Mozilla Outlines Cure For Button Plague - InformationWeek

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11/11/2010
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Mozilla Outlines Cure For Button Plague

The proliferation of content-sharing buttons on Web pages has prompted Mozilla to look for a way to reduce the clutter.

Content sharing buttons are everywhere. InformationWeek offers a dozen through a drop-down AddThis menu. CNET has ten through its own drop-down menu. Google News provides five in a disclosure arrow menu. And often, these buttons aren't concealed, so they take up Web page real estate.

As Mozilla sees it, the problem is that publishers want their content to be shared but don't know which services to use.

"There’s no good way for the publishers to know [which sharing services users want]," laments Mozilla user experience designer Byran Clark in a blog post, "so they either pick a few, or pick a lot (leading to pages that are covered in bright little buttons), leading to Web pages that are cluttered, ugly, but also not very usable."

And it's not just the poor usability of button-covered Web pages that troubles Clark. He also sees problems with the sharing process itself, which differs from site to site and from service to service.

Mozilla's answer is an add-on called F1, which adds a unified sharing button to the user's Firefox toolbar. Once configured with login information for supported services -- Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail at the moment -- the user can easily share through those services using the F1 button.

The extension comes with a sharing API that can be used to make sharing available to any Web site.

Mozilla's proposal highlights a gap in the social ecosystem, specifically the lack of standardization and cooperation. Social functionality has progressed so rapidly that there's inadequate industry consensus about the protocols to use and the way sharing should be managed.

Despite earnest attempts to address the issue, as activitystrea.ms has tried to do with activity streams, there are still competitive battles between the likes of Google and Facebook that make social data transfer less than seamless.

Mozilla's effort to make sharing better may be well -intentioned, but a number of people posting comments about F1 have identified potential problems. First is that the F1 add-on works only with Firefox at the moment. As one commenter observed, "[T]his will only be used by the Flock demographic."

Second is that Mozilla wants to involve itself in the sharing process: F1 works with a Web service, one that entails the unnecessary surrender of data.

As someone commenting under the name Brigitte Jellinek put it: "I really think Firefox should help people to keep as much of their information on their own computer and under their own control [as possible], and not push them into the cloud when it's not necessary."

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