The Relativity of Time – or what is actually fast?

The Relativity of Time – or what is actually fast?

Fast is the perfect pace for the best experience – that’s what Dominik Strohmeier, Product Manager for the new Firefox Quantum, has been working on for months. How does it feel? Pretty amazing!

Time is one of the most valuable aspects of our lives. There’s a reason time is considered the fourth dimension in space – and not just because of Einstein. Dominik Strohmeier knows how to transform time into something that feels just right for everyone, every moment – a perfectly paced experience. Rolling with the flow. As Product Manager for Firefox’s new browser, Firefox Quantum, Dominik is working with his team on the fastest browser experience out there, one that focuses on the user’s individual preferences, and a joy to use while surfing the web. The perfect pace for the best outcome. How we define “perfect pace” changes depending on how each of us uses the web. Because web time acts like real time, it can stretch or shrink.

The secret of the perfect now is part of our perception of time

Take Dominik’s own time perception: when he struggles awake and turns to his baby son, he wants the moment to never end. A still treasure in a hectic morning, when time takes on a perfect pace. Time is subjective, hard to pin down. The same amount spent in traffic or rushing to a meeting feels painfully slow and hard to bear.

These different facets of time perception are the main focus for Dominik and his team. “A browser is expected to be fast, to run smoothly and work perfectly. If something runs fast from a technical perspective, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perceived as fast from the user’s perspective. And to be ‘fast’ can be perceived very differently in various dimensions.”

Firefox Quantum is designed to run fast in any situation

It’s Dominik’s job to explore these various dimensions of perceived time and the experiences they create, unifying them into a solution that not only enhances the technical performance of the browser but makes this optimization perceptible, palpably felt by someone using the browser. A complex task, given that our sense of time is so subjective. Think about it: if you concentrate on time, it passes by very slowly. When you’re waiting for a web page to load, for instance.

How can you be “in the flow” with time?  Simple: you just need to use it wisely. Maybe it’s the job, but Dominik’s a maestro at this, both at work and at home.

Finding a balance between technical rapidity and sensible speed

Finding socks, juggling breakfast, getting the older one dressed for kindergarten and the little one snug in the sling, they finally hit the road while his wife hits the pillow.  Time speeds up in the early morning hours. After dropping off his eldest at the kindergarten, Dominik and the baby come back home and together wake his wife. Dad changes into his running clothes. On his morning route to work, he slows down inside while his body speeds up. This is his time. “I run to the office. It’s four kilometers, the perfect track along the Spree river. When I arrive at the office, I drink my coffee, slow down, sweat the hectic away. I really like that moment,” he explains.

Dominik tries to translate these variations in speed to his work at Mozilla. “We need to overcome the subjective element because we want to optimize for the many. We need to find a middle path, a consensus between technical rapidity and sensible speed.”

With Firefox Quantum, also known as the Firefox Update 57, the browser becomes as fast as most people dream. For Dominik, “Quantum always loads those elements first that are important to the intention of the user. This varies according to what we do on the web: search, social media, shopping or using web apps. The browser loads what the user most urgently wants to see. In that way, you wouldn’t feel like you were waiting. Because it’s not only about page load-times alone. It’s about how one wants to interact with the web.”

Mozilla is fighting for an open web and Firefox Quantum is helping it create the best possible networked world

To stand up and fight for an open web while creating the best possible networked experience for each and every user – that’s Mozilla’s mission. With the launch of the new browser, which was renewed and optimized within a year, this mission has become palpable reality.

“It will be hard for another browser provider to catch up with Firefox Quantum,” says a confident Dominik. When it comes to advancement, most other browsers focus on functionality and, most importantly, on profitability for the siloed ecosystem of the company that developed it. For Firefox Quantum though, the focus stays squarely on the user.

The open kitchen windows of Mozilla’s Berlin base let in the light and breezes of a summer afternoon, mixed with the voices of boat-trippers on the nearby Spree. Dominik, hunched over his laptop, is seeking and developing strategies to bridge the gap between technology and perception, to mediate between a developer’s ambitions and a user’s behavior, and to answer the key questions: what does “quality” really mean? What is “good” and how can code represent this?

“Humans are limited when it comes to perception. Sometimes we’re fooled by what we see, or sometimes we don’t perceive everything that could have been perceived. Our brain is a master of processing – and therefore also very good at selecting what’s important and what isn’t, which depends on what we actually perceive. This phenomenon and how to use it for technologies is something that has interested me ever since I started thinking about it.”

The new Firefox browser isn’t just better, it cares about what users really need

So the basic requirement of the new browser version is pretty clear: it won’t just be better. Any optimization should also be perceived by the user. Even if the performance of a browser is extremely important to many people, the way it gets measured is often pretty one-dimensional:

“When a magazine or whatever makes one of those browser comparison tests, they only focus on things that are technically measurable. The results are then used to make a statement. Make money. Make a market. But the user won’t feel any difference. You can’t feel 120 milliseconds. If you want to create a product for users, it should be about providing exactly what they need at any moment. The purpose behind our work, our values, is the main differentiator: that we don’t work for profit. That we’re not commercially motivated. That we’re transparent. That we collect as little data as possible,” says Dominik.

It’s lunchtime. Everyone gathers at the long table for a meal, a chat, and a view of the river. Perception. What would happen if we were more conscious of the subjectivity of perception instead of trying to formalize our unique points of view? When it comes to a browser experience, this way of thinking provides us with a solution that flows and feeds into our sense of personal time.

Unbeatable performance driven by a shared desire to create the best future for all

Dominik has two kids, six months and four years old, a wife, house, Ph.D., full-time job including working in two different time zones – and a feel for jokes that are actually funny. A life with a current, a flow. Some days, he doesn’t start work before 11. From 4 pm it’s family time. He turns off his phone and zones out for a few hours before sitting in on some late-evening (his time) conference calls with colleagues in the States. A self-chosen rhythm dictates his working hours. That’s the only way he knows how to perform at his best.

“It was always important to me, to work for a good purpose, for the greater good. Not only in an academic set-up but also practical. I also think that not-for-profit is a thrilling concept.” To move something forward, together with the individual qualities of each and every one, all sharing the same desire: to change the world for the better – that’s something special at Mozilla.  I know that we could actually stand up for hundreds of millions of people in the world – by doing our work. A decision I take could potentially add good to the world. To have the possibility of fighting for an open web and co-creating it – that’s amazing!”

Mozilla reflects the values it stands for, not only in technology but also as an employer

This dedication to the project is also fed by Dominik’s personal life: the gift of watching his baby son’s first months without having to worry about work, being able to adjust his daily work-routines according to the demands of family life. Soon Dominik will take the second part of his parental leave – on full salary. That’s what Mozilla provides its employees – and not only in Germany.

It’s 4 pm now. Dominik snaps his laptop shut, smiles and makes for the office changing room. No rush. He’s still in the race. It’s just a question of timing.

Copy: Anja Fordon

Photography: Falko Siewert

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