Mozilla (Finally) Embraces Ads

firefox-picAfter years of declining to use ads and even fighting them, Mozilla has finally given in with its Directory Tiles initiative. Announced at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) annual leadership conference that just concluded in Palm Springs, California, the program’s goal is twofold: bring browser personalization to a new level, and finance Mozilla itself. The newly launched Firefox Accounts and Firefox Sync services should help further down the line. Read on.

In a blog post, Mozilla explains it will sell the ads on the blank webpages that get displayed when a first-time Firefox user opens a tab. Nine rectangles will be presented and filled with content coming from across Mozilla’s properties. They will also include “sponsored content,” according to Darren Herman, vice president of content services.

This is what an empty page looks like, without the advertisers and brands yet.


Faithful to its open-source vision and approach, Mozilla had softly introduced the move last summer with a first step called “User Personalization,” whereby Firefox users would agree to share their interests with other sites, on an opt-in basis only. At the time, the company had explained the advantages of having a contextualized Web experience, as well as the challenges of privacy – a point that is being handled openly by Mozilla as far as the Directory Tiles and transparency are concerned. “The sponsored tiles will be clearly labeled as such, while still leading to content we think users will enjoy,” Herman wrote.

Reading between the lines, so far, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough deals on the table yet for the product to be rolled out immediately. No clear timeline is available, either.

Meanwhile, the launch yesterday of Firefox Accounts should definitely help the company expand the program further down the line. Firefox Accounts allow users to log into their own browser experience everywhere they go. This will mean that Mozilla will be able to continue to serve tailored content and targeted ads, regardless of which device users are on, including whether the device is theirs or not.

Firefox Sync, also new, is the engine – so to speak – that will enable users to transport their browsing data, including open tabs, to wherever they are going geographically and device-wise. Sound familiar? Yes, this is just like Google accounts.

For now, though, the services are being tested and are only available to Firefox Aurora users who will provide feedback before the full rollout of the Firefox Accounts.

Now back to the Directory Tiles. Mozilla is transparent about it: The ads – let’s call them what they are – will both serve the user in bringing relevant content and support the organization by providing it with a new revenue stream. Their exact words are, “Directory Tiles…helps Mozilla become more diversified and sustainable as a project.” A little surprising, to say the least, as Firefox brands itself as nonprofit: “Firefox is fundamentally driven by the Mozilla mission rather than business concerns,” is what their website says.

In this, Mozilla is truthful to its mission “to promote openness, innovation, and opportunity on the Web.” Or maybe not?

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