Add-ons in 2011

This weekend we said goodbye to an action-packed year, and I thought it’d be fun to think back on all we accomplished in Add-ons in 2011.

Firefox 4 Shipped

A critical release for many reasons, Firefox 4 introduced a completely rewritten and redesigned Add-ons Manager, including the interactive discovery pane (“Get Add-ons”), automatic add-on updates, and addressed the single biggest complaint for years with add-ons: installation without restarting. Firefox 4 also allowed us to see how many users actually use add-ons, how many non-hosted add-ons are out there, and gather real-world performance data — all things for which we had no insights before Firefox 4.

The discovery pane was viewed more than 5 million times in the 24 hours after release, and is currently viewed between 2.7 and 2.9 million times each day. It’s responsible for 40,000 add-on downloads every day, plus the 300,000 downloads that come from the Add-ons Manager search. 33% of new add-ons submitted to AMO each month are restartless.

New Developer Tools, Editor Tools, and Review Process

It seems like this happened much more than a year ago, but it was in early 2011 that we launched our brand new Developer Tools on AMO — in my opinion, the best management tools for add-ons, apps, or anything like it on the web. In 2010 we made the decision to rearchitect our review process to require all add-ons to be reviewed and get rid of the sandbox with 7,000 unreviewed add-ons in it. We launched that new process in 2011 by introducing preliminary reviews and direct links while waiting for review. And we made a number of awesome improvements to our Editor tools and statistics dashboard.

In 2011, AMO Editors granted 9,731 full reviews, 7,468 preliminary reviews, and rejected 2,616 versions.

BrowserID, Apps, and Marketplace Integration

When people joke about buzzwords, “synergy” often tops the list. But it’s a really awesome feeling seeing so many pieces of different projects falling into place to create a single experience. A year ago, users purchasing apps from AMO with their BrowserID account and running them on top of Boot2Gecko would have seemed crazy. Actually, it still seems crazy, but it’s happening.

We made great progress on our apps and marketplace integration in 2011 while still moving Add-ons forward. I’m really excited about building out the rest of the marketplace over the next few months and jumping into the app store battle with something to fight for.

Rethinking Compatibility

Around this time last year, everyone in the Project was trying to figure out how their piece of the puzzle would work in a 6 week development cycle. We had tens of thousands of puzzle pieces to figure out, and we came up with a plan to automatically bump compatibility for AMO-hosted add-ons and quickly built out the tools necessary to pull that off. That process worked really well for our hosted add-ons, but we still heard many complaints from users. Thanks to data we got from Firefox 4, we were able to quickly identify the problem: there were far more non-hosted add-ons out there than we imagined.

We regrouped and brainstormed solutions that would also address the hundreds of millions of add-ons we had no control over. We came up with our plan and engineered the solutions on both client and server side to make Default to Compatible a reality — changing a fundamental piece of the Mozilla platform that had been in place for many years.

New Design

It’s hard to remember what AMO looked like before we rolled out our new design to nearly all of our trafficked pages. The new design is a simpler, cleaner look that’s consistent with other Mozilla sites. We restructured the details page to place items from most important to least important, and introduced hovercards, allowing users to quickly scan through more add-ons while still viewing extended details of those they’re interested in.

Search Improvements

This year we upgraded our search backend to a better engine for improved performance, result quality, and facets. And we launched search suggestions and AJAX search results, which were a huge usability win for users.

30,000 add-on downloads a day come via search suggestions.

Add-on SDK Launched

It was in 2011 that the Add-on SDK officially launched along with Add-on Builder to open up add-on development to many more people. The SDK team has also accomplished a lot this year, and we helped support them in a number of ways, including repacking SDK-based add-ons when updates are issued and introducing a review incentive for SDK-based add-ons.

27% of new add-ons submitted to AMO each month use the SDK.

Contributions Flow

In March of last year we switched our Contributions flow to use PayPal’s in-context payments so that users can thank their favorite add-on authors without leaving AMO. We also added a Contributions notice in the Add-ons Manager of Firefox 4, and allowed developers to direct their contributions to the Mozilla Foundation or a third party.

This increased the number of contributions from 1,390 per month to 2,500. In 2011, add-on developers received $150,000 from 25,000 contributions. In total since its launch in mid-2009, our users have given $282,000 to developers in 48,680 transactions.

Opt in to Third-party-installed Add-ons

Add-ons dropped into Firefox without user consent have always been a problem, but we had no idea the extent until this year (thanks to Firefox 4). In addition to the security, performance, and usability issues that often come with these add-ons, their presence made compatibility between releases a nightmare for many users. We designed and implemented a solution that helps users stay in control of what’s installed in their Firefox going forward and also allowed them to correct past intrusions.

Performance Work

We kicked off our performance initiative this year and worked with many add-ons to improve their start-up delays. We made significant progress on tools that will allow add-on developers to test and improve performance on their own. And we presented the first look into what real-world start-up time looks like for Firefox users and how add-ons can impact that.

And more…

Among all of the huge projects we tackled this year, we worked on many smaller projects and features that made a huge improvement for users. Some that come to mind:

  • Mobile AMO — Although we’ve supported the Fennec application on AMO for some time, it wasn’t until 2011 that we launched a mobile-optimized version of the site.
  • Featured Add-on Selection — Nearly every add-on wants to be featured, and in 2011 we started the Featured Advisory Board so that community members who love using and creating add-ons are the ones who choose which add-ons are featured each month.
  • Blocklist Experience — Clicking “Learn more” when something you had installed was blocked previously took take you to a giant listing of everything we’d ever blocked with a few words of description. Now, clicking “Learn more” takes you to a page that explains why that specific item was blocked, who is affected, and what this all actually means.
  • Add-ons Blog — We redesigned and customized the Add-ons Blog, which gets 200,000 pageviews a month.
  • Intro Video — We finally have a great introduction video to add-ons that actually shows what they can do, complete with an interactive version.
  • Email opt out — We revamped our email notifications and added one-click unsubscribe.
  • Add-on slugs — Our URLs became much prettier when we replaced with
  • Switching to ADU — We switched our primary popularity metric from downloads to active users to ensure the most popular add-ons are those people actually use instead of just try.
  • Up & Coming — We introduced the Up & Coming sort, which surfaces new add-ons that are becoming popular.
  • Better Compatibility — We hide incompatible add-ons by default in many places, and always make it clear when something won’t work with your device. We also integrated more tightly with the Add-on Compatibility Reporter so pre-release testers can still get to incompatible add-ons.

Thanks to everyone who made these things possible in 2011, and let’s get ready for a whirlwind 2012!