firefox tab ads
May 12, 2014

Mozilla Back Pedals On ‘Directory Tile’ Tab Ads

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

UPDATE May 16, 2014

Mozilla reached out to clarify what was meant in Nightingale's post:

"None of the tiles are sponsored at this time because the goal of initial experiments is to measure user interest and value of recommended content," said Darren Herman, VP of Content Services, in a statement sent to redOrbit. "Sponsorship would be the next stage once we are confident that we can deliver user value."Mozilla is taking a giant step...backwards. The developer of open source software platforms announced that it is backing away from putting ads on Firefox's new tab pages.

In February the company announced that its Firefox browser would feature ads in tiles on the new tabs page. Mozilla dubbed this initiative "Directory Tiles", and this ad strategy, which reportedly even surprised the advertising industry, was announced at the IAB's annual meeting in Palm Desert, California.

While Mozilla promised that Firefox would only contain ad content from "like-minded content owners and creators," the reaction to the ad announcement was not surprisingly one that was embraced by users.

As quickly as the so-called experiment began it has now essentially ended. Late last week Jonathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, posted on the company's official blog, "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; without user control, without user benefit. That’s not going to happen. That’s not who we are at Mozilla," Nightingale said.

This may not be who Mozilla is, but the more important take away is that this wasn't what the users wanted either.

"Firefox users gave Mozilla an earful detailing their displeasure with the sponsored tabs," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "That overwhelmed the company's need to find new revenue sources since losing key users is a sure way to lose more money."

King told redOrbit that like many early adopters to the open source browser, he originally started using Firefox in the late 1990s because it eliminated the annoying pop-up ads on Internet Explorer.

"It achieved this by simply not supporting Active-X," added King. "The move to sponsored tabs suggests that Mozilla exists in an irony-free zone."

This doesn't mean that Mozilla will sit back with Firefox. Users can still expect changes to come.

"We will experiment," Nightingale promised. "In the coming weeks, we’ll be landing tests on our pre-release channels to see whether we can make things like the new tab page more useful, particularly for fresh installs of Firefox, where we don’t yet have any recommendations to make from your history. We'll test a mix of our own sites and other useful sites on the Web. We’ll mess with the layout. 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. Sponsorship would be the next stage once we are confident that we can deliver user value."

The question then becomes why browser makers - including Mozilla but also Microsoft and Google - continue to "experiment," and make these ever occurring changes? In other words, users shouldn't get too comfortable with the way a browser looks or operates because it will likely change at some point.

While some of this is due to competition - the browser wars have existed ever since Microsoft first looked to take Netscape in the 1990s and the competition remains fierce - the other factor is that browsers need to adapt to changing technology.

"The practice of changing layouts and features and Mozilla's adoption of customizable features simply reflects the IT world we live in," added King. "Internet access is a constant but people of every sort tend to use multiple devices and methods of access.

"So developing technologies that can be personalized or supporting changes that seem appropriate to rapidly changing markets and demographics is critical," he suggested. "That does create discomfort among users who are simply trying to keep up with changes but Mozilla's support of customizable features could offer options for creating a common interface and features that extend across multiple devices."