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.)