Though Justin’s first post about the sandbox was several months ago, there is still a fair bit of confusion about the whats and wherefores of the new system. I’ll try to give a relatively concise description of the goals and current operation of the sandbox system here, but please keep in mind that we are rolling out the first version here, and not the last. We have lengthy and detailed discussions about the feedback provided by people even in its pre-release state, and we are grateful for the suggestions and information that people have contributed already.
The goals of the sandbox system, distilled down to the shortest version I can manage, are:
- Assist developers and site administrators in making sure that the users of AMO have great experiences with great add-ons.
- Expand the review system to allow participation from a much wider cross-section of the Mozilla community.
And the operation of the current review system is described at a shiny new policy page, including a long-long-long-awaited description of how add-ons can become recommended.
It is very, very important to us that unsuspecting users are protected from malicious or careless software when using the AMO site. The previous AMO version(s) relied on a system of roughly-sequential closed-door review by a small group of volunteers to validate the add-ons that were submitted to the site. As the number of add-ons grew, it became extremely difficult for that group of people to keep up with the incoming requests, and the number of specialized (and difficult-to-review) add-ons grew as well. When Firefox had 2 million users, an add-on that was relevant to 1% of those users could be reasonably left to wait a fairly long time for review, but such a “one percenter” add-on is now interested to almost a million people around the world!
Historically, Mozilla has been able to scale to the width of the web by allowing more members of our community to contribute, be it to testing, coding, marketing or dressing up in costumes and walking around downtown. We wanted to bring this increased scale to reviewing and testing add-ons to ensure that they were safe and well-described for our users.
Additionally, as Firefox’s appeal widens to a more mainstream, less computer-savvy audience, we came to realize that we needed to make sure that the add-ons were comprehensible and accessible to people who were not as comfortable working around installation problems or figuring out what an extension did by experimentation. The add-ons that people find through their use of AMO should be inspiring examples of what the extensible web can provide, and should make users’ lives better in every way. We know that the Mozilla community can provide these great experiences, and we want to both incent and reward add-on developers who provide them. We know that the AMO site is an extremely valuable channel for software to reach new users, and we want to use that to promote and strengthen the values that Mozilla stands for. We are raising the bar with Remora for what it takes to get in front of nearly a hundred million of the most savvy, influential and good-looking browser connoisseurs in the world, and we will continue to raise the bar over time as we feel it is in the interests of Mozilla and, most importantly, its users.
So we now have the sandbox, and as you’ve already read it’s where add-ons start their lives. We chose a threshold to start with to seed the public site, and we expect and hope that users of add-ons that they feel belong in the public side of AMO will write informative reviews and help the AMO editors find those gems that we — I, if you want to point a finger more closely — didn’t have in the public site on day 1.
Over time, I expect that we will make the sandbox more visible to new users, as we learn more about how to balance the need to protect unwitting users from add-ons that have not been tested with the desire to match more users up with “niche” add-ons or up-and-coming experiments. We’re already looking, based on just the pre-release feedback, at making direct links to non-public add-ons work with appropriate caveats and warnings. (They would still be hidden from search and browsing.)
I hope this helps to explain what we are trying to achieve with the sandbox system, how the system works, and how you can help make it work better on small or large scale. We’re still hard at work making sure that Remora is good and ready before we put it live, and we know that the first little while after launch will bring the need for refinement in how the system works, but we believe that these changes will work to strengthen the add-ons community and ecosystem, for the benefit of users and developers alike. That is, after all, what we’re all about.