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December 7th, 2015

Mozilla’s Firefox Quits Sponsored Tiles

Mozilla has announced that it’s dropping a program everyone but Mozilla seemed to realize was a bad idea from the start. In a blog posting on Friday, the organization’s vice president of content services, Darren Herman, wrote that Mozilla has “made the decision to stop advertising in Firefox through the Tiles experiment in order to focus on content discovery.” The much disliked sponsored tiles won’t immediately disappear from users’ browsers, however. “Naturally, we will fulfill our current commitments as we wind down this experiment over the next few months.”

Firefox logoThis was the second time last week that Mozilla announced it was dropping (or wants to drop) one project in order to “focus” on something else. Last Monday, executive chairperson Mitchell Baker wrote in a memo that the organization is seeking to drop support of the popular Thunderbird desktop email client in order “to be laser-focused on activities like Firefox that can have an industry-wide impact.”

The sponsored tile program, in which Mozilla sold advertising, or sponsored links, that appear whenever a user opens a new tab, was announced in 2014 and after a few months of limited testing was implemented for all Firefox users in May. The program — which is opt-in by default, although many GNU/Linux distributions ship with the feature already disabled — has been unpopular with users since it was announced.

Mozilla is already facing an uncertain financial future, and Friday’s announcement doesn’t make it any brighter. Late last year, the organization lost its profitable long standing deal with Google, which had annually added hundreds of millions of dollars to its coffers. It doesn’t appear that the new deal with Yahoo! Search will come anywhere near matching that, as the once dominant search engine isn’t very popular and it’s likely that many users will change their search preference in the browser’s settings.

Search traffic stats seem to support this assumption. In November, Computerworld reported that after a brief rise in usage immediately after the deal with Firefox took effect, Yahoo’s search market share is mostly on the decline, with a market share of 12.5 percent in the U.S. Mozilla’s deals with Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China are more likely to pay off, as each is extremely popular in their respective countries, but figures are not yet available.

These uncertainties are compounded by Firefox’s shrinking user base, which Mozilla is working to turn around.

There is some good news, however. The organization is nowhere near being on the ropes, According to a recent article in The Register, Mozilla currently has $260 million in assets and so far spends less than it takes in.

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3 comments to Mozilla’s Firefox Quits Sponsored Tiles

  • Eddie G.

    Ok so where do I have to go to donate money?…I cannot be without FF and TB! They’re crucial to my “side work” and if I lose them. I’ll lose my customer base!

  • CFWhitman

    The last I checked, Firefox and other Mozilla based browsers were still the only ones to fully support color management within the browser. As someone with interests in photography and art, this is a fairly important feature to me. I still use Firefox more than any other browser.

  • Duncan

    OK, so I personally use firefox and don’t have any plans to change that in the foreseeable future as it remains the only browser at once (1) with user interest (as opposed to the user data it can collect) as its prime focus, (2) freedomware, and (3) with a large enough userbase to maintain a viable extensions ecosystem. (FWIW, I switched from konqueror, which is great on #1 and 2, in large part due to its lack on #3, its userbase is simply far too small to maintain a viable extensions ecosystem, and no browser has a wide enough developer base to maintain the flexibility and features of a good extensions ecosystem as core browser features.)

    Further, the common complaints about firefox’s interface changes haven’t phased me here, as I’ve always been a heavy customizer and am already used to using customization and extensions to make the software I use function the way I want/need it to anyway, so as long as extensions can get me an interface I consider reasonable and usable, I’m unlikely to complain, regardless of what the defaults are.

    And of course as a heavy customizer, neither the advertising tiles (which I basically never saw despite actually looking after I read about it, other than the firefox apps tile, despite my use of the newtab page as my homepage, perhaps due to my security settings) nor the change of default search provider, phased me to any measurable degree either.

    But I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders if Mozilla having to deal with lower revenues might actually be a good thing, as they /have/ been straying a bit far from the traditional user interest focus that freedomware traditionally has, lately. In fact, I suppose most folks, who’ve been rather more affected by some of these changes than I as a heavy customizer have been, might have even more reason to wonder about this.

    Certainly, integrating ads seems rather unlike user focus to most users, I’d guess, and while the baidu and yandex default search engine switches were arguably in the user interest in their respective areas, certainly many found the switch from google here in the US rather galling, and there’s little doubt that freedomware advocates found the switch to yahoo, which in turn sources search from MS bing, even more so, due to that MS connection. Tho as I said, neither one of those affected me much.

    And seeing Mozilla trying to drop the mature thunderbird with an existing but apparently no longer interesting to mozilla userbase, to “better focus on their core”, while still continuing to sink millions into the narrow niche firefox OS in an area where due to extreme competition their chances are tiny of ever being a player of significance matching the money they’re sinking into it, thus definitely *NOT* “focusing on their core”…

    Perhaps they /would/ be better off with a few hundred million less a year to play with. Maybe /that/ would help them focus more on existing user interest, instead of attempting to monetize them with tile ads in firefox and dump them in thunderbird, to chase the firefoxos rainbow.