Should AMO allow adverts for pay-for add-ons?

Assuming you agree that paying for some add-ons is ok then you have to ask what we do about people using AMO as a marketing platform. This is a tough question since we risk devaluing AMO as a website if it just gets filled up with adverts. I don’t believe that there is an official policy on this. It is such a rare issue right now that maybe one isn’t necessary, but here are are my thoughts on what such a policy might say.

In order to even advertise a pay for add-on the developer must have uploaded a real add-on. If this add-on is just junk, i.e. doesn’t really do anything and is just a means for getting a page onto AMO, then it should be removed. I have seen add-ons like that (that weren’t advertising anything) getting removed as a matter of course anyway so I think this is already working.

The next question is whether the add-on is a basic version of the premium add-on. If so then I think it is totally fair that the developer can include text in the page to note that a pay for version is available elsewhere. I’m less enamoured with the idea of including screenshots of the pay-for version on AMO. I think regardless of how well labelled they are there is a strong risk of confusing the user there.

Trial versions of add-ons pose a question. Should AMO be allowing add-ons on the site that will intentionally stop working after a period of time, or that list features in menus that only pop up a message about needing to pay to activate? I don’t think so. I believe a user should be safe to download add-ons from AMO that are whole products and they can count on to continue to work.

If an add-on on AMO is unrelated to a premium version by the same author then more care has to be taken with advertising different add-ons on the same page. I don’t see a problem with a short note at the bottom mentioning that other add-ons from the author are also available elsewhere, but I don’t think mentioning what the other add-ons are or what they do is a good idea.

Overall I think short notes are the way forward, anything where the add-on is more of an advert than an add-on in its own right is something that needs to be carefully looked at.

Update: A couple of commenters have raised the question of whether AMO should just include pay for add-ons in its listing, something that I completely failed to consider. I’m not sure which side I am on on that yet. I think if handled correctly it could work, but maybe I’ll think on it and do a follow up post on the subject.

11 thoughts on “Should AMO allow adverts for pay-for add-ons?

  1. The actual example of this I’m guessing is still being looked into. The only reason we know about it instead of just losing a Firefox user is because the person that recommended Firefox to them followed up when they encountered this situation, alerting us to it.
    To read a note the author puts about where to get the “premium version” on the AMO install page of the as-good-as-useless version (did it really have screenshots of the premium version?), to pay for that premium version based on the trustworthiness of information on a page hosted by Mozilla, then to find out afterwards every update expects another payment and (reportedly, allegedly, whatever – it’s how they saw it) experience the prevention of Firefox running until it’s paid… it makes me feel Mozilla was an accomplice to extortion.

  2. I see a pattern in this posts. You want to transform the add-ons web site into a Market.

    In the past the add-ons web site was a sort of Wild West Market. It was full of “ToolBar” add-ons. It took a lot of months and a lot of people protesting to make you remove them. At the time the add-ons web site was almost useless to the average user.

    If what you want is to bring back that general state of affairs and transform it into a Market just do it upfront instead of bringing up “emotional blackmail” about programmers that need/deserve to be paid.

    It makes it sound that people are using pirated/illegal/warez versions of the add-ons. Or robbing the developers in any way.

    Anyway, there is already paid/light/lite/crippleware add-ons represented at the site. Make it the default policy and be done with it!

  3. I wouldn’t have a problem with pay for add-ons being hosted on AMO provided they didn’t show up in search results by default, and if the user does an advanced search to include them, they should be treated like experimental add-ons and given lower priority.

    I think it’s useful to users to have them hosted on AMO because then (if they provide a service for which there are also free add-ons) they can be compared to other add-ons on using the same reviewing system and download & usage statistics. But they should always be labeled as pay for (by AMO).

    I’d also like to see a feature in AMO that would allow an author to state how their add-on compares to another add-on (either their own or someone else’s). This would be useful in the case where an author has a basic and a paid-for add-on, but even more so when add-ons have been forked or provide similar functionality.

  4. While it would be lovely if everything was free (as in gratis) and open source, it isn’t, and it seems to me it would be better for AMO to make people aware of the other stuff that is out there. In general, your thoughts on what a policy might be sound reasonable to me.

    I think trial versions, in general, suck. It seems to me that it would actually be better not to force people to make crappy trial versions available if what they really want is a listing on AMO. Either set some strict criteria to ensure that trial versions are actually useful (including that they don’t stop working after X days, don’t have 90% of the functionality disabled, and don’t pop up and ask for money in an obstructive way), or keep them off AMO altogether.

    On the other hand, I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with allowing paid-for addons on AMO, as long as it is clear what they are. You could include them on search result pages, or even on main pages, as long as a) they are relevant to what the user is looking for and b) it is really obvious that they are things that cost money. Maybe even charge authors for having those listings, and give the proceeds to the Mozilla Foundation or something worthy?

    Basically, I think if paid-for addons or adverts for them, are going to be allowed, it would be better to go the whole hog – charge authors money for the advertising, and make it really clear to users that what they are seeing is an advert. Adverts that are relevant, clear and discrete may actually be useful to people. Short of that, I think it would be better to take a hard line on not having paid-for stuff – just notes, as you suggest, and no trial-ware addons unless they are long-term useful without having to pay or put up with aggressive advertising within the addon.

  5. No problem with pay-for addons, but keep shareware/trial crap away from AMO.

    side note : Licenses are a big mess in firefox addons ecosystem, some recommended addons have really terrible CLUF (well, I am CLUF hostile :)), some mozdev hosted addons (should be FOSS right?) have no license information at all so are non-free in practice. Sage-too (recommended addons, fork of the MPL/GPL/LGPL sage) adds non free code, I had to look at all source files to figure out if this addons is fully forkable. Mozilla should really push devs to clarify the license status of AMO hosted addons.

    I have no problem with non-free (as in beer and as in speech) software, but I think AMO should help users to make informed choice.

    (sorry for my poor english)

  6. I agree with you, Dave. All add-ons must work. Short notes are OK (like e.g. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/addon/640).

    However, I don’t think AMO should be an add-on marketplace. The availability of Add-ons are one of the primary strengths of Firefox. Microsoft has just that and I think the dollar signs discourage people from using their Add-ons site. IMO, AMO shouldn’t do the same.

    I would instead like to see donate buttons on AMO, like those Sourceforge has. That way you cold donate a couple of bucks to add-on developers that would like to receive donations. I think that is more in the “spirit of Mozilla”/FOSS.

  7. I was under the impression that free add-ons go through rigorous screening for a (non-experimental) placement on AMO. Would closed-source, paid-for add-ons go through the same rigorous screening?

  8. I think it’s a very bad idea that could do us far more harm than good.

  9. someday, tell me about it. That was a hard fight and there are some people still thinking they were treated unfairly. I think AMO shouldn’t become a marketplace. Just release another project/site for that if you’re so desperate to allow it. But IMO as Firefox 3 isn’t a paid product, Themes and Extensions being done for it shouldn’t be paid as well. Developers can freely decide to work for free or don’t.

    If you want to get paid just post it at your site. People will find it eventually, but I agree that AMO would be a wonderful marketing helper. Tell Conduit about it. ;)

  10. You need to even ask if advertisements should be allowed? The answer is no.
    See how simple that was?

    If extension devs want to sell their extensions or themes then make a totally separate section in AMO that deals with “For Sale” extensions or themes. If a freeware dev also sell more specialized extensions then like you mentioned add a link from the freeware area to the paid for area.

    Is MoFo hurting financially that they would even consider advertisements?
    I doubt it but money has a strange way of turning normal folk into greedy folk.

  11. You say no, then you go on to say that there should be a separate section for such adverts. Confusing.
    I think maybe you have misunderstood the post. I never once suggested that Mozilla should take any revenue from add-on developers for listings on addons.mozilla.org (though I am not particularly against that either provided that this does not affect where the add-on is listed). My use of the term “advert” is purely to describe some content that informs a user about an add-on. There does not need to be money changing hands for an advert to appear.

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