Michael Verdi

Get Firefox

When I joined Mozilla I initially worked on the support team. There I was surprised to find so many people with very broken installs of Firefox. Nobody really understood how people ended up in this situation—they just tried to help them fix it. I wondered how we might prevent people from ever reaching this point so I began researching the problem.

I observed dozens of people trying to download and install Firefox on their computer and what I found was distressing but at least we now had a place to start.

A user journey map oulining the install flow for people who try to download Firefox from fake download sites.

A journey map of bad first Firefox experience.

The Challenge

Create a way to ensure anyone can install Firefox and have a great first experience.

My Roll

Search Engine Marketing

Firefox 1.0 was famously launched with a full spread ad in the New York Times paid for by volunteers and supporters. The ad urged people to download from getfirefox.com. For years, Mozilla continued to rely on those early adopters to spread the word and put Firefox on the computers of their friends and family.

A two-page newspaper ad. On one side the Firefox logo is made up from hundreds of names of volunteers. On the other side, Firefox 1.0 is introduced and people are urged to download it from getfirefox.com.

December 16, 2004 edition of the New York Times.

As Firefox got more popular and downloading software became easier, more and more people installed Firefox for themselves. The major problem that my research uncovered was that this experience was never designed and no single team owned it.

One result was that our reliance on word-of-mouth advertising left people vulnerable to search keyword poachers. Third parties placed ads on the “firefox” and “mozilla” search results. This was the major source of the broken installs seen by the support team. The solution was to ramp up our own search engine marketing program to displace others.

Google search results for download firefox showing 2 ads that are from other compaines. The correct result is the fourth one on the page.

Third party ads.

Getting Organized

In the first minute, someone trying to install Firefox will touch things made by marketing, six different Firefox teams, support, and legal. Each of these teams has their own goals and cadences. Watching people experience that first minute over and over again, it was clear that we’d shipped our org chart. So I invited members of all those teams to talk through how we re-organize around the user. Eventually we put together a cross-organizational team that continues to own this part of the user journey to this day.

Experiments and New Experiences

Over the years we’ve experimented and iterated on the new user and updating user experience many times. We’ve adding contextual, continuous onboarding to help people get the most out of Firefox. Here’s a video of me walking through a version that we built and shipped in 2017.

A walkthrough of the 2017 install flow.

The new experience shown in the video was a clickable prototype that I used to test parts of the experience before building it. One part shown in the video—automatically importing your data—was something we eventually decided not to ship. People found it really helpful and we made the process really performant. The issue was that no matter how we introduced the feature there was a small group of people who found it both helpful and creepy. This was a surprising finding and ultimately we didn’t want to be associated with anything creepy. It was a huge learning experience.