2019 Add-ons Community Meetup in London

Firefox

At the end of October, the Firefox add-ons team hosted a day-long meetup with a group of privacy extension developers as part of the Mozilla Festival in London, UK. With 2019 drawing to a close, this meetup provided an excellent opportunity to hear feedback from developers involved in the Recommended Extensions program and to get input about some of our plans for 2020.

Recommended Extensions

Earlier this summer we launched the Recommended Extensions program to provide Firefox users with a list of curated extensions that meet the highest standards of security, utility, and user experience. Participating developers agree to actively maintain their extensions and to have each new version undergo a code review. We invited a handful of Recommended developers to attend the meetup and gather their feedback about the program so far. We also discussed more general issues around publishing content on addons.mozilla.org (AMO), such as ways of addressing user concerns over permission prompts.

Scott DeVaney, Senior Editorial & Campaign Manager for AMO, led a session on ways developers can improve a few key experiential components of their extensions. These tips may be helpful to the developer community at large:

  • AMO listing page. Use clear, descriptive language to convey exactly what your extension does and how it benefits users. Try to avoid overly technical jargon that average users might not understand. Also, screenshots are critical. Be sure to always include updated, relevant screenshots that really capture your extension’s experience.
  • Extension startup/post-install experience. First impressions are really important. Developers are encouraged to take great care in how they introduce new users to their extension experience. Is it clear how users are supposed to engage with the content? Or are they left to figure out a bunch of things on their own with little or no guidance? Conversely, is the guidance too cumbersome (i.e. way too much text for a user to comfortably process?)
  • User interface. If your extension involves customization options or otherwise requires active user engagement, be sure your settings management is intuitive and all UI controls are obvious.

Monetization. It is of course entirely fine for developers to solicit donations for their work or possibly even charge for a paid service. However, monetary solicitation should be tastefully appropriate. For instance, some extensions solicit donations just after installation, which makes little sense given the extension hasn’t proven any value to the user yet. We encourage developers to think through their user experience to find the most compelling moments to ask for donations or attempt to convert users to a paid tier.

WebExtensions API and Manifest v3

One of our goals for this meetup was to learn more about how Firefox extension developers will be affected by Chrome’s proposed changes to their extensions API (commonly referred to as Manifest v3).  As mentioned in our FAQ about Manifest v3, Mozilla plans to adopt some of these changes to maintain compatibility for developers and users, but will diverge from Chrome where it makes sense.

Much of the discussion centered around the impact of changes to the `blocking webRequest` API and replacing background scripts with service workers. Attendees outlined scenarios where changes in those areas will cause breakage to their extensions, and the group spent some time exploring possible alternative approaches for Firefox to take. Overall, attendees agreed that Chrome’s proposed changes to host permission requests could give users more say over when extensions can run. We also discussed ideas on how the WebExtensions API could be improved in light of the goals Manifest v3 is pursuing.

More information about changes to the WebExtensions API for Manifest v3 compatibility will be available in early 2020. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this conversation over the last few months on our forums, mailing list, and blogs!

Firefox for Android

We recently announced that Firefox Preview, Mozilla’s next generation browser for Android built on GeckoView, will support extensions through the WebExtensions API. Members of the Android engineering team will build select APIs needed to initially support a small set of Recommended Extensions.

The group discussed a wishlist of features for extensions on Android, including support for page actions and browser actions, history search, and the ability to manipulate context menus. These suggestions will be considered as work on Firefox Preview moves forward.

Thank you

Many thanks to the developers who joined us for the meetup. It was truly a pleasure to meet you in person and to hear first hand about your experiences.

The add-ons team would also like to thank Mandy Chan for making us feel at home in Mozilla’s London office and all of her wonderful support during the meetup.

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Add-ons at the San Francisco All Hands Meeting

Firefox

Last week, more than 1,200 Mozillians from around the globe converged on San Francisco, California, for Mozilla’s biannual All Hands meeting to celebrate recent successes, learn more about products from around the company, and collaborate on projects currently in flight.

For the add-ons team, this meant discussing tooling improvements for extension developers, reviewing upcoming changes to addons.mozilla.org (AMO), sharing what’s in store for the WebExtensions API, and checking in on initiatives that help users discover extensions. Here are some highlights:

Developer Tools

During a recent survey, participating extension developers noted two stand-out tools for development: web-ext, a command line tool that can run, lint, package, and sign an extension; and about:debugging, a page where developers can temporarily install their extensions for manual testing. There are improvements coming to both of these tools in the coming months.

In the immediate future, we want to add a feature to web-ext that would let developers submit their extensions to AMO. Our ability to add this feature is currently blocked by how AMO handles extension metadata. Once that issue is resolved, you can expect to see web-ext support a submit command. We also discussed implementing a create command that would generate a standard extension template for developers to start from.

Developers can currently test their extensions manually by installing them through about:debugging. Unfortunately, these installations do not persist once the browser is closed or restarted. Making these installations persistent is on our radar, and now that we are back from the All Hands, we will be looking at developing a plan and finding resources for implementation.

Addons.mozilla.org (AMO)

During the next three months, the AMO engineering team will prioritize work around improving user rating and review flows, improving the code review tools for add-on reviewers, and converting dictionaries to WebExtensions.

Engineers will also tackle a project to ensure that users who download Firefox because they want to install a particular extension or theme from AMO are able to successfully complete the installation process. Currently, users who download Firefox from a listing on AMO are not returned to AMO when they start Firefox for the first time, making it hard for them to finish installing the extension they want. By closing this loop, we expect to see an increase in extension and/or theme installations.

WebExtensions APIs

Several new and enhanced APIs have landed in Firefox since January, and more are on their way. In the next six months, we anticipate landing WebExtensions APIs for clipboard support, bookmarks and session management (including bookmark tags and further expansions of the theming API).

Additionally, we’ll be working towards supporting visual overlays (like notification bars, floating panels, popups, and toolbars) by the end of the year.

Help Users Find Great Extensions Faster

This year, we are focusing on helping Firefox users find and discover great extensions quickly. We have made a few bets on how we can better meet user needs by recommending specific add-ons. In San Francisco, we checked in on the status of projects currently underway:

Recommending extensions to users on AMO

In May, we started testing recommendations on listing pages for extensions commonly co-installed by other users.

A screenshot of the recommender feature on AMO.

Results so far have shown that people are discovering and installing more relevant extensions from these recommendations than the control group, who only sees generally popular extensions. We will continue to make refinements and fully graduate it into AMO in the second half of the year.

(For our privacy-minded friends: you can learn more about how Firefox uses data to improve its products by reading the Firefox Privacy Notice.)

Adding extensions to the onboarding tour for new Firefox users.

We want to make users aware of the benefits of customizing their browser soon after installing Firefox. We’re currently testing a few prototypes of a new onboarding flow.

And more!

We have more projects to improve extension discovery and user satisfaction on our Trello.

Join Us

Are you interested in contributing to the add-ons ecosystem? Check out our wiki to see a list of current contribution opportunities.

 

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Friend of Add-ons: Santosh Viswanatham

Firefox

Our newest Friend of Add-ons is Santosh Viswanatham! Santosh attended a regional event hosted by Mozilla Rep Srikar Ananthula in 2012 and has been an active leader in the community ever since.  Having previously served as a Firefox Student Ambassador and Regional Ambassador Lead, he is currently a Tech Speaker and a member of the Mozilla Campus Clubs Advisory Committee, where he is helping develop an activity for building extensions for Firefox.

Santosh has brought his considerable enthusiasm for open source software to the add-ons community. Earlier this year, he served a six-month term as a member of the Featured Add-ons Advisory Board, where he helped nominate and select extensions to be featured on addons.mozilla.org each month. Additionally, Santosh hosted a hackathon in Hyderabad, India, where 100 developers spent the night creating more than 20 extensions.

When asked to describe his experience contributing to Mozilla, Santosh says:

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to work with like-minded incredible people. Contributing to Mozilla gave me an opportunity to explore myself and stretched my limits working around super cool technologies. I learned tons of things about technology and communities, improved my skill set, received global exposure, and made friends for a lifetime by contributing to Mozilla.”

In his free time, Santosh enjoys dining out at roadside eateries, spending time with friends, and watching TV shows and movies.

Congratulations, Santosh, and thank you for all of contributions!

Are you a contributor to the add-ons community or know of someone who should be recognized? Please be sure to add them to our Recognition Wiki!

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Add-ons at Mozilla All Hands San Francisco

Firefox add-on staff and contributors gathered at Mozilla’s recent All Hands meeting in San Francisco to spend time as a group focusing on our biggest priority this year: the Firefox 57 release in November.

During the course of the week, Mozillians could be found huddled together in various conference spaces discussing blocker issues, making plans, and hacking on code. Here’s a  recap of the week and a glance at what we have in store for the second half of 2017.

Add-on Engineering

Add-on engineers Luca Greco and Kumar McMillan take a break to model new add-on jackets.

For most of the engineering team, the week was a chance to catch up on the backlog of bugs. (The full list of bugs closed during the week can be found here.)

We also had good conversations about altering HTTP Response in the webRequest API, performance problems with the blocklist on Firefox startup, and sketching out a roadmap for web-ext, the command line tool for extension development. We also had a chance to make progress on the browser.proxy API.

Improving addons.mozilla.org (AMO)

Having recently completed the redesign of AMO for Android, we’ve now turned our attention to refreshing the desktop version. Goals for the next few months include modernizing the homepage and making it easier to find great add-ons. Here’s a preview of the new look:

 

Another area of focus was migrating to Django 1.11. Most of the work on the Django upgrade involved replacing and removing incompatible libraries and customizations, and a lot of progress was made during the week.

Add-on Reviews

Former intern Elvina Valieva helped make improvements to the web-ext command line tool, in addition to doing some impressive marine-themed photoshopping.

Review queue wait times have dramatically improved in the past few weeks, and we’re on track to deliver even more improvements in the next few months. During our week together, we also discussed ideas for improving the volunteer reviewer program and evolving it to stay relevant to the new WebExtensions model. We’ll be reaching out to the review team for feedback in the coming weeks.

Get Involved

Interested in contributing to the add-ons community? Check out our wiki to see a list of current opportunities.

 

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“Build Your Own WebExtension Add-on” Campaigns Around the World

We recently partnered with the Mozilla Open Innovation team to launch an activity that would introduce developers to WebExtensions and guide them through the experience of creating new add-ons with the APIs. The “Build Your Own WebExtension Add-on For Firefox” activity launched in February as part of Mozilla’s Activate campaign to mobilize Mozillians around the world to have impact in key areas of the organization’s mission. This activity will run until the end of 2017.

Mozilla communities in Tamilnadu, Switzerland, and Brazil answered the call-to-action and recently hosted events using the Activate curriculum. To date, 54 people have attended these events, and participants have submitted seven new add-ons to addons.mozilla.org. (If you are curious to see what they have built, take a look at this this collection on AMO.)

If you’re interested in hosting an event, read on to find out how our communities have organized their events, and what they would recommend for best practices!

Tamilnadu

Viswaprasanth Ks has been a passionate member of the add-ons community since he started contributing to Mozilla in 2012. He recently led an add-ons track at the Tamilnadu community’s 24 Hour Hackathon, where 25 participants brainstormed and created their own extensions to solve real-world problems.

What we learned

Encourage participants to learn JavaScript and have them start learning extension development from the mdn-web extension repo, recommends Viswaprasanth. Those with less familiarity with HTML and JavaScript might need additional support to complete the activity. Plus, the examples listed in the mdn-web extension repo have been carefully evaluated as being good starting places for beginning developers.

Picture of participants at 24 Hour Hackathon

Photo by Viswaprasanth Ks

Switzerland

Michael Kohler slated this activity for one of Mozilla Switzerland’s monthly meet-ups and tapped long-time add-ons contributor Martin Giger to mentor a group of 10 participants. Attendees found the workshop to be a relaxing introduction to extension development and left the event feeling empowered and confident in their abilities to create add-ons using WebExtensions APIs.

What we learned

Anticipate that it will take 90 minutes to complete Part I of the curriculum. “We used around 90 minutes to get to a working first example, including the intro,” Michael reports. If you are only able to complete Part I during an event, consider scheduling a follow-up event where participants can continue creating extensions in a fun, supportive atmosphere.

Martin Giger speaks at Mozilla Switzerland meet up

Photo by Michael Kohler

Brazil

What can 22 Brazilians and 30 liters of beer accomplish in one day? Quite a bit, according to Andre Garzia’s blog post about his recent event. After a discussion about extension development and a group brainstorming session, participants organized themselves into small groups and worked on ten add-ons.

What we learned

Provide some starter ideas to those who want to go beyond the initial tutorial and build their own original add-on. Andre writes in his post, “We knew from the start that telling people to come out with add-on ideas out of the blue would not be an effective way to engage everybody. People have different ways to come up with ideas and some don’t enjoy coming up with an idea on the spot like this. To help people out, we made a clothesline where we hung add-on ideas up. Each idea had a description, suggested APIs to use and a difficulty/complexity rate. Attendees were encouraged to browse our hanging ideas and take one to implement if they felt like it.”

Note: if you need help developing a list of starter ideas, take a look at this list of requests from users on Discourse.

Printed ideas for add-ons on a clothesline

Photo by Andre Garzia

Have you conducted an add-ons development workshop for your community or are you interested in hosting one? Tell us about it on Discourse!

The add-ons team would like to extend a hearty thank you to Viswaprasanth Ks and Daniele Scasciafratte for providing input and tutorials for the “Build Your Own WebExtension Add-on” activity, and to Michael Kohler, Viswaprasanth Ks, and Andrew Garzia for coordinating these events.

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Friend of Add-ons: Prasanth

Firefox

Please meet our newest Friend of Add-ons, Prasanth! Prasanth became a Mozillian in 2015 when he joined the Mozilla TamilNadu community and became a Firefox Student Ambassador. Over the last two years, he has contributed to a variety of projects at Mozilla with great enthusiasm. Last year, he organized a group of eleven participants to test featured add-ons for e10s compatibility.

In January, Prasanth became a member of the Add-ons Advisory Board, and has emerged as someone very adept at finding great add-ons to feature. “Prasanth has shown a true talent for identifying great add-ons,” comments Scott DeVaney, Editorial & Campaign Manager for the add-ons team.

In addition to organizing community events and contributing to the Advisory Board, Prasanth is also learning how to write scripts for testing automation and helping contributors participate in QA bugdays.

Of his experience as a contributor at Mozilla, Prasanth says,

“Contributing in an open source community like Mozilla gave me the opportunity to know many great contributors and get their help in developing my skills. It showed me a way to rediscover myself as a person who loves open source philosophy and practices.”

In his spare time, Prasanth enjoys hanging out with friends and watching serials like The Flash and Green Arrow.

Congratulations, Prasanth, and thank you for your contributions to the add-ons community!

Are you a contributor to the add-ons community or know of someone who should be recognized? Please be sure to add them to our Recognition Wiki!

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