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reddit Stands with Charlie Hebdo

We’ve changed our alien Snoo logo today to show solidarity with those who support freedom of speech and condemn violence.

alien snoo logo holding je suis charlie sign from

Bigger version:

Five Things I’ve Learned About redditors (so far)

This is my reddit avatar. All employees get one
About a month ago, I took a gig to design the user experience of reddit. It’s a pretty exciting challenge!  My first projects have been mostly on mobile, and they’ve been a blast.  Check out our recently released AMA app on iTunes and Android and recently acquired Alien Blue iOS app.

The first step towards better user experience is better understanding of the users, so the quest begins with understanding redditors. And, there’s a lot of them: 6% of all online adults! ((Pew Research: 6% of Online Adults are reddit Users)) Understanding so many people requires attacking the problem at multiple angles.

One of the most direct ways to learn about a large user population is through surveys. The benefit of surveys is that they can be deployed broadly and analyzed statistically.  The main drawback is that they skew results towards the users who choose to complete them.

A few weeks ago, I released a test survey the subreddit ((subreddit: a sub-communities within reddit focused on a specific topic)) called /r/samplesize, which is dedicated to posting and taking surveys for other redditors.  I received 226 responses. Bearing in mind the enormous grain of salt that these results are comprised entirely of self-selecting users, here’s what I learned:

1. Twice as many men responded to the survey than women.

While I don’t know how representative this ratio is of reddit as a whole, this is already far more gender-balanced than previous self-selected surveys from three years ago. ((Who in the World is reddit? Results are in…)) ((I made a basic Reddit Demographic Survey. Let’s find out who we are…))

2. Most active users have been redditors for 1-3 years.

This isn’t too surprising considering the survey was given to a subreddit that only longer-term users would be aware of. However, given the site’s high bounce rate, it’s likely that reddit could improve at welcoming and retaining newer users.  After all, if reddit can’t create core users at a rate at or above dropout (churn) rate, its population will gradually decline.

3. Reading favorite subreddits is redditors’ most valued activity.

I asked users to rank their activities on reddit from not very important to extremely important: here are the responses only for extremely important.  As you can see, reading favorite subreddits was by far most commonly marked as extremely important.  User’s front pages was the second most marked as extremely important, which isn’t surprising since 99.2% of survey respondents have accounts which they use to modify their front page.

4. Users primarily want reddit to entertain them. Their secondary expectation is for community.

Here, I asked “what do you expect of reddit?” with a freeform response.  The tallies are per response rather than per user, such that if a user said she expected “community and humor,” I’d give one tally to community and another to humor.

Wanting reddit to be entertaining isn’t surprising: it’s the front page of the internet, after all.  What’s particularly interesting is how often community and communication were cited as expectations.  Discussion, particularly through comments, was the second most frequently cited expectation.  What’s reflected in “free speech,” “openness,” and “local content” were mainly variations on the idea that reddit content is different primarily because of its community.  Of these, about half of the responses mentioned the value of varied perspective – that reddit provided content and stories that users might otherwise not have found (or answers to questions they were afraid to ask).

5. What frustrates redditors most are other redditors.

For this freeform question, I simply asked redditors what frustrates them about reddit. The majority of responses could be summarized by concern that reddit is or is becoming dominated by negative viewpoints. Most common were concerns that homophobia, racism, and/or misogyny were unduly influencing the community. Second most common were concerns that reddit culture was becoming homogenized. Words such as “hivemind,” “groupthink,” and “in-jokes” appeared frequently. The most common frustration not related to the community was that the site itself was ugly and/or poorly designed.

It’s fascinating to get some insight into how these longterm users think about reddit and its future.  The challenge from here will be to learn more about the people who may not self-select to take a survey: newer users, non-users, and the population of reddit overall.  We’re planning user tests now to learn about newer redditors, and in-person interviews can help give more in-depth data on behavior.  But we’ll continue using surveys too: here’s the next if you’d like to take one!

Looking Ahead: Challenges for the Open Web

Mozilla at the 2008 Summit in Whistler.  Mozilla Community at 2008 Summit. Taken by Gen Kanai

At the end of this week, I’m moving on after six amazing years at Mozilla. On August 25, I’ll be joining Reddit – another global open source project – as their first user experience designer. I’m ecstatic to help shape and design the future of another incredible community.

In looking back at all that’s changed in technology and the web since I joined Mozilla, I find myself humbled at the trials we’ve met and overcome. When I joined in 2008, we were smaller and scrappier. Fellow designer Alex Faaborg and myself stood before whiteboards, explaining how tabs on top of the URL bar were more efficient. The bug backlogs of Firefox 3 kept us up at night, but when we launched in July 2008 we made the Guinness Book of World Records for most software downloads in 24 hours ((Mozilla sets new Guinness World Record with Firefox 3 downloads)). Chrome didn’t even exist yet!

Of the challenges in Mozilla’s future, many are nearly universal for open source communities and largely unsolved. Here are three I find myself often returning to:

1. How do we protect users’ data when users consistently choose utility over privacy?

You can package it any way you like, but if your privacy-centric product even slightly hinders user enjoyment of the web, it won’t see wide adoption.

When prompted, users overwhelming cite online privacy (referring to data being shared with companies and governments) as a concern. A recent poll ((Right To Be Forgotten: Do Users Even Care?)) showed 26% of people were “extremely concerned” about privacy when using a search engine, with nearly 90% expressing some level of concern. And yet, 92% of those use Google and only 3% use DuckDuckGo, an explicitly non-tracking search engine. In the developing world and younger markets, users are even less concerned. Mozilla’s research team is currently investigating attitudes towards privacy in Malaysia and the Philippines, and most people they’ve spoken with don’t even have a concept “online privacy” aside from not wanting their friends and relatives to see all they’ve posted to social media.

Those of us who care about online privacy are increasingly at a values impasse with our users. The solution is not to simply inform, coax, or frighten users into taking security measures.

Most importantly, a world without the practical technological possibility of privacy is much scarier than one where users can choose, either actively or passively, to share their information.

2. How can global communities accommodate incompatible values?

Philipp asks if this is good for the company

Championing inclusiveness and diversity is an easy decision for most organizations. But when push comes to shove, members of any large community will still disagree fundamentally on many important values. The need to bridge fundamental divides is an inevitability.

As an example, open source contributors disagree vehemently when it comes to DRM. Is it better to follow the content industry and implement extensions so content owners can control how users share content? Or, is DRM’s current instantiation so harmful to an open web that it’s worth limiting user’s access to content to avoid supporting it? Both these views and many others exist amongst Mozilla contributors, yet ultimately decisions about what ships in Firefox must be made. When this happens, the community cannot simply shrink by the number of people opposed to the decision.

To successfully cooperate, global communities have to form a sustainable plurality. The key is allowing members to operate in a context of known responsibilities to each other, yet also generalized freedom to hold, express, and act on their views. Freedom of expression should exist by default, but the community will collapse if members don’t understand that they also have responsibilities that are defined and understood.

Furthermore, the balance of power between the community at large and its leadership is best when it is understood and predictable. Major organizational decisions are often be made by a few executives or benevolent dictators for life. Where and how these decisions are made as well as what was decided needs to be widely available for a community to cohere. The community must also know the difference between the organizational values which guide decisions and the personal values of leaders which do not. Realistically, the two are never wholly separate.

The question over “public vs. private” values in leadership has been addressed frequently at Mozilla. Perhaps the lines that separate public and private views cannot be entirely explicit, but acknowledging and engaging openly about differences bring strength to a community. Again, this is best where the role and position of leaders in making decisions is clear.

3. How can design culture embrace open source?

Affinity Diagramming with Firefox in Toronto

Within design communities, open source is still met with disinterest at best and derision at worst. This is hurting both open source and design.

The main barrier towards design culture embracing open source is a chicken-and-egg: few open source projects appear to value usability and design. Scratch-your-own-itch hacker culture assumes the creators of technology are its users, which deemphasizes the need for usability and accessibility. Additionally, feedback in open-source is heard mainly from a few power-users, and the temptation to appease them can thwart designs that would appeal to a wider audience.

Another reason design culture hasn’t embraced open source stems from designers’ wariness over being taken advantage of. I remember Mark Mentzer, one of my Carnegie Mellon design professors, warning his students to “never work for free!” This attitude runs deep in design circles, and for good reason: we’ve become used to requests for work where the only payment will be “another piece in your portfolio.” Honoring those requests devalues design work as a whole.

But, open source is different from free labor. Just as developers do, designers love their work and often consider it a hobby as well as an occupation. The transformative potential of open source projects excites designers as much as developers. By insisting on excellent user experience, open source projects can show designers that they are communities that value design.

Another reason design culture hasn’t embraced open source is because code contributions fit more easily into open projects than design contributions. Any developer can jump into an open source project by taking and fixing a bug. Little context is needed beyond what’s provided in the ticket: current behavior, expected behavior, acceptance criteria. Patch written, reviewed, done, boom.

In design, more context and background is needed to “fix a problem,” which hinders potential community contributions. A design “bug” is harder to identify than most engineering bugs. Simply diagnosing them requires user research, collaboration, and context. Providing well-scoped design problems with dedicated mentors can help bring on contributors.

Mozilla Heart

To Mozilla, thank you for six amazing years. You’re my allies, my friends, and the most incredible people I know.

The Internet Says Goodbye

Humans are a Community-Centric

We evolved to rely on community to survive. From moment we stood on two legs, we have derived our identity, culture, and beliefs from the people around us.

Our communities started as tribes. With agriculture, they became villages and cities. But as communities adapted and grew, they remained rooted in physical proximity. We were together, so we could build a fire to gather around. We could construct a market, temple, or wall. We could protect each other from harm.

The Internet is Changing the Nature of Human Community

Increasingly, our communities are not made up of people physically around us, but those we connect with online. It takes only a shared passion to create and foster meaningful relationships on the web. Whether or not we’ve met in the real world, the internet is globally becoming the predominant tool we use to communicate.

Like physical communities, online communities share their whole lives together. But what of the cultural aspects of community? There are few online analogs to the customs and traditions that united our physical communities. Do we need them, now that we’re not constrained by proximity?

Culture Needs to Evolve for the Web

The culture that surrounds our online communities is still fledgling. As the first waves of internet users embraced social networking, too often online interaction was defined by cruelty and abuse. The addition of younger demographics brought bullying to a new platform, sometimes with deadly consequences. Anonymity often fueled the flames.

Lawmakers, educators, and parents have tried to curb the web’s unsavory cultural aspects. Their efforts have fallen short and will continue to do so. That’s because online culture isn’t a problem that can be solved through offline regulation. It’s a problem that must be solved within the communities themselves. We can curb abuse over time, but doing so is insufficient: we must also build communities that support and nurture.

What should community support look like on the internet? How can we show compassion when we’re digitally connected but separated by distance?

One of the clearest examples of offline community support is response to death. Our physical communities bury bodies, scatter ashes, erect monuments, and embrace the mourning. The shared rituals help us accept and move forward.

Can a Digital Community Support Each Other through Tragedy?

It can. It already has.

The internet itself – the people who build, protect, fight for, and love this new global interconnectedness – is its own community. I’m a part of it, and you likely are as well.

We lost two beloved members of our community recently. The positive responses to these tragedies could help frame a model of how online communities can support each other through grief.


Aaron Swartz. 1986-2013.

Aaron was many things: a programmer, hacker, activist, founder, and friend. He fought for the freedom of information with all his intellect and creativity: both were plentiful. His tragic suicide occurred amidst a grand jury indictment. Accused of violating federal hacking laws by downloading millions of academic articles in order to make them freely available, he was facing up to 35 years in prison ((Info-Activist Aaron Swartz Facing 35 Years in Prison for Alleged JSTOR, MIT Hack. Publishers Weekly.)).

How did the internet community respond to Aaron’s tragic death? With action. Last month, Brian Knappenberger released a crowdfunded documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, about Aaron’s life and death. In January of 2014, Lawrence Lessig led a walk across New Hampshire in Aaron’s honor ((Lawrence Lessig Walking Across New Hampshire In Memory Of Aaron Swartz. Huffington Post.)). Yesterday, Lessig’s MayDay Super PAC reached its five million dollar goal, bringing action to the cause Aaron and so many of us believe in: removing the influence of money from politics ((About the MayDay PAC)). We lost Aaron, but we promised not to lose his war.

Aaron’s Community Lesson:

Advocate for the dreams and passions of those we love.
Respect their memory by carrying forward their vision.


Rebecca Alison Meyer. 2008-2014.

Eric Meyer is a beloved member of the internet community. His work and advocacy over two decades towards better web technologies and standards is renowned. Last month, Eric and his wife Kat tragically lost their six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, to cancer ((Photo: In Memoriam: Rebecca Alison Meyer. Myerweb.)). In the wake of the tragedy, the internet community sought ways to show its love and support.

One tribute stood out. Rebecca had a favorite color, and it was purple. Specifically, it was the shade of purple expressed by HTML hex value #663399. In her honor, a proposal was made and accepted to add a name to color #663399 in the CSS4 specification: “Rebecca Purple.” Just as sympathy flowers are grown from the land of the bereaved, the internet made a tribute in the very material it’s made of.

Rebecca’s Community Lesson:

Support each other in ways that are meaningful to your own community.
Show caring in ways that reflect the individuality of those we love.

In Conclusion

The digital nature of our communities does not make us any less human. Minimizing communication to text and emoticons does not (and will) not minimize the spectrum of our emotion. If we intend to live more fully online, we’ll need ways to support each other just as our cultural traditions have done.

Culture will surely look different for each online community. Let’s be explicit about its creation. Let’s not think of ourselves as individuals with computers, but as communities who use computers to connect. Let’s find new ways to support each other though life’s storms.

Firefox and Flux: A New, Beautiful Browser is Coming

Tomorrow, on April 29, something amazing is coming to Firefox.

It’s not an interface adjustment or tweak.  It’s not a bug fix.  It’s a complete re-envisioning of Firefox’s user experience, and it’s been brewing for the past five years.

Firefox on Linux, OSX, and Windows

Firefox on Linux, OSX, and Windows

Good to Great

This new Firefox, Firefox 29, was borne out of a series of incredible, detail-obsessed designers and engineers understanding that taking products from good to great requires more than a series of incremental improvements.

Good can be achieved through incrementalism.  Great requires, at times, overhaul.

Firefox 29 contains extensive improvements that were planned back when Alex Faaborg, Madhava Enros, and myself were the only designers at Mozilla.  Back then, Firefox was beginning to buckle under the weight of its inconsistent code and interface.

Realizing the Need for Overhaul

It’s common enough for large codebases maintained across years to develop inconsistencies.  But, Firefox’s nature as an open-source community project contributed to idiosyncratic user experiences.   Menus and dialogs used different tenses and tones.  Add-ons behaved unpredictably.  Customization was handled differently throughout the browser.  Over the past few years, we’ve been working to improve many instances of inconsistent behavior, such as replacing modal dialogs for tab-modal ones, standardizing notifications, and using a uniform tone-of-voice.

Making improvements here and there is often what user experience designers at an organization are expected to do: fix what’s broken, slightly improve what isn’t, and generally don’t get in the way of engineering effort.  But, this method can only make an existing product slightly better, and the gaps it causes reveal themselves in time.

A sinking ship can’t be patched endlessly when it needs a new hull.  This is when user experience design is most effective: when it envisions the system as a whole.  When it steps away from the trees and sees the forest holistically.

Firefox needed a new hull, and the bulk of that hull is arriving on Tuesday.

Others have been blogging about Firefox 29’s beautiful redesign, so I’ll just mention the highlights.

Consistent Customization

Customizing Firefox is now entirely predictable and much more fun.  Rather than digging into Preferences windows and dialogs, you can make Firefox the way you like via dragging-and-dropping buttons wherever you want them.

A Customize panel – itself customizable – displays the tools you want available in a single click but don’t want cluttering your interface.

Firefox Customize Menu

Firefox Customize Menu

Simple and Streamlined

Gone are the bulky angles and edges of tabs and menus.  In Firefox 29, you’ll see streamlined, almost aerodynamic, curves giving emphasis to your current tab and subtly understating the rest.

Streamlined Tab Shape

Streamlined Tab Shape

Themes and Personalization

Making Firefox visually your own is not only easy, but gorgeous.  Lightweight themes look fantastic in 29 with a light interface overlay on whatever image inspires you while you browse.

Lightweight Theme Applied to Firefox

Lightweight Theme Applied to Firefox

Obsession with Details

It’d be hard to describe all the changes coming to Firefox in a single post, but I hope you’ll find that we left no stone unturned.  Firefox 29 is all about details: the glows, the colors, the animations all reflect our desire to make the entire experience seamless.  A special hat tip to our visual designer, Stephen Horlander, for his painstaking eye for detail.

It's All About the Details

It’s All About the Details

Tomorrow’s launch day will, perhaps, be our biggest yet.  It’s certainly an emotional day for myself and the others who have worked on this release for years.  I can’t wait.  I hope you love it.

Facebook is acting like your mother, and she’s very disappointed in you

I hate online ads, in part because they are anti-user experience. Good user experience enables users by giving them positive interactions with the content and tools they want to access, while advertising steers them away from what they want to access. While user experience caters to users’ wants and needs, advertising attempts to hijack them. User experience focuses, advertising distracts.

Fair enough, we’re intelligent people and know that pinching the monkey won’t win us an iPod. But lately, I’m even more disturbed by Facebook’s acutely targeted advertising. It goes beyond critisizing your purchases and begins to critisize you. Mossop pointed out to me last week that Facebook is analyzing your profile and selecting ads which more than suggest a product, suggest you should be living your life differently. I checked my own profile, and here’s what I found:

Lots of engagement rings. Nowhere in my profile have I mentioned an interest in getting married, but I’m a female over a certain age and I fall in Facebook’s targeted social bracket. Facebook thinks it’s about time! Facebook wants grandchildren!

The trend here is disturbing – that as advertising becomes “better,” it begins to sound less like an annoying child and more like a judging peer group. You know you’re fat, because ads are telling you about diet plans. You know you’re old, because ads are telling you about wrinkle cream. We’ve heard complaints that advertising gives us unreasonable expectations from body image to income, but in the pre-digital age these expectations were leveled at no one in particular. With the internet, these ads are targeted at you – your life, your problems, and your choices. If we continue to not care how much companies like Facebook and their advertisers learn about us, the projection here is grim – that advertising becomes a more increasingly personalized, feeding on our insecurities and urging us to conform through consumption.

I’m not trying to be alarmist here, but only say that we must care about where our data goes. The game here is becoming more interesting, because the nature of the internet and even free speech is at stake. Yesterday, the Guardian wrote that the South Korea, a democracy, would like to more heavily police the internet and essentially terminate its anonymity (link). Steps away from anonymous data are harmful ones. Gabe’s dickwad theory aside, the anonymity of the internet is a wonderfully subversive thing – it can guarantee freedom of speech for those otherwise without it. Mitchell Baker has been posting recently about why Mozilla should think about and respond to data (introduction, related topics, what Mozilla should do). Here, she write that Mozilla’s principles of enriching lives, providing security, and giving us control of our online experience “are at risk if individuals have no control over the creation or use of the data that describes us.” How to protect users while still steering away from proprietary data will be a difficult problem to tackle, but we’re in a good place to start the discussion.