Despite what you may have read, Mozilla isn’t canning its plans to sell sponsored tiles on its new-tab page.
A few days ago, Mozilla’s Vice President of Firefox Jonathan Nightingale wrote a brief blog post defending the organization’s plans to include sponsored tiles on Firefox’s new-tab page. For some reason, a couple of people interpreted Nightingale’s comments as a retreat and assumed that Firefox was abandoning this project after too many of its users complained about it. That’s not the case, however. Instead, Nightingale simply clarified that Mozilla would move ahead slowly with this program, experiment with different new-tab pages and that they will likely include sponsored content in the future.
Mozilla — which doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with advertisers — first introduced this program at an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) meeting in February. Now, it’s starting to experiment with different layouts of its new new-tab page, according to Nightingale.
Mozilla’s official reasoning for adding sponsored content to the new-tab page sounds quite compelling at first. Because the new-tab page is populated by looking at the sites you regularly visit, it’s of no use to new Firefox users. Adding some Mozilla properties and other “useful” — that is “sponsored” — sites could benefit those first-time users. I doubt that Mozilla has received many complaints about the empty new-tab page, though.
What definitely won’t happen, Nightingale promises, is Firefox turning “into a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder; without user control, without user benefit.” Typically, those sponsored tiles would stay around for the first 30 days after a user installs Firefox unless a user actively manages them.
It’s hard to imagine that this first-time user experience is the only thing on Mozilla’s mind. Mozilla barely has any other funding source but its contract with Google. In 2012, 97.9 percent of Mozilla’s revenue came from its deals with search engines — and most of those came from Google. Mozilla simply needs to start finding new ways to generate revenue and while those new-tab tiles surely won’t be able to replace its income from Google anytime soon, it’s a start.
The problem, however, is that this doesn’t really fit into Mozilla’s brand image. It’s supposed to be an independent, mission-driven organization. Once it starts taking money from big brands, it will be harder to maintain this image.