Firefox to display extension recommendations
Mozilla tests a new feature in Firefox Nightly at the moment that suggests extensions to users when they visit certain sites on the Internet.
The recommendation feature is turned off by default and needs to be enabled at this point. Extensions may increase the user experience on sites they are designed for, for example by blocking advertisement, enhancing search functionality, or improving privacy.
Firefox users who have used the Nightly version of the web browser for years may remember that Mozilla ran a Test Pilot Study four years ago that displayed extension recommendations to users as well. The study recommended extensions and features of Firefox to the user but it never made it into the web browser and was moved to the graveyard as a consequence.
Disabling the feature
Mozilla plans to implement a new option in the Firefox preferences to toggle the recommendation functionality.
- Load about:preferences#general in the browser's address bar.
- Scroll down to the Browsing section; it is near the bottom of the page.
- Toggle "Recommend extensions as you browse" to turn the functionality off or on.
Firefox Extension Recommendations
Firefox displays "recommendation" and a puzzle icon in the browser's address bar when users visit a site that has an extension associated with it. Recommendation is removed automatically after some time but the puzzle icon remains visible in the interface.
It is unclear how recommended extensions are selected by Mozilla and whether they are reviewed thoroughly before they are suggested in the browser. Mozilla did recommend a privacy extension with privacy issues on the official blog recently; a mistake like this would be far more problematic as the recommendation feature would certainly have a higher reach if enabled on the browser's release channel.
Recommendations are not only based on extension ratings as Mozilla recommended the Amazon Assistant extension on Amazon and that extension has a rating of just three stars (out of five) currently. It is the official Amazon extension, however, and it is likely that this was the deciding factor in selecting it as a recommendation.
A click on the puzzle icon displays a small overlay that resembles the add-on installation dialog of the Firefox browser. The overlay displays the extension name and author, a short description, a read more link, the rating and number of users.
Firefox users have options to select "add now" or "not now" at this point in time. Add now starts the extension installation process of the browser.
Firefox displays another prompt that lists the permissions that the extension requests and options to add it to the browser or cancel the process.
The recommendation feature is limited to certain high profile sites at the time of writing. Supported sites include YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Reddit, and Gmail at this point.
Mockups show that Mozilla might also recommended an ad-blocker, Adblock Plus is shown, to users of the web browser.
Turn add-on recommendations on or off in Firefox
Recommendations are powered by a preference. It is possible that Mozilla will add a setting to Firefox's options to give users easier control over the functionality.
- Load about:config?filter=browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.asrouterExperimentEnabled in the Firefox address bar.
- Confirm that you will be careful.
- Double-click on the preference name to toggle its value.
- Restart Firefox.
A value of True means that Firefox will display extension recommendations, a value of false that it won't do that.
Closing Words and outlook
The functionality is being tested right now and that means that there is a chance that the feature won't land in Firefox after all. Mozilla needs to address privacy concerns that users may have; best case is that the list of recommended extensions is maintained on the local device and updated regularly by Mozilla.
Firefox would then check against the list and display suggestions whenever a user visits a matching site. The feature needs a "turn off" button in the UI in my opinion and maybe also a report feature.
Probably the biggest hurdle is that Mozilla needs to make sure that it recommends only pristine extensions that don't violate user privacy, don't impact performance, don't introduce bugs or other issues.
Recommendations are mostly useful to users who don't use add-ons at all -- almost 60% according to Mozilla's Public Data Report -- and to users who have just one or two add-ons installed.
Update: Mozilla published a Help page on the Mozilla Support website that offers additional information about the feature.
It states that extensions may be recommended based on user activity, and that Mozilla does not store or collect the browsing history.
We might occasionally recommend extensions based on websites you visit or ways you engage with the browser. Mozilla does not collect or store your browsing history to make those recommendations. Recommendations are designed to introduce Firefox users to noteworthy extensions.
Extensions are selected "through a thorough editorial and review process" so that only "exceptional extensions that are hand-selected by Mozilla's editorial team" are suggested to Firefox users.
Mozilla states that it does not receive compensation for the listings and that it does not accept payments of any kind to add extensions in the recommendation program.
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