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