Mozilla tries social media to get its Firefox mojo back

Mozilla tries social media to get its Firefox mojo back

Summary: Mozilla used to have a scrappy underdog personality and a passionate community that evangelized for Firefox enthusiastically. Lately, though, most of what I've seen about Firefox is negative. Mozilla is responding with an increased presence in social media sites. Can a Twitter/Facebook army really undo negative perceptions?

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TOPICS: Browser
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Update 3-April: A new tweet from @FirefoxCares announces that the Twitter experiment ends later today: "Dearest users, make your questions: we are closing temporarily the experiment this evening,to decide and evaluate our future in Twitter ^RM"

Update 26-March: Mozilla's David Tenser adds some interesting comments in the Talkback section.

I heard some grumbling about Firefox this morning. In the space of a few minutes via Twitter, I saw tweets from two people who had begun experiencing a sudden uptick in Firefox crashes. Falling back on my old J-school training ("Two is a coincidence, three is a story") I asked if anyone else was having problems. In response came a small number of additional problem reports mixed in with a lot of all-clears. One tweet that stood out from the rest came from @FirefoxCares and read:

Can you get me a report ID, enter about:crashes in Firefox and DM or tweet the results? ^TM

I was initially skeptical. That's a response I would expect from an official support alias like @ComcastCares. But I didn't know Firefox had anything except community support. More red flags about the account: it only had 13 followers and appeared to have been created today. The Twitter profile page contained a link to the parent Twitter page, a social endless loop, and nothing more. Was the person behind this account legit? After a few messages back and forth, @FirefoxCares sent me this link to the Support/Social Media page at the Mozilla Wiki. According to the notes at the bottom, the goal of this experiment is to "be present on social networks to help users with their Firefox problems or prevent bad ratings from going viral, if help is not directly possible, and extract useful information for SUMO." (SUMO is the Support Mozilla project.)

"Prevent bad ratings from going viral"? That sounds like something one definitely wants to avoid. More detail from the Background section of the page:

Sites like Facebook or Twitter have hundreds of millions of users. […] Social networks make it very easy for issues to become viral. That changes the perception of Firefox in a disproportionate way.

Indeed, it seems like the people working on this program are reacting to a trend that's been under way for some time. Mozilla used to have a scrappy underdog personality and a passionate community that evangelized for Firefox enthusiastically. Lately, though, most of what I've seen about Firefox, on Twitter and elsewhere, is negative. The shiny new browser is Google Chrome, and most of the discussion about Firefox is about problems with security or stability. Earlier this month the German government officially advised against using Firefox because of an critical security vulnerability (since patched). And among the people I follow I've seen lots more complaints lately about Firefox performance.

The Mozilla Wiki page lists three objectives for this experiment:

  1. Reach out to users who need help, using little snippets that could solve their problems. Long-term, we want to reach close to 100% of all users.
  2. Get a better understanding of the current perception of Firefox and the biggest problems users experience, and act upon that information.
  3. On one hand prevent issues from becoming viral by intercepting and channeling to SUMO if help is not possible in social network. On the other hand use viral effect to our advantage: people retweeting our help messages.

It's an interesting experiment, but those are incredibly ambitious goals. How many Firefox users are there, and how many potential problem reports are they talking about on Facebook alone? Is it a failure of the free, open model that no one at Mozilla seems to have a good understanding of how its flagship product is perceived by its users? And even if this support effort can scale, I wonder whether it can keep Firefox from plateauing or even beginning a slow gradual decline. On my personal list of browsers, Firefox used to share the top spot with IE. Now it's fallen to third behind IE8 and Chrome, and judging by my latest web metrics I think I have lots of company.

That once-impressive Firefox growth curve is being dragged down by the shiny new thing, Google Chrome, which has stolen all the attention (and positive buzz) of the early adopters. It's being blocked on the other side by a resurgent Internet Explorer, which crossed the "good enough" threshold with IE8 and is getting grudging acceptance and even some positive buzz of its own for the IE9 preview Microsoft released at MIX10. It's hard being number two in any market. In the case of Firefox, which is still run by a "public benefit corporation" wholly owned by a nonprofit foundation, it's even tougher to be sandwiched between two of the wealthiest corporations in the world.

Firefox seems to have lost whatever momentum it once had.

Topic: Browser

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56 comments
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  • And down goes FF.

    I don't know about IE 8 or 9 having any impact but Chrome certainly will. Yet none of this would be what kills FF. They are about to loose their way and concern themselves with marketing instead of just producing the best product they can and winning on merit. The mojo they have lost is that of innovation. Bring us the features that make using the web better and the people will come.
    storm14k
    • Chrome has what people want

      After all, Chrome has what people want:

      - Clean, simple and straight forward UI with no unneeded stuff.
      - Tab and plugin isolation.
      - Great security because it uses the underlying operating systems
      security features.
      - Fast, stable and reliable.
      - Conforms to some of the latest and greatest standards so that
      developers can deliver great services using standards based technology
      without needing to use bloated, buggy and unreliable plugins like Flash.
      Macintoshtoffy
      • It also pings Google-Analytics

        Let's Google know what your surfing habits are, logs your IP and supposedly keeps it for only 1 year. At least that's what Google says. ;)

        If you don't mind giving up some privacy and have them tracking you all over the place, then Chrome is right for you.

        But I don't trust them anymore than I trust M$.
        still not nice
  • Firefox's interface...

    I use IE8, but also have Firefox installed on my system.

    Anyway, compared to IE8, Firefox's interface strikes me as being really clunky and old fashioned.
    Tom12Tom
    • Firefox Interface Is Great!

      I hate IE for its cluttered interface. Firefox is clean and simple.
      chessmen
      • Firefox Interface Is Great!

        Exactly! Most of the other browsers have been copying Firefox! Cluttered??? Its all up to you how cluttered you want it to be!!! That kind kind of freedom wasnt even dreamed of be IE people. How much more innovation do ppl want from a browser??? Incredible, people whining at the best browser in the internet world!!!
        anzaksonn
    • Clunky & old fashioned?

      Good grief...

      Have you tried using the multitudes of alternate skins that are out there?

      https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/browse/type:2/cat:all?sort=popular
      still not nice
  • Firefox complains aren't a new thing ...

    ... think spiralling memory consumption and instabilities.

    Now the fanboys have a new toy to play with, Firefox is going to have to work hard to keep not only its market share but its evangalists.

    Like you said, being squeezed between two multi-billion dollar corporations is not a good place to be.
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • I Have Not Had A Firefox Crash In Ages

      It has been so long since I have had a Firefox crash that I can't even remember ever having one. Spiraling memory consumption and instabilities?
      chessmen
      • RE: Mozilla tries social media to get its Firefox mojo back

        @chessmen I have only had issues with FF ONCE! and it has like 2 versions ago and it was only because there was a split second powersurge while I was downloading then again when I was installing so of course the files were not transfered properly, no fault of Mozillas! I love my Firefox and get very mad when a cloud app/program doesn't work on Firefox.
        AppleJack522
    • IE 8 crashed and locked up just as often...

      I couldnt tell the difference, although FF has been vulnerable till this week. After the update, I notice FireFox is back to good performance again.

      IE had it's updates last week, but I don't use it as much anymore, so I can't really rate any issues now.

      I do really like how Cool Iris integrates with FireFox and makes using FaceBook much more intertaining. Cool Iris puts Mozilla even with IE 8 in high-def page images! I used to switch to IE for that, but don't have to now.

      If it weren't for FF's plugins, it couldn't keep up. Sometimes I can't get pages to render properly with IE 8 and sometimes it is FireFox, so I do trade browsers to see what works. This as been an issue since 3.5, and the big Microsoft updates a few weeks ago. I have no idea which is causing what. I haven't looked at my event monitor.

      I'm still using Fire Fox; I like it.
      JCitizen
  • Time for Firefox to kill some sacred cows.

    I think IE became "good enough" with IE7, but
    what constitutes "good enough" is largely
    opinion. But, enough of that, my primary rant
    is aimed at Firefox itself.

    Firefox lost its momentum in more ways than one
    - it turns out that [i]any[/i] project that
    gets sufficiently large, be it open or closed
    source, is gonna get large and unwieldy in its
    development.

    I think there's also a large "sacred cow"
    effect - a lot of the top maintainers get used
    to the program working in a certain way, and
    don't want to change it.

    Whatever the explanation - Chrome beat Firefox
    in so many ways. One of the most noticeable
    (especially on multi-core CPUs) is that Chrome
    uses multiple processes. That means that
    slowdowns and lockups only affect a part of
    chrome (usually one tab), and don't bring down
    the whole browser. It also means that even
    under a heavy load, it's still generally fast
    and responsive.

    Chrome + modern OS + multiple cores = crazy
    fast.

    But, for whatever reason, Mozilla has continued
    to be afraid to kill some sort of "sacred cow"
    and add thread or process isolation to Firefox.
    Hence, it continues, even with the most recent
    updates, to lock up the whole browser when
    something misbehaves.

    . . . and with Chrome now supporting
    extensions, and with many of the top Firefox
    extensions now being available in Chrome - I'm
    on Chrome as my primary browser.

    . . . and if there are any Firefox devs around
    here:

    [b]Kill the sacred cow, get over whatever
    concerns you have, and implement thread/process
    isolation.[/b] I'm sick and tired of Firefox
    locking up the whole thing when something
    happens.
    CobraA1
    • Actually, process isolation is coming with the next update, 3.6.3

      That update will add isolation of the flash
      process and it will just be the starting point
      for their isolation ambitions.

      I don't think it's a matter of Mozilla being
      afraid to do anything. Instead, I think the real
      issue is that they have to preserve the
      stability and usability of the browser as they
      make these drastic changes, and it won't be easy
      to do, given the amount of code that Firefox
      already has. Chrome's in a different boat,
      because it doesn't have as much code as Firefox
      and they built the new security features into
      the very basic browser before they started to
      add usability feature. That has allowed their
      developers to work much faster. I think all
      those who are complaining should take some time
      to find out what Mozilla actually has planned in
      the pipeline. I did, and that's why I'm sticking
      with Firefox.
      eMJayy
      • Nonsense

        It's about time Mozilla got around to adding some improved process/page/add-in isolation infrastructure to Firefox - even IE7 offered significantly better isolation and hardening than Firefox does today.

        Frankly, in my book, all browser vendors should focus all their work on the following priorities:
        1) Security
        2) Security
        3) Security
        4) Usability
        5) Standards support
        6) Performance
        7) Future proposed standards support

        Alas, it appears that everyone other than Microsoft is focussing on this list in reverse order.

        Chrome is in a different boat because it's a MUCH younger code-base which was architected from the outset to use process-isolated, sandboxed pages, as was IE7.

        Firefox should NOT have been focussing so much time and effort making their browser run javascript a little bit faster when most sites don't use enough javascript to make any noticeable difference. In the meantime, firefox users continue to suffer crashes, hangs and intrusions from flaky/malicious add-ins and vulnerability exploits.

        It's time all browser vendors cooled their heels on implementing proposed standards features for a while and really harden their browsers against the malicious b@stards out there who make the internet a dangerous place for most users to be hanging out.
        de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
      • not fast enough . . .

        Whatever - all I really know is that I don't have
        the time to wait for stuff, especially in an
        environment where work needs to be done. Doesn't
        matter if they will eventually - I need my browser
        to be responsive now, not in another year.
        CobraA1
    • Firefox Still Better Than IE anything

      I liked your post. Chrome is my secondary browser; I just can't give up my add on's. In addition, I love Firefox's interface. IE is still the slowest browser on the planet.
      chessmen
    • Not for nothing

      But crashes aren't relevant, because FireFox never crashes. As in, I remember FireFox crashing like a bad dream I had years ago, but it is just a glimmer in the back of my mind. I don't think I've had FireFox go down since 2007...

      There may be some tiny JavaScript performance advantage in Chrome, but FireFox still offers the best overall experience.

      In addition, people have to recognize that FireFox is run by a company who's purpose is to do good on the Internet. Chrome is backed by a company who's purpose is, as far as I can tell, to do what companies do, which is make money. Being open source in no way mitigates that fact.

      If Google wanted to do good, they would have used FireFox as the basis for Chrome, and helped Mozilla do tab threading and improve their JavaScript performance, not taken control of the browser all for themselves. But Google looks out for Google, while Mozilla looks out for us.
      x I'm tc
      • thoughts

        "In addition, people have to recognize that
        FireFox is run by a company who's purpose is to
        do good on the Internet."

        The road to heck is paved with good intentions
        . . .

        . . . and like all open source projects - it's
        not just run by the company, there's
        significant contributions by a lot of people.
        We actually don't know what everybody's
        intentions are.

        "Chrome is backed by a company who's purpose
        is, as far as I can tell, to do what companies
        do, which is make money."

        Interestingly enough - the browser probably
        doesn't do much for them there. Most of their
        revenue is from the advertising in their search
        engine.

        "If Google wanted to do good, they would have
        used FireFox as the basis for Chrome, and
        helped Mozilla do tab threading and improve
        their JavaScript performance, not taken control
        of the browser all for themselves."

        . . . and it would take another several years
        for Google to accomplish what they wanted to
        accomplish, and they'd have to deal with a lot
        of legacy code.
        CobraA1
        • I though it was the other way around...

          I seem to remember reading that when google started investing in Mozilla, the deveopers then based the browser on something called chrome. I've had several techs correct me when I waver away from this.

          Is it the other way around?
          JCitizen
          • "chrome"

            "chrome" is a generic term for the parts of the
            browser that aren't part of the web page. The
            tabs, the URL bar, the toolbars, the buttons, the
            menus, the status bar, etc are all "chrome."

            Not to be confused with Google Chrome, the
            browser.
            CobraA1