Posts Tagged with “users”

Keeping “you” and “me” at the center of things

September 21st, 2009

A while back I wrote a post about Firefox that concluded with the idea that each one of us should be the center of our online lives — not a company, not an application, not a business plan. One common response has been: That sounds awesome, but how do we get there? Where do we start?

Well, no surprise — I start with the browser. The browser is the piece of the web that human beings interact with directly; it’s the tool through which people “touch” the web. I have an immense degree of control over my browser. With a website I have the degree of control the website chooses to offer. I am one of many users at a website, but the browser is mine.

These traits make the browser the logical tool for a user-centric (“you-centric” ??) world.

An early step was customizing the browser by hand, adding extensions, bookmarks, settings, themes and personas. More recently browsers have begun offering automated customization as well. For example, the Smart Location Bar (aka the “awesome bar”) automatically offers easy access to websites we’ve visited before, automatically tuning to each person’s browsing habits.

The awesome bar presents automated customization to the user. It aggregates information about my usage across many websites and presents the information back to me. It’s immensely helpful. One area to explore in building a user-centric web experience is other examples where this sort of automated customization would help the user. For example, perhaps knowing my own search history across many website would be helpful to me.

Another form of automated activity to explore is the presentation of customized or individual responses outward, to websites. For example, the browser could automate the current dysfunctional process of logging into and out of websites. There are unquestionably other things we do regularly that the browser can automate and run in the background. Sharing of information is becoming increasingly common. Perhaps the browser could automate response to certain types of requests. There are obviously privacy and control issues with sharing information. That’s why the browser — where I have the most control — is a logical choice.

Focus on the general consumer: “What would my neighbor think?”

November 13th, 2007

Here’s another element of building a consumer product that colors daily life for much of the Mozilla project.

Firefox is intended to be useful to both power users and to people who are not technical experts, who want to use the Internet without having to understand all the pieces that make it work. The power users are more demanding in some ways, but also easier to address in many ways. After all, the developers of Firefox are power users themselves. Mozilla began a much more serious focus on the general consumer when we shifted primary development from our initial product (the “Mozilla Application Suite”) to Firefox and Thunderbird.

This change of focus seems obvious but it is in fact quite hard. One has to really care — at a deep level — for people with far less technical mastery. Or for someone who cares only enough to get things done and not because he or she finds Internet architecture remotely interesting. For example, there are many, many people who do not distinguish between the the url bar, the search box, the buttons at the top of the browser, the start page (web content) served jointly by Google or Yahoo and Mozilla, and the software provided by Mozilla. They often describe that combination as “my internet” or “firefox search” or “google”.

These are not “dumb users.” I hear these comments here in the heart of Silicon Valley regularly. Here in the Valley one can usually clarify a bit, because the Internet is after all the engine of local economic life. But elsewhere many people really don’t care. They want to know only what they need to know to get other things done. As an analogy, I think of the international postal system. It’s highly complex, with inter-governmental agreements, local arrangements, and a raft of supporting infrastructure. Most of us don’t know or care much about the details; we care about what postage costs and how long it takes a letter to get there.

Designing a product for people for whom new features may be frightening or unintelligible is very different from designing for the power user. It’s limiting in some ways, and yet can force a useful focus on what’s really important. It’s not for everyone.

We think about this all the time. We strive to build products that are effective for the general consumer. We consciously make decisions that something that is awesome to us may not be right for the general product. Even more tricky, we aim to build a product for the general consumer that is powerful and elegant, that allows people to experience the richness of the Internet, and that grows with people all the way to power users.

As in many things, Mozilla is a hybrid. We are a pioneer in this aspect of open source and we are trying new things constantly. We hope others become experts in this — one of our explicit goals is to share what we learn so that our experiences end up benefiting people far beyond the products we produce. We couldn’t do our work without the efforts of those who came before us; we hope that others will find the same to be true of our work.

Building a consumer product

November 7th, 2007

One of the ways in which the Mozilla project has been a pioneer is in building a consumer product with mass adoption. Before Firefox the conventional wisdom was that open source software projects could build server-side and infrastructure technology because the developers were building tools to meet their own needs. It was thought that consumer products — which need to be built for a very different audience — might be outside the competency of an open source software product.

Mozilla has demonstrated that this is not the case. It’s not easy to build good consumer products, that’s for sure, and nothing will make it easy. But Mozilla cracked the consumer barrier and other open source projects are now developing effective consumer software.

Building a consumer product for broad adoption is clearly possible for an open source project, we are doing that with Firefox today. Doing so affects the nature of the project. It’s probably not for everyone. The consumer focus affects many aspects of our efforts, some subtle and some obvious. This affects a big part of the Mozilla project, so I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation about the ways in which the mass consumer focus colors our life.

Here are some of the things that describe daily life in shipping a product with the reach of Firefox; feel free to add more.

  • We live in a competitive space and it’s hard
  • Speed, innovation, elegance and fundamentals (performance, security) are all critical all the time
  • The target audience is *really* different from the developers
  • Cross-platform goals affects our approach
  • Silence, appreciation and criticism are mixed up oddly
  • Adding non-coding activities to open source development is fundamental to success

I’ll post some thoughts on the various topics on the list separately. Or I’ll comment if someone else gets to this first :-)

Firefox Search Plugin for Creative Commons

June 3rd, 2005

I was talking with some of the folks at Creative Commons recently — Creative Commons is housed in the same building as the Open Source Applications Foundation which I visit periodically and so we get a chance to compare notes now and then.

Firefox 1.x ships with a Creative Commons search plugin. The CC folks noted that they’ve received a few phone calls from people who must have inadvertently activated the drop-down menu and selected Creative Commons as their active search engine. There are undoubtedly many people who do this intentionally, as I do when I’m looking for a photo I can use for some purpose. But these folks must have done so inadvertently because they called Creative Commons to complain. And not gently – the messages were angry, along the lines of: “You’ve hijacked my computer.” “You’ve taken away Google and put yourself in their place.” “I can’t believe that an organization like Creative Commons would behave in this manner.”

Of course, Creative Commons hasn’t done anything of the sort; the plugin sits in the list of available search engines and becomes active only when selected. And by using the drop down box and selecting the preferred search engine the angry user can return to the search engine he or she likes best. Some people apologize when this is explained, others remain angry.

The anger is not new — people call the Mozilla Foundation and scream at us for not providing free support to go with the free product. What strikes me is not that people are angry. What strikes me is the number of people who feel their computer is out of control and that things are happening that they don’t understand and don’t trust, and the enormous level of pent-up frustration that surrounds many people trying to find their way on the web.

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