A Comparison

I was reading a post about it being Facebook Platform’s 3 month anniversary and decided to do a little comparison.

  Firefox Add-ons Facebook Platform
* Only considers add-ons hosted on addons.mozilla.org; there are many add-ons hosted by their individual developers not taken into account.
User base 75-100 million[1] 30 million[2]
New Downloads/Users per day 500,000[3] 100,000+[4]
Age 5 years 3 months
Available Locales 40+ 1
Open Source Yes Not on purpose
Extensibility Complete Restricted
API Stability Stable within major releases Constantly changing, often with little warning
Community Gatherings Developer Days Developer Garages
Corporate Involvement Yes (AllPeers, StumbleUpon, etc) Yes (Slide, RockYou, etc)
Number of add-ons/applications in directory 2500 public; 1300 sandbox* 3300[5]
Number of developers 3175* Unknown
Add-ons/applications with over 1 million active users 40+* 46[6]
Google News articles in the last month 55 501
Bug reporting Completely open Completely internal
Overlap Rock Your Firefox Facebook Toolbar

I’m not one to get into the politics of whether Facebook Platform is good for the web. I’m more interested in what we can do to have people as excited about Firefox add-ons as they are about getting that one person who always takes forever in Scrabulous to finally go.

What can we learn from Facebook Platform? Why do people so readily add applications?

  • Applications are restricted. People know exactly what an application is allowed to do within Facebook because you see a list of checkboxes when you add it. It can’t cause data loss. It can’t modify your information. Extensions can do anything they want. They can cause data loss. They can do bad things to your computer. I think that Firefox users who have never tried extensions are either: a) confused about what extensions are, or b) concerned about their security
  • Applications are required to view content. If someone sends you something in an application, you often have to add that application to see it. In Firefox, we call those plug-ins. I can’t think of any extensions that you have to add in order to see content you find scattered around the web.
  • You know when friends add applications. People add applications when they see something cool that a friend added. With Firefox add-ons, you don’t know what add-ons your friends use unless you use their browser or they talk about their extensions. (Although many of my friends talk about what extensions they use, I think it is fair to say this is not the norm.) This is what Rock Your Firefox tries to solve: seeing what add-ons your friends use and improving discoverability.

Having said that, I’m not saying that we should make any changes to be more like Facebook. I certainly think that extensions’ ability to modify anything is key to the innovation that we see all the time in new extensions. I think we need to find out what facets of the Firefox ecosystem are the most compelling and make people realize that everything that’s being done on Facebook could be done even better in the open web.

(Obligatory disclaimer: The above opinions are my own and are not affiliated with any entity in which I may be involved.)

  • The second point you list is exactly what I don’t like about Facebook apps. The only Firefox extension I know that does this is AllPeers, but that’s understandable and I support it.

    However, having to install, say, Facebook graffiti to see someone else’s graffiti — well, that’s just something I have hard time agreeing with.

    There are also two other differences:

    1. Facebook apps are used to send and publish content. Firefox extensions extend users’ experience with their browser, making it easier to use, adding new functions. Facebook apps, mostly, enable users to communicate in new ways. That’s because Facebook is a social network platform, and Firefox isn’t. Each has its own specific philosophy and purpose of creating extensions.

    2. You don’t have to restart Facebook to start using your new app 😉

  • mawrya

    As already alluded to, Facebook is successful, at least in my mind, because it allows the average user to build the web where Firefox and most of its extensions are solely aimed at browsing the web.

    Facebook recently purchased Parakey which is really interesting to me because Parakey is all about making it easy for the your mom to maintain content on the web, as well as on her computer, without having to learn the joys of FTP, etc. As much as my mom enjoys surfing the web she really wants to buy some web real estate and build. Facebook knows that. Firefox is not about that, at least not directly.

    If Firefox is involved in any way with web construction it is via the platform it provides to developers to build web construction tools on. It would be interesting if Firefox pushed more directly toward enabling construction of the web by moms around the world. There are little rumblings here and there but I am not aware of any grand strategy moving forward. I suppose part of the reason is that there are no mom-level building standards. There are mostly just geek-level standards – HTML, SVG, etc. The only standard I know of that leans toward the mom-level is XForms. Facebook and Parakey recognize the demand so they are filling in the gap.

    Firefox is a BROWSER, Facebook is a BUILDER, the future is…

  • jay

    It’s your third point that is the main differentiator between Firefox Add-ons and Facebook Apps. Rock your Firefox is a great first step, since it allows everyone to share their Add-ons with others… but I think it’s knowing when and how your friends are using the Facebook Apps that make them more interesting and successful.

    If we could figure out a way to create a real-time collaborative environment within Firefox, where anyone using a particular extension had a chance to see how or when others were using it, things could get interesting. A few examples off the top of my head (with no thought to security or privacy concerns, though there certainly will be many):

    1. Who else is browsing the same site I’ve come across with Stumbleupon right now?

    2. What are people with the FoxyTunes extension listening to right now?

    3. What are the top ads/patterns blocked by other AdBlock users?

    You get the idea… couldn’t Firefox be a BROWSER and a BUILDER with a few interesting “super” extensions?

  • kiroset

    “Add-ons/applications with over 1 million active users”

    So I take it you have some numbers on the active users of firefox extensions.

    Care to share, maybe the top ten firefox extensions and how many active users there are?

  • Hi kiroset – We’re hoping to be able to make that data available on addons.mozilla.org in the near future for add-on authors, who might have the option to make that public as well. We may also be changing the “popular” sort to use active users instead of weekly downloads as well.

    Stay tuned!

  • Thanks for your comment on my blog comparing firefox to facebook as a platform. Awesome quantitative comparison between firefox and facebook as platform!!!

    I’d love to find real difference between the two and how it impacts what kind of developers, apps and growth to the platform by the developers.

    I’ve seen Rock Your Firefox on Facebook, would love to see it on Firefox Add-ons site.