The pandemic changed everything — even the way we use browser extensions
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Within days, practically the entire planet was on lockdown. We went indoors and online.
So how did the sudden mass migration online impact browser extension usage? Pretty dramatically, it turns out. On this two-year mark of the start of the pandemic we looked back at Firefox extension installs and usage data to discover several compelling trends.
We wanted to see the types of extensions Firefox users were drawn to during the early days of the lockdown, so we compared average monthly installs for three months at the start of the lockdown (March – May ‘20) to average monthly installs for the three months prior (Dec. ‘19 – Feb. ‘20). For this exercise we only looked at Firefox extensions with a minimum of 10,000 users. Here are some things we found…
We need all the help we can get working and educating from home
As much of the world suddenly transitioned their work and schooling to home computers in March 2020, Firefox users flocked to a handful of notable extensions to make life a little easier.
Which extension got the biggest install boost during the first few months of lockdown?
Of course it’s a Zoom extension. Zoom Scheduler installs increased 1,522%.
Created by Zoom, their extension integrates Google Calendar with the Zoom app so you can conveniently schedule or start Zoom meetings directly from your Google Calendar on Firefox.
Dark Background and Light Text
When you’re suddenly doing everything on a computer, you need to take care of those precious peepers. Dark Background and Light Text installs jumped an eye-popping 351%.
By default the extension flips the colors of every web page you visit, so your common light colored backgrounds become text colors and vice versa. But all color combinations are customizable, freeing you to adjust everything to taste. You can also set exceptions for certain websites that have a native look you prefer.
Tree Style Tab
Apparently we suffered from too many open tabs at the start of the pandemic (work tabs! school tabs! breaking news!). Tree Style Tab (+126%) gives Firefox users a great way to cope with tab overload.
The extension helps you organize all of your open tabs into a cascading “tree” format, so you can group tabs by topic and get a clean visual layout of everything.
To Google Translate
This translation tool was already very popular when the lockdown started, so it’s curious its install rate still climbed a whopping 126%, going from 222,000 installs/month to more than 504,000.
To Google Translate provides easy right-click mouse access to the Google Translate service, eliminating the nuisance of copying text and navigating away from the page you’re on just to translate.
We can only speculate why Firefox users wanted translation extensions when the pandemic started (To Google Translate wasn’t an aberration; all of the top translation extensions had install increases), but it’s worth wondering if a big factor wasn’t a common desire to get broader perspectives, news and information about the emerging virus. Perhaps Firefox users who sought out international news coverage would explain the increased appetite for translation extensions?
To Google Translate had particularly impressive install gains in China (+164%), the U.S. (+134%), France (+101%), Russia (+76%), and Germany (+75%).
We started taking our digital privacy more seriously
Privacy extensions are consistently the most popular type of Firefox add-on. Even so, the pandemic pushed a few notable extensions to new heights.
Already averaging an impressive 42,000 monthly installs before the lockdown, Cookie AutoDelete skyrocketed 386% to averaging more than 206,000 installs/month between March – May 2020.
The extension automatically eliminates any unused cookies whenever you close a tab, unless you specify sites you trust and wish to maintain cookie contact.
Naturally a lot of people spent more time on the world’s largest social media platform to stay connected during lockdown. But many folks also want to enjoy this sense of connectedness without Facebook following them around the internet. So it makes sense Mozilla’s very own Facebook Container was among the most popular extensions at the start of the lockdown—installs climbed 211%.
The extension isolates your Facebook identity into a separate “container” so Facebook can’t track your moves around the web. Indeed the social media giant wants to learn everything it can about your web habits outside of Facebook.
No sophisticated setup required. Just install Privacy Badger and it will silently work in the background to block some of the web’s sneakiest trackers. Privacy Badger actually gets better at its job the longer you have it installed; it “learns” more about hidden trackers the more you naturally encounter them navigating the web.
Privacy Badger installs lept 80% globally during those first few months of lockdown, with particularly keen interest from Italy (+135%) and Brazil (+119%).
We found ways to stay connected, entertained and inspired
It wasn’t all work and no play online during the dreadful early days of the lockdown.
Installs of this top Twitch extension were up 46% as we turned to each other for live streaming entertainment. BetterTTV can radically alter the look and feel of Twitch with new emoticons, a more focused interface, content filters, and a reimagined chat experience (including Anonymous Chat so you can join a channel without drawing attention).
BetterTTV was particularly popular in Germany, where installs soared 76%.
A lot of people became “watch party” animals during lockdown. If you haven’t tried social streaming, it’s a fun way to enjoy synced videos while chatting with friends online. Watch2gether extension became a popular choice for social stream parties (+82%).
You don’t need the extension to use the web-based Watch2gether platform, but the extension provides a few added perks when used in conjunction with the web service, such as easy browser access to your watch rooms and the ability stream videos that aren’t directly supported by the Watch2gether website (e.g. the video source doesn’t offer an embeddable version).
A 45% install increase means we started listening to a lot more music on YouTube when the lockdown hit. YouTube Non-Stop solves the problem of that annoying “Video paused. Continue watching?” prompt by automatically clicking it in the background so your groove never comes to a grinding halt.
Two years into this pandemic, our day-to-day lives — and how we rely on browsers — have permanently shifted. As we continue to adjust to new life and work routines, these incredible extensions are as useful as ever. If you want to explore more, please visit addons.mozilla.org to browse thousands of Firefox extensions.