I’m starting with content but please rest assured I’ll get to the topic of ads and revenue.
In the early days of Firefox we were very careful not to offer content to our users. Firefox came out of a world in which both Netscape/AOL (the alma mater of many early Mozillians) and Microsoft had valued their content and revenue sources over the user experience. Those of us from Netscape/AOL had seen features, bookmarks, tabs, and other irritants added to the product to generate revenue. We’d seen Mozilla code subsequently “enhanced” with these features.
And so we have a very strong, very negative reaction to any activities that even remotely remind us of this approach to product. That’s good.
This reaction somehow became synonymous with other approaches that are not necessarily so helpful. For a number of years we refused to have any relationship with our users beyond we provide software and they use it. We resisted offering content unless it came directly from an explicit user action. This made sense at first when the web was so young. But over the years many people have come to expect and want their software to do things on their behalf, to take note of what one has done before and do something useful with it.
In the last few years we’ve begun to respond to this. We’re careful about it because the DNA is based on products serving users. 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.
So we look at the Tiles and wonder if we can do more for people. We think we can. I’ve heard some people say they still don’t want any content offered. They want their experience to be new, to be the same as it was the day they installed the browser, the same as anyone else might experience. I understand this view, and think it’s not the default most people are choosing. We think we can offer people useful content in the Tiles.
When we have ideas about how content might be useful to people, we look at whether there is a revenue possibility, and if that would annoy people or bring something potentially useful. Ads in search turn out to be useful. 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.
These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.
Why would we include any sponsored results? If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value. That generates revenue that supports the Mozilla project. So to explicitly address the question of whether we care about generating revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s work, the answer is yes. In fact, many of us feel responsible to do exactly this.
Pretty much anytime we talk about revenue at Mozilla people get suspicious. Mozillians get suspicious, and our supporters get suspicious. There’s some value in that, as it reinforces our commitment to user experience and providing value to our users. There’s some drawbacks to this as well, however. I’ll be talking with Mozillians tomorrow and in the coming days on these topics in more detail.