Making money with Mozilla stuff

has a great article about monetizing extensions. I agree with everything he wrote but I think we're taking the problem the wrong way here. Let me show you why:

Firefox and AMO:

  • 836,000,000+ downloads
  • a bit less than 3,000 Firefox extensions (I see 142 pages of 20 Firefox extensions on AMO)
  • all extensions free of charge
  • a few dozens of people living from extension authoring...
  • more than 600,000,000 downloads a year ago, I did not find more recent metrics

iPhone and Application Store:

  • 15,000,000 iPhones around the world ? Anyway, far less than Firefox.
  • more than 15,000 apps on the App Store since 10 July 2008, thousands of authors, hundreds and hundreds of companies writing software for the iPhone
  • most apps cost less than your favorite mojito in your favorite bar but a lot of people make a living out of it
  • more than 500,000,000 downloads since 10 July 2008 !?!

All the numbers are important here, absolutely all :

  • with a 800,000,000+ downloads mark, Firefox has not attracted a gigantic list of extensions developers like the iPhone did; granted, the Mozilla community is a  large group, and it's a huge, remarkable achievement. An ecosystem. But the iPhone shows that the coolness factor - that both the iPhone and Firefox share - is not enough for Firefox. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not saying a single second Firefox and Mozilla failed here. I'm only saying that a larger, a MUCH larger, community should be targeted. We all know that experienced XUL developers are rare on the market.

  • this is not about the complexity of our code or our technologies; Objective C is a bit strange when you come from more common or more cross-platform programming languages. There's a lot to learn before you can really build and run a real app on an iPhone. Like everywhere, displaying "hello world" is easy, but you don't want to monetize an "hello world" app do you ?-) Oh sure you could can always restrict yourself on the iPhone to a webapp, but if it looks and smells like a real app, it will never be a real app.

  • of course, these are different worlds. And normal people don't carry a laptop in a belt holster but normal people carry a mobile phone these days. But serving one million downloads every 22 hours, Firefox should have a much wider ecosystem.

  • as Matthew said, it's hard to monetize/sell an extension when you have to face free extensions ; but if most Firefox extension authors do NOT want to sell what they code, I think a lot of them would appreciate - and that's the weakest word I can think of - getting a little revenue from the time they dedicate to the community. And a lot of them would love to work full-time on Mozilla stuff. Here are 3 simple ideas around that:

    • allow extension authors on AMO to declare a PayPal account in their AMO account ; add a flag to their extensions' install.rdf if such a paypal account is declared
    • extend the Extensions Manager to show a "You like that extension ? Donate !" button if the flag is set ; if the user wants to donate, Firefox goes to AMO that shows the Donate button in its https pages.
    • if the paypal flag is set is in the install.rdf when an extension is updated by Firefox, show a "<name here> extension was just updated, please consider a donation!" message.
    • show a similar button on AMO on extension pages

    I am myself using 5 or 6 extensions on a daily basis and these extensions became essential to me. I would happily donate for the time, energy and brain cells the authors spent on these codes. Allowing extension authors to get revenue back from their hard work is a way to ensure they'll be able to maintain their code in the future, invest time in new extensions, be a cool model to other developers looking at the Mozilla ecosystem from the outside world.
    Last but not least, it does not change the model. Extensions are still free on AMO... Give only if you want.

    One important point I almost forget: you can't copy an iPhone app from a friend. But you can trivially copy and distribute a Firefox extension. That's great for free software, freedom of choice and tout ça, but that's not the best thing ever for business :-)

  • running a xulrunner app using firefox is possible but only a few apps use it because AMO does not serve such applications, because Firefox does not include a manager/downloader/launcher for those apps. In other terms, there's a potential large list of developers XUL does not attract because we don't have a marketplace for them and because Firefox is only a runtime for them and they need more than that. Let me summarize it that way : this is not enough widgets-oriented (a big mistake here is to consider widgets should be webapps only). Think JS-based games. I don't want to always download JS-Arkanoid from the Web, I want it to be resident on my laptop, I want it to have a native app look, I want to find it in a central repository like AMO, I want it to be updated by Firefox since Firefox is running it, and and and and. And I am willing to pay a bit to get it.

  • the GPS on the iPhone 3G made a big, big, big difference. Geode is the solution here. Firefox really must be distributed with a builtin geolocation provider.

I can almost hear the first comment ? But why does this have to happen on AMO ??? Matthew already replied to that one : "It's hard to compete with Free".

Sidenote: I'll give a talk about "Monetizing extensions" during Berlin's MAOW


1. On Saturday 7 March 2009, 09:32 by Mardeg

first comment!
But why does it...
Kidding! All I'll remember from this post is:
Glazman's addicted to Arkanoid :P

2. On Saturday 7 March 2009, 09:50 by Mossop

Allowing authors to add paypal donate buttons to their page on AMO has been talked about a few times before, and if it is not too obtrusive then I'm personally in favour of it I think.

I'm not so sure about the suggestions to put it into the client, seems a bit in your face for my tastes. I have seen people put off extensions that asked for donations before because they were confused and thought it meant the extension wasn't free.

I suspect we're going to have to do something in these sorts of areas to stop the community from stagnating, but I think it will be a challenge to find something that is the right balance for all.

3. On Saturday 7 March 2009, 10:42 by gabriel K.

I absolutly agree with a lot of what is written here. But let me add two things:
- you write extensions for firefox, not applications.
- (which leads to point 2) : i wish there were xul apps, just like Air apps, or flex apps... As you said 2 years ago, Mozilla missed something - with XulRunner - mozilla had something microsoft, adobe, google did not have - at this time...
- you should have a eye on the android. To me it is the Windows system - where IPhone is the Mac... It means mac is better, of course.
(All this post gave me an idea of developping something ... Will i have the time and courage?...)

4. On Saturday 7 March 2009, 11:12 by SébastienM

I've installed 100 applications and games on my iPod Touch. These are all free applications (except 1) ;)

Anyway, if the Firefox extensions are "monetized", you will break a rule, and introduce jealousy, frustration and complaints... (but maybe this is already what happens :D ).

5. On Sunday 8 March 2009, 05:24 by voracity

You are missing a rather crucial distinction. To end-users, Firefox is an application, while the iPhone is a platform.

I'd imagine most people see extensions either as "workarounds" or as catering to special needs and browser enthusiasts only. In fact, Firefox extensions behave like *extensions*, not applications. (They always need Firefox running, for instance.)

Apple goes out of its way to advertise the App Store as a shop for traditional software, rather than a shop for "mere extensions".

XULRunner is different but a) Mozilla has largely neglected it (arguably rightly given limited resources) and b) there is a tonne of competition from Java, .NET, Flash and the browser-web itself.

6. On Sunday 8 March 2009, 05:26 by voracity

Ooops, I also missed out on traditional .exe and .app files as competition for XULRunner, which are infinitely more convenient.

7. On Sunday 8 March 2009, 09:00 by Anonymous

I would gladly give money to the authors of Adblock Plus, Firebug, and It's All Text, given a means of doing so easily.

On a related note: I wish AMO would distinguish between extensions under a FOSS license and not, and either prohibit proprietary extensions on AMO or at least make it easy for a user to avoid unintentionally installing one.

8. On Sunday 8 March 2009, 23:38 by Chris Pearce

The only one to profit from donate buttons is PayPal. Seriously, unless the donate is *very* intrusive - which would annoy users, and likely negate its benefit to the author - so few people would donate that it's almost not worth it.

People may claim that they would donate, but unless they're constantly bugged, they'd never actually get around to it.

I have a Windows desktop app with a donate button on the web site, and on the app's help menu [ http://MovieRotator.com ]. Over the past year I've averaged about 40 downloads a day, and in that time I've had 12 donations of $5 USD. YMMV, but I doubt that anyone's going to make a decent living this way.

9. On Monday 9 March 2009, 01:17 by Jeferson

Mozilla could run ads in AMO and share the revenue with the author (see AdSense API).

10. On Monday 9 March 2009, 01:18 by Nils Maier

Monetizing Firefox extensions by a donate button doesn't work that well.
You'd need a huge user base for your extension to actually make a living. And, of course, you'd need to be a single developer.

I know this because I develop DownThemAll!, which has 26m downloads and about 2.5m "daily active users".
Our main window (the download manager) has a donate button on the right of the toolbar.
And even then we're very far away from actually making a living from that.
In my opinion there are only very few addons that add enough value and have enough users at the same time to be profitable enough.
Looking through the 50 or so addons I have listed I would only donate to Firebug and Adblock Plus.

There might be other ways to "monetize" addons, like cutting advertisement deals or integrating with some site for money.
However this won't be possible for most addons, and even if it is then you always pretty easily risk users uproar over "privacy issues" and the like.

But has it to be "making a living out of extensions" to attract more developers?
I think that even some small donations would motivate a lot. Those sure do motivate me.

See you at MAOW Berlin

11. On Monday 9 March 2009, 01:43 by Mike Kaply


Break what rule?

This is the problem. People think all software should be free. Do they expect software developers to be homeless?

12. On Monday 9 March 2009, 02:47 by Jason

The solution is obvious. All extension developers to charge for extensions, if they want to. Of course, charging does not have to be mandatory - I'm sure there are a ton of developers who would still offer their extensions for free. But if a developer wants to charge $3 for his or her work, why should we make it impossible to do it?

13. On Thursday 12 March 2009, 09:44 by Gilles

I don't know if it's a common practice and if it's efficient to collect funds, but one of my favourite extensions, download status bar, add a link to the following page on it's Add-ons management panel:
Isn't it more or less what you suggested?