” from contracts with various search engine and information providers earned the Mozilla Corporation $305 million (£185.5m), most of it coming from Google.

It is worth noting that Herman gave a carefully worded statement, full of words like ‘exploration’ and ‘initial programmes’. This could indicate that Mozilla is ready to scrap all advertising projects if they are met with a negative user response.

Firefox is not the first browser to experiment with online content in empty tabs. For example, older versions of Opera allowed users to install a wide range of widgets into the tiles that would usually display websites.

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