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Mozilla wants to build web recommendation engine into Firefox

Gregg Keizer | July 11, 2016
'Content Graph' would sidestep search engines, reveal relevant sites with little or no user input

He did argue, however, that one of the three features introduced by the resurrected Test Pilot project was the start of Content Graph. That previewed feature, dubbed "Activity Stream," displays thumbnails of both frequently visited sites and selected past pages from Firefox's history and bookmark lists. Activity Stream "will evolve into also helping you discover places on the web you've never seen," Nguyen asserted.

But what was most interesting about Content Graph was largely left unsaid: That Mozilla believes that to remain competitive it must dip into predictive technologies.

The closest Nyugen came to addressing that directly was in an extended analogy that compared the web to a woody ecosystem, where he called the big players "tall trees" that blocked the sun from reaching the forest floor. "What concerns us is the long-term impact of a world where a small number of companies dominate the web for discovery and services, and the leverage that creates," he stated, bemoaning the difficulty, especially in financial terms, of becoming a Douglas fir.

"Scale has value," he contended.

The one thing Mozilla has at scale is Firefox, so it shouldn't be surprising that it plans to rely on the browser for the large amounts of data necessary to craft a competent graph. It does not have a search engine -- as do Google and Microsoft -- to mine as the foundation of a prediction engine.

In fact, Mozilla's Content Graph attempt can be seen as a way to make the search engine less important, perhaps ultimately unnecessary. If users don't need to input something -- say, a text string -- to search for a web destination, they won't need a search engine.

Ironically, Mozilla relies on search engines just as much as browser users do. The bulk of Mozilla revenue, which funds not only Firefox development but all the organization's other projects, comes from deals with search providers. In the event that Content Graph -- or the broad concept of predictive browsing -- comes to pass, how will Mozilla make money?

That's one question Nyugen didn't ask.

The Content Graph is the latest in a line of experiments and explorations that Mozilla has launched lately, even as it has discarded other projects. Engineers are working on an enhanced browser engine, for instance, and Mozilla has a cloistered a team now crafting a radically different browser user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). Mozilla also has dumped once-touted initiatives such as in-browser advertisements, and it has dropped out of the smartphone operating system market.


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