6 Sep 2004
Before you fly off the handle and flame the article in the comments, try actually reading it. I don’t once say that you shouldn’t use Firefox, that other people shouldn’t use Firefox, or that IE is better. This is a critique of the Firefox marketing strategy, nothing more.
Firefox has a grassroots marketing campaign underway where they’re trying to get bloggers to add a Firefox button to their blogs. Asa Dotzler recently sent me an email asking me to participate.
We noticed and appreciate your repeated recommendations for Firefox at your weblog and we were hoping that you would further help get the word out by adding a small Firefox button to your blog. The image is hosted at mozilla.org and the code to add it is some very simple HTML. We depend on word of mouth (or of blog) and we appreciate your helping to spread the word with positive blog posts. If you’re interested in helping with this effort, you can find the buttons at http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/buttons.html.
Actually, I don’t think I ever have recommended Firefox. I use it and do talk about it on occasion, but I think the browser has some way to go before I’d recommend it to the general population. Something as simple as upgrading from one version to another needs to be seamless and not break things before I’d suggest that everyone use Firefox. I understand why at this stage of Firefox development upgrades sometimes need to break things, but it’s still not okay to the average user.
Aggressively marketing Firefox before it is a completely stable product is dangerous. You’re running the risk of having people trying it out and being put off by the bugs, never again to return.
Other problems with the browser include…
Firefox right now is very good for an experienced net user, but is not at all ready for the average person. If you plan on targeting the general public, you need to understand the general public.
Most Web users don’t know what a browser is. That blue E they click on the desktop isn’t a browser, it’s “The Internet.” Or maybe it’s “Yahoo” if that’s what their home page is set to. Tell them to download a new browser and they don’t understand what you mean. I put Firefox on my wife’s computer and removed the IE link. She asked why she didn’t have My Yahoo on the computer anymore. My wife’s not stupid — to her the IE logo is how she got to the Web. Without that, she didn’t know how to get to My Yahoo.
You’d be shocked how many people don’t understand what a URL is and what the address bar is for. When they need to go to a site, they close the browser, re-open it so they get the MSN or Yahoo home page, and enter the URL into the search box. How about integrating the address bar and the search field? If what I entered isn’t a URL, pass it to Google.
It’s time to stop thinking like developers and start thinking like users. For evidence that the Firefox team thinks like developers you don’t need to go any farther than the Firefox home page. Let’s look over that page and put ourselves into the user’s shoes…
Firefox 0.9 is the award winning preview of Mozilla’s next generation browser.
What’s a preview? Does that mean I can’t use it. Is it like a demonstration or something? And what’s a next-generation browser? I thought this thing was supposed to help me use the Internet.
View more than one web page in a single window
You have to be a serious power user to appreciate that feature. Many people only have a single window open all the time anyway. If they need another window, they close the first one.
Firefox keeps your computer safe from malicious spyware by not loading harmful ActiveX controls.
What’s an activeX control? What’s spyware? All I want is to stop getting all those stupid programs I didn’t ask for.
Firefox is the most customizable browser on the planet.
There’s that browser word again. What is it? And why would I customize it? Does that mean that this won’t work when I get it? I’m going to have to work on it to get it working?
Use the adaptive search system to allow you to search an infinite number of engines.
Why are they talking about engines here? I thought this was something for my internet, not my car.
The new Easy Transition system imports all of your settings - Favorites, passwords and other data from Internet Explorer and other browsers.
I don’t know what that means. Maybe if I get this thing, the way I use the Internet is going to change. All I want is a way to use the Internet without getting all that junk. I don’t want to have to change my passwords and stuff to do that.
Uh-oh, now I know why I didn’t understand all that stuff. This thing’s something that programmers use.
Update Sept 8, 2004, 9:40am
Let’s clear some things up. I am a user of Firefox and have been since Phoenix 0.2. I switched to it as a primary browser sometime during the 7 days in October where 0.3 was the stable version. For a period of time (around 0.7) I was using the nightly binaries. My list of installed extensions includes one I wrote myself. I never got around to compiling the source myself (although I did with Mozilla 0.8), so I suppose I can’t claim alpha-geek status.
The point of this article isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use Firefox. It isn’t to say that other people shouldn’t use Firefox. The point isn’t even that you shouldn’t try to get your friends to use Firefox. The point is simply that the Mozilla Foundation shouldn’t be aggressively marketing a product before it is ready. By doing so there is a significant risk that people will try it and end up with a negative impression. It is much more difficult to change a bad impression than it is to change no impression at all.
Perhaps I should have entitled this article “Why I Won’t recommend Firefox.” Because the real point is that I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote this to every random person who comes across my blog. And a lot of random people come across this blog.
My observations about the relative ability of the average user aren’t just made up. They’re based on hundreds of hours of observing users while they use the internet and thousands more hours of studying user behavior and UI and software management best practices. It’s what I do for a living and have for the last ten years.
In the software requirements field there’s a problem called transference — transferring your understanding and world view onto that of the users. When you are dealing with understanding the requirements of a user, need to be very careful not to make assumptions about them. The easiest and most common assumption is that the user is in some ways similar to you or to other people you know. That’s because it’s a lot easier to identify with people with whom you have something in common. That transference of knowledge is what many of the commenters below are doing. Because of their advanced level of knowledge and the level of their friends and colleagues it is difficult for them understand and believe that there is such an enormous gap between them and the average user.
It’s not that these users are stupid. They just don’t realize that they have an alternative to Internet Explorer. Many don’t know that they have an alternative when it comes to connecting to the Internet. That blue E is the thing that they’ve always used. In order to switch they’re going to need to have a compelling reason. They’re going to need to be told not that they need a new browser or they should stop using IE, but that the way they currently use the internet is unsafe and that Firefox will solve that for them.
But before that happens, Firefox needs to be bulletproof enough that my 64 year old father in law can install it and manage it himself. He managed to install Weatherbug, Hotshots, Hotbar, and a host of other adware, so understanding how to install software isn’t the problem. The problem is that Firefox as it currently exists and is marketed isn’t as compelling as those applications. Each of the aforementioned tools provides some very real perceived benefit to the average consumer.
And Firefox will likely very soon be ready for these types of users. It gets better with each nightly. But why promote the 0.9 release and risk turning those users off with an unfinished product?
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