Thursday, January 15th, 2015

A Product Journal: Conception

I’m going to try to journal the process of a new product that I’m developing in Mozilla Cloud Services

When Labs closed and I entered management I decided not to do any programming for a while. I had a lot to learn about management, and that’s what I needed to focus on. Whether I learned what I need to I don’t know, but I have been getting a bit tired.

We went through a fairly extensive planning process towards the end of 2014. I thought it was a good process. We didn’t end up where we started, which is a good sign – often planning processes are just documenting the conventional wisdom and status quo of a group or project, but in a critically engaged process you are open to considering and reconsidering your goals and commitments.

Mozilla is undergoing some stress right now. We have a new search deal, which is good, but we’ve been seeing declining marketshare which is bad. And then when you consider that desktop browsers are themselves a decreasing share of the market it looks worse.

The first planning around this has been to decrease attrition among our existing users. Longer term much of the focus has been in increasing the quality of our product. A noble goal of course, but does it lead to growth? I suspect it can only address attrition, the people who don’t use Firefox but could won’t have an opportunity to see what we are making. If you have other growth techniques then focusing on attrition can be sufficient. Chrome for instance does significant advertising and has deals to side-load Chrome onto people’s computers. Mozilla doesn’t have the same resources for that kind of growth.

When finished up the planning process I realized, damn, all our plans were about product quality. And I liked our plan! But something was missing.

This perplexed me for a while, but I didn’t really know what to make of it. Talking with a friend about it he asked then what do you want to make? – a seemingly obvious question that no one had asked me, and somehow hearing the question coming at me was important.

Talking through ideas, I reluctantly kept coming back to sharing. It’s the most incredibly obvious growth-oriented product area, since every use of a product is a way to implore non-users to switch. But sharing is so competitive. When I first started with Mozilla we would obsess over the problem of Facebook and Twitter and silos, and then think about it until we threw our hands up in despair.

But I’ve had this trick up my sleeve that I pull out for one project after another because I think it’s a really good trick: make a static copy of the live DOM. Mostly you just iterate over the elements, get rid of scripts and stuff, do a few other clever things, use <base href> and you are done! It’s like a screenshot, but it’s also still a webpage. I’ve been trying to do something with this for a long time. This time let’s use it for sharing…?

So, the first attempt at a concept: freeze the page as though it’s a fancy screenshot, upload it somewhere with a URL, maybe add some fun features because now it’s disassociated from its original location. The resulting page won’t 404, you can save personalized or dynamic content, we could add highlighting or other features.

The big difference with past ideas I’ve encountered is that here we’re not trying to compete with how anyone shares things, this is a tool to improve what you share. That’s compatible with Facebook and Twitter and SMS and anything.

If you think pulling a technology out of your back pocket and building a product around it is like putting the cart in front of the horse, well maybe… but you have to start somewhere.

[The next post in the series is The Tech Demo]


Christopher MahanFri, 16 Jan 2015

I think the "upload it somewhere with a URL" is gonna be the hard part. Most people can manage copy and paste at best, and "share this" buttons are just easiest.

I've resorted to the links page at and it's a pita to update. I ssh/nano into server, paste the url twice, type html, etc. It's brutal and I can't see anyone else I know doing it. I know debian linux, dns, hosting well enough to make it work, but that's a dying art.

I think if Mozilla made a S3 type hosting and the editor was directly in Firefox, and you could just drag and drop, compose if you will, on split screen (left 1/3 your page, right 2/3 your tabs and you could go from tab to tab and just drag stuff right into your page, click save, and presto it's on the web, at and there's a button right there to "share to twitter/facebook/google+" then nobody would want to use the admin section of any blogging platform to write their posts.

I use firefox on all my computers (although, at work, they make it really, really hard and I'm using IE9 Gaaah), I uninstalled it on my mobile after trying for 2 years because the "reading" mode was missing sentences on my own website even though that validates html5 (xhtml-mode).

I used to use the website editor in netscape communicator. I'm not asking you to build an html editor. I'm asking for a blog post/essay post/article post editor in FF that can save to the web automagically. I think people will really dig that, and would probably trust it better than the Microsoft-owned wordpress, Yahoo-tumbler, or Gmail's blogpost, although those are getting plenty of people using them.

Also, make a kickass writing platform for writers, (people who write books. stories) and completely automate publishing to PDF, EPUB, HTML, RTF, MSWORD(?) , .odf, Kindle, but also work with amazon's createspace and other on-demand book platforms to automate that process, and you'll get traction there. Everyone wants to be a writer, and if you become the free, good, easy tool, that would get you lots of people. (work with Amazon, perhaps, push direc to kindle?)

That should be doable with existing resources, no?

Last but not least, work with the VLC team to incorporate a good audio/video creation tool for youtube/others?

You have to make yourselves better, and go where chrome doesn't want to go, because they don't really want to put all that energy into managing a widely divergent fork of chromium.

Take the browser to the next level. Make firefox the web platform, not just the web browser.

Let the other browsers play catch-up with you.

Forget the tablets/phones for now with Firefox. Go after content creators. They all use real computers. Make it snappy on laptops, make it awesome on macbook air. If you can be the "app of choice" on Macbook air for content creators, the mac fans will push each other to get it, no worries about that.

Make people want to be with firefox because of the Why. (see

Here's your next slogan "Firefox: Make the Web, Remake the World."

Do it!

Ian BickingFri, 16 Jan 2015

Just to clarify: the result would be automatically uploaded to a Mozilla-hosted service, I certainly wouldn't want to put someone through the process of moving it to some hosting of their own. Plus there's lots of interesting things we can do and tools we can provide once we upload that content.

Christopher MahanFri, 16 Jan 2015

Ah, then, much better :)

mceplFri, 16 Jan 2015

How does it relate to … I have created a converter to MAFF (, so I am hopeful the format is not going to die anytime soon?

Ian BickingFri, 16 Jan 2015

It didn't relate to MAF because I hadn't heard of it before, but now I have! I put a note about it on this ticket: – if you have any other thoughts about it, it would be great to add to them there.

mceplMon, 19 Jan 2015

Ehm, left hand meet right hand! Don't both you and authors of MAFF work for Mozilla? :)

Ian BickingTue, 20 Jan 2015

One of the two authors does work at Mozilla, but there's a lot going on, it's hard to keep track. Documenting things publicly will probably help as in this case ;)

nickbaumanSat, 17 Jan 2015

I wrote something like this with a few other people back in 2008. It was called giftag. BestBuy funded it for a while but they didn't ever really try to develop it. Eventually they pulled the plug long after I left.

JoshMon, 19 Jan 2015

> because I think it’s a really good trick: make a static copy of the live DOM

I've done a bunch of this myself; excited to see what you release. Did I already tell you about / have you already seen

Ian BickingTue, 20 Jan 2015

Very interesting! I just emailed the contact link there (which maybe is you, I can't quite tell ;)

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