Ads Are 100% Natural – Don’t Worry, Nothing To See Here – But Please Click

Mozilla made the announcement on Tuesday, 2/11/14, that ads will be coming to the Firefox browser. The news sent a chill up my spine when I first read the announcement. I felt like a friend had just been kidnapped and an Amber alert sent out.

Here’s the confirmation tweet that slapped me in the face after I thought that I was surely still in bed experiencing a bad dream.

Twitter / dherman76: Excited to share the launch …

The announcement was real. So this is a nightmare I can’t wake up from or else I woke up to some alternate universe.

I wonder how rank and file Mozillians feel about this all.

Soon we’re going to be shown the nutrition label that shows 100% “natural flavors” (ads) are added to enhance the UE flavor. It’s all “really” healthy for the web. We’ve all heard this before. We know our nutrition facts.

The marketese and sugar coating of the announcement was probably not the best approach for trying to prove that a few extra ingredients won’t harm our browsing experience.

Mozilla must have known that the news was going to send tremors throughout the Firefox community and beyond.

However, instead of tackling the issues and questions they surely knew would arise, it was all cutely wrapped in a transparent UE wrapper.

The newest program is one we’re calling Directory Tiles, which is designed to improve the first-time-with-Firefox experience … The new tab page isn’t delivering any value. Directory Tiles will instead suggest pre-packaged content for first-time users. 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. The sponsored tiles will be clearly labeled as such, while still leading to content we think users will enjoy.
Advancing Content

Oh this means, ads are on the way. The messenger was Darren Herman. As VP of Content Services, he’s responsible for diversifying revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s mission through innovation in content and personalization products and services. That’s what the bio says.

Oh this means, ads are being added to the nutrition label.

Yet, ad-free (non-sponsored content) is value to users. Placing ads within a new tab for 1st time users is not a good sign for more healthful browsing in my experience.

Hopefully Mozilla will address some of the fears floating around the timelines about this product decision. I’m not sure why they didn’t try to do this in their announcement from the get-go though – it certainly would have helped on the PR front.

Lesson: Anticipate your userbase reaction and show respect by addressing their concerns head on.

When a questionable ingredient that is sparking lots of controversy today is added alongside this statement, “the first of our user-enhancing programs”, there may be cause for some concern. Some MSG or mercury isn’t too bad, right? It’s natural.

Does Mozilla really want to open that Pandora’s box, even for just a sip?

Maybe, I’ll go to sleep and wake up to discover that I was experiencing a nightmare wrapped inside of a dream afterall. If so, this article will be gone tomorrow and I’ll be happily looking at a Firefox organic label once more. I guess organic is marketese too … but users have a choice and a voice. We can still remind the decision ladder that it’s only as useful as it’s capacity to keep it’s feet firmly on the ground.

A sip of oleander anyone?

Mozilla Responds

[Update]: There’s a nice discussion taking place right now at: Content, Ads, Caution | Mitchell’s Blog

I appreciate some of Mitchell’s thoughts:

Every time we offer something to our users we question ourselves rigorously about the motivations for that offer. Are we sure it’s the most value we can provide to our users? Are we sure, doubly-sure, we’re not fooling ourselves? Sometimes my commercial colleagues laugh at me for the amount of real estate we leave unmonitored or the revenue opportunities we decline.
Mitchell Baker, Mozilla

This reply is noteworthy too within the comments:

Details are important and we would have done much better if we had gotten our steps ordered differently and discussed and vetted the details first. Hoping to rectify that asap. (well, not the order of course, that’s done , but getting details in discussion asap).

It’s nice to see that Mozilla is responding and a healthy conversation is taking place around this topic. For those who claimed that this feature was not an ad in other boards like Hacker News, Mitchel sets the record straight.

The gist of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like 9 Tiles on a page, and that 2 or 3 of them would be sponsored — aka “ads.” So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka “ads”) could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes.

This is good to know:

These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.

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