Interest Dashboard Beta Add-on Ready for Testing

The Content Services team is working to reframe how users are understood on the Internet: how content is presented to them, how they can signal what they are interested in, how they can take control of the kinds of adverts they are exposed to.  As the Web evolves, these signals will be generated in two places by two actors: in the user’s client, at the user’s behest, or in the cloud, by a service or by a third party who seeks to know whatever it can about the user. We believe it is Mozilla’s place to ensure that the client empowers the user in this relationship and over time, think about how the cloud can play a role.

We’ve been working on an experimental feature that we think is super cool – which we’re calling the “Interest Dashboard” and today, we’ve releasing it as an experimental beta Firefox  add-on. The team here is excited about the Interest Dashboard as it explores the advancement of content and the browser.  The project has been led under the Product Management of Kevin Ghim and engineering leadership of Ed Lee in the Content Services team.  The goal is to see how people consume the Web and try and classify it, and we have something we want to get testing and feedback on with this beta add-on..

Interest Dashboard

How does it work?

You can download the experimental beta Interest Dashboard add-on here.

We believe that there are lots of ways that this add-on can benefit users – from new content discovery, to helping the user manage their own browsing behavior.

The ability to see how that time is spent, on which interests, and at what frequency and volume, will be fascinating for many users.  Users will see how their content consumption is categorized and provide feedback directly into the Interest Dashboard. Ultimately, we can then start showing the user a more personalized content experience, on the user’s terms.

We also know that we have a lot of challenges ahead of us.  We’d absolutely love your feedback after playing around with the add-on so please leave feedback in Bugzilla or in the comments section of this post.  This is a foundational piece for what we’re doing and we have to deliver value for ours users before we build on top of this.

There’s a lot of data science behind the classification system and we’re looking to make it better.  The feature presents you with a number of views of your data and actions, but we want to know what you would find interesting.

The Interest Dashboard shows the user their activity and lets them gain insight from it – “what gets measured, gets managed”.  In our case, the user of the Interest Dashboard will see all of the user’s browsing behavior and display it in a way the user can interact with.  And if you use multiple instances of Firefox, across multiple desktops, or Firefox for Android, and you have connected all instances to a Firefox Account, you will see your data from all your browsing.

The Firefox Interest Dashboard add-on is unique in bringing this functionality directly to the user in their client, under their control.  And unlike recommendation engines, the Firefox Interest Dashboard add-on will not be trying to stimulate you to remain engaged with a particular website, it will be a vehicle to allow the user to consciously express their own desires for what they want to browser to do.

So go download the Interest Dashboard add-on and see how much time each month you’re spending on watching kittens or funny videos.

A Call for Trust, Transparency and User Control in Advertising

Advertising is the Web’s dominant business.  It relies on users for its success, and ironically fails to engage with them in a direct and honest way.  We are advocates of the many benefits that commercial involvement brings to the development of the Internet – it is at our core and part of the Mozilla Manifesto. Advertising is one of those commercial activities, it fuels and grows the Web. But the model has lost its focus by failing to put the user at the center.  We are calling initially on the advertising industry to adopt three core principles of trust, transparency and user control:

1)  Trust: Do users understand why they are being presented with content? Do they understand what pieces of their data fed into the display decision?

2)  Transparency: Is it clear to users why advertising decisions are made? Is it clear how their data is being consumed and shared?  Are they aware and openly contributing?

3)  Control: Do users have the ability to control their own data? Do they have the option to be completely private, completely public or somewhere in between?

We are re-thinking the model.  We want a world where Chief Marketing Officers, advertising agency executives, industry groups and the advertising technology companies see the real benefits of a user-centric model. These three principles give us the ability to build a strong, long term and more valuable platform for everyone.

What are we doing?

Our intention is to improve the experience as a player within the ecosystem. We’ll do this by experimenting and innovating.  All of our work will be designed with trust in mind.  Tiles is our first experiment and we are learning a lot.  Right now, we are showing users tiles from their “frecency” (recent and frequent sites), along with Mozilla information and suggestions and content labeled as sponsored. This experience is pretty basic but will evolve over time. Initial user interactions are positive. Users interacted with content labeled as sponsored that we placed in directory tiles 10x more than Mozilla-based content.

Our next step will be to give users more transparency and control. Our UP platform will eventually help to power tiles and will help determine which content is displayed to the user.  The platform itself is innovative as it currently allows the interests data to sit client side, completely in the user’s control. The data can still be accessed there without us creating a dossier on the user, outside of the Firefox client.

We will then put the user first by building an interests dashboard (something that we are already working on) that offers users a way to easily change their interests or participation in enhanced content at any time. The dashboard provides a constant feedback loop with users and will work with all our enhanced content projects.

What can we promise?

We will continue to demonstrate that it’s possible to balance commercial interests with public benefit, and to build successful products that respect user privacy and deliver experiences based upon trust, transparency and control.

  • We want to show the world you can do display advertising in a way that respects users’ privacy.
  • We believe that publishers should respect browser signals around tracking and privacy. If they don’t, we’ll take an active role in doing so and all our enhanced content projects will respect DNT.
  • We will respect the Minimal Actionable Dataset, a thought stream pioneered by one of our fellow Mozillians to only collect what’s needed – nothing more – and be transparent about it.
  • We will put users in control to customize, change or turn product features on/off at any time.

We can’t change the Web from the sidelines, and we can’t change advertising on the Web without being a part of that ecosystem. We are excited about this mission and we’re working hard to achieve our goals. Stay tuned for updates over the coming weeks.

If this resonates with and you have ideas or want to help, we’d love to hear from you by leaving comments below or by filling out this form.

More Details on Directory Tiles

We’ve received lots of feedback about the Directory Tiles idea I discussed on Tuesday. Some of it was supportive, some of it was curious, some of it was pretty harsh. I’m grateful for all of it, though. It shows the passion and commitment people have for Firefox, and for Mozilla’s mission. I’ve been a fan of Mozilla for a long time, but I’m still new here, and it’s been an education.

I have prepared a FAQ based on the most common questions we have received:

What are Tiles?

Every time a user opens up a new tab in Firefox, the browser displays nine boxes, or Tiles. Frequent Firefox users see screenshots of the websites they visit most often in their Tiles.

What appears in Tiles is currently based on a “frecency” algorithm: your recency of visiting a site and your frequency of visiting a site.  Sites that have been visited with the most recency and frequency appear in a user’s Tile.

What are Directory Tiles?

Directory Tiles are a new project from Mozilla, to deliver a better experience for new Firefox users.  Because a new Firefox user has no browser history, they don’t see content in tiles when they open a new tab.  Our idea with Directory Tiles is to pre-populate the new tab page for those users with sites we think they’ll find useful or interesting.

Will users know which tiles are sponsored?

Yes, the sponsored Tiles will be clearly labeled.

What is the timeline for Tiles?

There’s a lot of questions still to answer about how Directory Tiles will feel in practice, and how we choose the right set. Directory Tiles will go live once we have the details right.

How will Firefox determine which Tiles to show users?

At the outset, Firefox will be rotating content in Directory Tiles for each user to test the results.

How long will a user see Directory Tiles after they start using Firefox?

Our frecency algorithm takes about 30 days of normal browsing behavior to update Tiles.

At that point the user will start seeing content that reflects the sites they’ve recently and frequently visited.

Will Directory Tiles Profile Users to Target Content?

We will use GeoIP to ensure Tiles content is relevant to the user’s location, just as we recognize where a visitor to our homepage came from so we can localize the language, but no other user information is collected or considered.

What information will Mozilla provide sponsored content partners from the Directory Tiles?

Mozilla is putting together just the basic metrics that marketers or content publishers might need to understand the value they are receiving.  As of now, our expectation is that we’ll be delivering the number of impressions (how many times a tile was shown) and interactions (how many interactions with a tile, i.e. clicks).

Would a publisher be able to recommend specific articles in a Tile?

We’ll consider and test different approaches to directory tiles content, but whatever systems are implemented will need to be aligned with Mozilla’s mission, values and privacy policy.

Publisher Transformation with Users at the Center

*Feb. 13 update: I posted more details about Directory Tiles here.*

We believe that if you put the user front and center, you can make every experience for them richer and more meaningful. The Content Services team has embraced this, and today I wanted to share some of our thinking and explain our first steps for putting it into practice.

When the user is at the center everyone benefits, including content creators whether they are  publishers or marketers. Digital has already disrupted all kinds of industries, thanks in large part to its ability to deliver more choice and personalization for users.  The challenge for digital media is that it is a rapidly-changing environment, and what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow.

While Mozilla hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with all viewpoints in the digital content community, particularly the IAB, we think they’d agree that users’ interests should come first, and we want to help their members deliver compelling content to strengthen the Web ecosystem. So, when IAB Chairman Randall Rothenberg invited Mozilla to participate and share our views at their Annual Leadership Meeting this week, we jumped at the chance. One of the main themes being explored at the meeting is Publisher Transformation, so I contributed Mozilla’s perspective and latest activities in a speech to attendees this morning.

Directory Tiles program

Mozilla is kicking off an exploration to transform the user’s content experience through two initial programs, one of which you may have already read about called UP, which I’ll provide an update on in a future post.

The newest program is one we’re calling Directory Tiles, which is designed to improve the first-time-with-Firefox experience. Currently, if a new Firefox user opens a new tab, this is what they see:


Their tiles – those nine rectangles that populate over time with the most frequent and recent websites they visit – are empty.  The new tab page isn’t delivering any value for them.

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.

We are excited about Directory Tiles because it has inherent value to our users, it aligns with our vision of a better Internet through trust and transparency, and it helps Mozilla become more diversified and sustainable as a project. While we have not worked out the entire product roadmap, we are beginning to talk to content partners about the opportunity, and plan to start showing Directory Tiles to new Firefox users as soon as we have the user experience right.

We’ll be updating this blog with more information about Directory Tiles and other initiatives, so keep us bookmarked.


Hello World, Content Services Has Arrived

Back in November, Mark Surman had a great quote on our Mozilla blog:

“We’re a global community gathered around the idea that the Web shouldn’t be closed off from everyone. We believe the Web must be an open, shared resource available to all. We roll up our sleeves and get down to the business of making. If the Web needs a new piece of technology, we build it. If the world needs to understand the Web, we teach it. “

We build it, we teach it, and we work hard to make sure the Web is a shared resource available to all.  This is the mission that motivates us to come to work each day and volunteer our time and resources.

Sustainability is something we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about especially as it pertains to continuing to build, teach and share our products and services such as Firefox.  We recognize that the majority of our revenue comes from our search partnerships and we would like to continue our growth to keep up with the evolution of the Web, and to do this, will take some additional resource in the form of revenue.

We have hired and spun up a Content Services team in the Mozilla Corporation that is working  to identify areas of additional value we can create for our users.  We are then looking to hand-pick partners that are content owners, creators, or curators to help us bring additional value into the project.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be updating this blog with more information.  We’re excited about the ways we can help drive additional enhancements through content partnerships.  I’ll have more information on our plans and how to get involved soon, and in the meantime you can get in direct contact with me here or @dherman76 on Twitter.