Last week saw the culmination of many months of hard work by the add-ons community to put on an event that allowed them to express their opinions and share their experiences. I really want to stress something about Add-on-Con; it was a “COMMUNITY” driven event and that’s something very special and immensely important. Too often, conferences are put on by specific vendors who promote and finance many aspects of the event with a definitive slant towards their own business goals. While these conferences certainly offer tremenous value, it rarely offers attendees an opportunity to see contrasting points of views. Add-on-Con was very different in this respect. While Mozilla did help by co-sponsoring the event and manning a booth, the focus of Add-on-Con was specifically about working out the challenges of add-on development accross all the major browsers.
At the conference were representatives from Mozilla, Microsoft, Google and Opera, clearly showing that a vibrant add-on ecosystem is on the mind of all the major browser vendors. The advantage to having all of these players at the same conference is that it gave add-on developers a bit of a captive audience to express their views of what makes a viable add-on platform. With sessions that catered mainly to the Mozilla and Microsoft platforms (but could be interpreted freely in many cases), developers were able to get a better sense of how their efforts could be extended to better suit their audiences. Again, the take away was that add-on developers want choices and flexibility and I really think Add-on-Con provided that. This was a truly browser-agnostic conference and while many sessions were focused on building add-ons for the Mozilla or Microsoft platforms, the fact that Google & Opera were in attendance showed that they’re serious about this space.
It’s clear from my time with attendees that Mozilla has a definite head start in terms of a viable add-on platform. This was made even more evident by seeing the companies represented on the keynote panel. The participants represented companies that all had made substantial investments in add-ons for Mozilla software and continue to evolve their add-ons and businesses around the browser experience. In addition, the fact that the business sessions were “standing room only” was a great indicator that developers are taking the add-ons space extremely seriously and believe that small subsets of user experiences can be monetized in some fashion. Along those lines, it was also great to hear how developers are VERY concerned about ensuring an unobtrusive user experience. More than once, I heard developers chatting about how they need to provide a consistent, safe and trustworthy experience for their users. Considering that the main revenue streams for add-ons seems to be affiliate marketing, advertising, or data aggregation, the consideration for users and their privacy was reassuring and is a sign of a maturing ecosystem.
One thing that was noticeably lacking at the conference was representation for the hobbyist add-on developer. I guess this makes sense considering that most hobbyists don’t have the financial means to be able to attend a conference like this but I think this is a very important sub-group of the add-on community that needs to have representation. Mozilla’s large add-on repository evolved from the open source community and continues to expand due in large part to developers that just want to “give back”. So we, as a community, need to explore how to give these developers a stronger voice and a method that will allow them to participate in such events at a reasonable cost.
From a Mozilla perspective, while add-on adoption continues to grow, there are very clear challenges that need to be addressed. The biggest pain points expressed to me were:
- The length of time for an add-on review
- The need for better stats to allow developers to make more informed decisions
- The need for clearer documentation & tutorials
- The need for tools that explicitly cater to various business models
Again, these are all signs of a growing and maturing add-on ecosystem and we certainly need to ensure that we address these needs so that developers continue to be successful. And we’re definitely looking into solutions for these concerns. The really important thing is that new AMO Product Manager Nick Nguyen had an opportunity to participate in the conference and chat with attendees. This will allow him, along with Justin Scott and myself, to create a roadmap for ensuring that developers have the tools they need to build their add-ons. The conference gave us a chance to learn what we’re doing right and wrong and also showed add-on developers that we’re immensely interested in what they’re doing.
The Add-on-Con was a really important milestone. Apart from being well organized, I think it had some very important effects:
- It brought a community together that really hadn’t had a formal method of sharing ideas
- It promoted a browser-agnostic event allowing for a broader range of ideas to be shared
- It validated that the add-ons space is growing and is a viable business channel
- It put the browser vendors on notice that the needs of add-on developers are evolving and that we need to ensure we evolve as well to meet those needs
The last point is extremely important and I know that Mozilla is committed to continually improving its platform. In 2009, you can expect to see strong outreach from the AMO team as we work to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of add-on developers and adjusting our practices to cater to new developments.