Ads in your browser? Sponsored landing pages could appear in Mozilla
Using the internet and being subjected to advertising very much go hand in hand. Sites have server bills to pay as well as other costs, and this is offset by displaying ads as a means of generating income. This is something we're all used to, and it's generally accepted as the price we have to pay. With the spread of mobile apps, the notion of advertisements within software becomes more and more popular, but, while not entirely unknown, it's not a notion that really translated to the desktop. This could be set to change if Mozilla's experiments with in-browser advertising come to fruition.
Of course, referring to it as advertising would be a little off-putting, so the word 'sponsored' is being thrown around in its place. What's all this about? Well, back in February Mozilla's Head of Content Services, Darren Herman, posted a blog entry outlining the company's 'Directory Tiles' idea. What this amounted to was a suggestion that in future versions of Firefox, the new tab page could feature "sponsored content from hand-picked partners" as well as links to site based on location. Herman gave the reassurance that "sponsored tiles will be clearly labelled as such" but, ultimately, it still amounts to in-browser advertising.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was something of a backlash from users about this. In fact, such was the tide of discontent that Vice President of Firefox, Johnathan Nightingale has stepped in to try to clear things up a little. "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".
It almost goes without saying that there is a "but". And it's a "but" that will do little to calm concerns. "But we will experiment. 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". Sell-outs! Comes the cry from the Mozilla community. But hold on. "These tests are not about revenue and none will be collected". See? There was nothing to be concerned about! It's about adding value for the user! "Sponsorship would be the next stage once we are confident that we can deliver user value". Wait… what’s that? So it's not about revenue, but sponsorship would be the next stage. That's cleared that up then!
Windows 8.1's blurring of the boundaries between desktop and mobile software, and it is not unknown for modern apps to include ads. But the worry is that the browser will become overrun with "sponsorship". Mozilla would like to allay these fears. "We'll keep listening for feedback and suggestions to make this work better for you. Because that’s who we are at Mozilla," says Herman. Part of the justification given by Nightingale for revamping the new tab page was that it "isn't delivering any value for [new Firefox users]", pointing out that it is unpopulated and stark -- opening up Nightingale to questions from commenters such as "did you get previous complaints about a new tab being empty?"
If Mozilla is going to introduce advertising to Firefox, it should at least have the decency to be honest about it. This is not about adding value, or improving the user experience. It is about trying to bring in money and testing the water to see if users will let it slide or not. Claims such as "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" just sound disingenuous.