What’s Next for Collections

Since their launch last year, users have created more than 56,000 collections of add-ons. Collections and user reviews are the two ways in which everyday users can contribute content to the add-ons site.

I’ve been thinking about ways to improve collections since last year, especially as many other sites now support similar groups of content. Facebook has groups of friends, Twitter has lists of followers, Youtube has playlists of videos, and we have collections of add-ons. We’re a bit different though: collections were designed primarily as a sharing vehicle, which is why we have a public directory listing them when other sites don’t.

But one thing I really love about others’ list features is their simplicity of creation and management. We’re well underway in rewriting addons.mozilla.org in Django, so now is the perfect time to make some improvements to the feature as we rewrite it for the new site. With the goals of making collections easier to create and manage, using them to power other features across the site, and making them more personal, here are a few changes in store for collections in the coming months.

Favorite Add-ons and On-the-fly Creation

Mock-up of the share module of an add-on details pageProbably the most common reason people create collections is to keep track of their favorite add-ons. We’ve discussed the idea of letting users “favorite” add-ons for years and launched the Rock Your Firefox Facebook application in 2007 to let users do just that, though the functionality never made its way to AMO proper. Collections are a great way to keep track of favorites, and we can do a few things to make managing these favorites a lot easier.

Each user with an account will automatically have a Favorites collection created for them, and add-on details and browse pages will have links to quickly add or remove add-ons from that collection.

Mock-up of an add-on browse entry

Next to the new favorites button, the collection selection widget has also been redesigned to easily let you add and remove the add-on from multiple collections at once. As part of this new selection widget, you’ll also be able to create new collections on-the-fly from any page on the site just by entering the bare minimum of information:

Mock-up of adding an add-on to a collectionMock-up of collection creation on-the-fly

Of course, you’ll still be able to create collections the old way and specify additional settings.

Watching Collections

When we launched collections, we also introduced the Add-on Collector extension that lets anyone subscribe to their favorite collections and get notifications in Firefox when new add-ons are added to a collection. It’s about time we brought that functionality to the website itself. Instead of adding a collection to your favorites and then becoming a “subscriber” as currently happens, we want to change the terminology to “watching” a collection. Once you start watching collections, you’ll be able to see any activity on those collections in a central place and can subscribe to updates through an RSS feed.

Mock-up of watching collections

URLs, Privacy, & Permissions

Less than 0.005% of collections have more than one publisher, indicating that in almost all cases, collections are very closely tied to their creator. With that in mind, I’ve proposed some considerable changes to the way collections are accessed:

  • Collections will have a single owner and will be accessed through a URL under that user’s namespace. For example, /collection/myfavoriteaddons12345 can now just be /collections/fligtar/favorites. This also means collection URL slugs can be automatically generated but still editable, like in WordPress.
  • Collections can still have contributors that can publish add-ons to a collection.
  • Privacy options will be simplified into completely public collections and collections that only the owner can view while logged-in.

These changes should make collections a lot easier to create and understand.

Installing Multiple Add-ons

Less than two months ago, I blogged about why we don’t let multiple add-ons be installed from a collection, even though it’s a very often requested feature. I’ve since convinced myself that it would be okay to cautiously allow users to do this for a few reasons:

  • users who want to install more than one add-on will still install more than one add-on, so we’re just making it harder for them
  • we can caution the user before they attempt to install a batch of add-ons about the potential confusion after doing so
  • Massive Extender has done well allowing add-ons to be batch-installed from the Add-on Collector

Multiple installations will be surfaced through a link at the top of collections that switch into a multi-install mode, where install buttons become checkboxes and a running tally of your selected add-ons appears on the right. We’re also considering the idea of a configurable option that indicates a collection is meant to be installed as a set, such as a collection of add-ons to make your browser look like Firefox 4. Collections that choose this option would have an “Add All to Firefox” button and avoid going through the selection process.

Mock-up of Multiple Add-on selector

In addition to these new features, all of the collections-related pages will be getting a facelift. You can see all of the new designs by Chris Howse here. For the full list of planned features and changes, read the spec.

What do you think?

  • Cesar

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding something here, or making a false conclusion or assumption, but with a statistic like <0.005% of collections having more than one user, it sounds unsettling that more effort is being spent on making it easier to create even more collections.

    • Less than 0.005% of collections have more than one publisher. I updated the post to make that clearer.

  • I think the new additions are great, but… we have add-ons, collections of add-ons and favorite collections of add-ons?

    This seems like a lot of overlay, that makes AMO a daunting place.

    I think the user name-spacing is a good idea. I’m far more interested in what add-ons people use, I don’t really care how it’s organized, because unless you’re nuts you probably have only a few dozen add-ons that you could really recommend. Collections, buckets, tags, categories or whatever taxonomy is just a way of making it easier to find add-ons that you like. But our site uses tags already – why not keep at it? fligtar/webdev could be add-ons you’ve tagged as webdev, and they could be consumed as collections are now.

    As a consumer of collections I could instead subscribe to fligtar’s add-ons tagged as webdev or osunick’s add-ons tagged as cars. Tags, are a taxonomy we’ve barely been using, but could serve an extra purpose – without having to teach inexperienced users new terminology.

    Lastly we could then use ATOM feeds as the subscription tool. They could be a feed with links to addons. People could publish them anywhere, using whatever tools they’d like (including AMO) and those feeds could be subscribed to in the addon manager (or Google Reader if you just wanted to follow updates).

    Food for thought – the complexity of the site causes me a great deal of frustration – and I really feel that the usability of our site could be improved.

    • Hi, Dave. Just to address a few of your points:

      1. We will support the ability to automatically create (and update) a collection with add-ons you have installed. By default, this will not be linked to your AMO account or be publicly listed, though you will have the option of doing both. To begin with, this will be done using the Add-on Collector, though eventually it may become a part of Firefox itself.

      2. While not prominent in the UI, there is no reason that every Collections can’t have an Atom/RSS feed, both of links to its component add-ons, and a timeline of changes to its contents. ‘Watched Collections’ just provides a similar functionality for those unfamiliar/uncomfortable with feeds, while giving users another way of gauging the popularity of a collection.

      I won’t argue the case of collections vs. tags here– that debate has been going on in IA circles forever, and it frequently comes down to a matter of preference. All I’ll say is that Collections have been around AMO as long as tags and have developed quite a following, so they’re not going anywhere. Supporting different taxonomies doesn’t have to compromise usability: I think Flickr is a great example of this.

      • Automatically populated collections launched at the same time as collections in the Add-on Collector, so they’re not new. What is new is letting more people creating them by adding the functionality to Firefox 4 through the discovery pane.

        Collections have also had their own RSS feeds since launch.

        On tags vs. collections, collections launched before tags and had been in the works for a year prior, so tags weren’t really considered at all at the time.

    • I think that using tags in that way is pretty nonstandard and would be more confusing. If I see that an add-on is tagged as “webdev”, I assume there’s no reason for me to re-tag it as webdev since it’s already there. But then it only appears in my auto-collection if I’ve personally tagged it. That would require quite a bit of explanation to be grasped, so I think having them separate works better. If tags should be combined with anything, I think it would be categories.

  • Tiago Sá

    This all stinks of one single truth: PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THEY CAN BACKUP THEIR FIREFOX PROFILE!

    This applies to every browser though, and it’s a good window for Firefox to let them know.

    It should also let them know that middle-clicking a link opens them in a new tab, by the way. Spread the word of the most basic of knowledges!!!

  • alanjstr

    I would like to include other collections within my collection. I use my collection to sync addons across my computers. Of course there’s the possibility of circular linking, so just limit it to one deep. That way Alan’s Collection can include Make Firefox look like 4.0 without having to add the components. And then if someone is looking at my collection, they would see the grouping instead of random features. I wouldn’t have to remember multiple collections, just mine.