February 2010

“Mozilla Ubiquity dies an incredibly quiet death”


After I found out what Google Buzz was doing, I turned it off as quickly as possible.

…or did I?

As if there weren’t already enough layers in this cake of failure, apparently the link at the bottom of GMail that said “Turn off Buzz” does not actually turn off Buzz – it removes the Buzz cruft from the GMail interface, but it leaves you in the network.

So in an attempt to really and truly escape from Buzz, I went to my Google profile page, where I found a checkbox (checked by default!) saying “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me”:

I unchecked that. Then I went to my GMail account, clicked on Settings, and found the same option again. There was also a link that said “Disable Google Buzz”, which sounded pretty good, so I clicked that too:

So now I should be completely out of the woods, right? To double-check, I went and took a look at the public Google profile of Aza, one of my friends who was actively using Buzz. And there I saw a message that said “Aza is following you”:

Aza is following me? So is Buzz really turned off or not? I’m still not sure what’s going on here.

[Edited to add]: Apparently I needed to turn Buzz back on so that I could go in and click “block” on each follower, one by one, until the list was empty, and then turn it off again.


In a recent post, I wondered whether it’s possible to opt out of social networking given that your friends might be entering your email address into Facebook’s database without your knowledge.

Turns out this was timely, because less than a week after that post, Google released Buzz.

Google Buzz, as I’m sure you know by now, had a huge privacy flaw in it: it automatically, for all GMail users, created a social graph out of the user’s most-often-emailed people. And then it made that graph public on the user’s Google profile page.

Google’s defense was that that the graph only became public once you made your first Buzz post, and that there was a check box when making that post which would opt you out of sharing your graph. This defense is weaksauce! Here’s why.


In this post I promised a new release of Ubiquity to be compatible with Firefox 3.6. It’s been a while so I thought I should update you on that.

The situation is a little complicated, because there are two “branches” of Ubiquity development: the 0.1 line and the 0.5 line, which differs significantly.

We’ve released an update to the 0.1 line, Ubiquity, which works with Firefox 3.6. It can be downloaded from Addons.mozilla.com.

The Ubiquity 0.5 codeline is turning out to be more difficult to update to Firefox 3.6 than we anticipated. (i.e. there are actual incompatibilities that produce parser problems; we can’t just tweak install.rdf and release.) We’re going to have to find some time to do some serious hacking and bug-fixing on it before we can release a compatible 0.5.x version.

Ultimately, I’d prefer to re-merge the codelines and have only a single version; having 2 is confusing and there’s no real reason for it.

But for now, at least you can use Ubiquity on Firefox 3.6.

The site ReadWriteWeb recently did an article called Facebook wants to be your one true login. The contents of this article are something I’ll address in another post. What I want to talk about today has nothing to do with the actual contents of the article, and everything to do with the fact that this article was for some period of time one of the highest hits on Google for the search “Facebook login”.

The comments thread on the article filled up with over a thousand comments from confused and frustrated people asking “Now how do I log in?” and “The new design sucks!”.

That’s right. These people had been relying on a Google search for “Facebook login” to get to the Facebook login page. When they ended up at ReadWriteWeb instead, they didn’t know that they were in the wrong place. They thought that the Facebook login page had changed, and they weren’t happy about it. ReadWriteWeb has now put up a gigantic disclaimer on the article to explain that they are not Facebook and explain how to get there.

This whole chain of events seems destined to go down in Internet history as an amazing pile-up of failure.

Reactions seem divided into two camps. One camp is having a great laugh at the stupidity of the users – after all, how could they look at a page with a red masthead, titled “ReadWriteWeb”, featuring a news article, and think they were on the Facebook login page? How could they be smart enough to figure out how to leave a comment, but too dumb to know what site they were on?

The other camp, for example an article from blogger Funkatron called We’re the stupid ones is pointing the finger at the software world for assuming that everyone knows as much about computers as we do, and more specifically at Google – after all, isn’t this in some way Google’s screw-up for returning the wrong result?

Well, the name of this blog is “Not the User’s Fault”, so much as I would like to have a laugh at stupidity and then move on, I think it’s better to try to understand what this must have been like from those users’ point of view, and see if there’s anything we can learn from the whole boondoggle.


The next Labs Night will be held on Thursday, Februrary 25, at the Wikimedia HQ in San Francisco. The Wikimedia Foundation was generous enough to offer the use of their space for the evening, and I’m a big fan of their work so I’m pretty excited about the chance to do a joint event with them.

More information is on the main Labs blog. If you would like to attend, you should sign up through the Meetup page. Finally, if you would like to give a lightning talk about your project at the Labs Night (and yes, this is an open invitation to anyone who has something cool to show off) then you should add yourself to this wiki page.

See you there!

No-one has submitted a topic, so there’s no Design Lunch this week. There is still plenty of time to submit a topic for next week!

Reporter.mozilla.org is the site that’s used to report websites not working in Firefox. (The “Report broken web site” item in the Help menu sends things to Reporter.mozilla.org).

Reporter is showing its age and is due for a redesign, though, and that’s the topic of this week’s Design Lunch. The speaker is Aakash Desai from Mozilla QA.

The Design Lunch will be Friday this week, instead of Thursday, to avoid a conflict with Aakash’s schedule. It’s at 12:30pm PST and is brodcast on Air Mozilla. Instructions for watching or calling in are here.

My wife strongly dislikes the new Firefox 3.6 tab behavior (where tabs opened from links appear immediately to the right of their parent tab, instead of at the extreme right of the tab bar).

I do like the new behavior, because by keeping related tabs closer together, it reduces the amount of time I have to spend interacting with the tab-bar scroll buttons (my least favorite UI element in all of Firefox).

She dislikes it for consistency reasons: when you open a new blank tab, it still appears at the far right. So now tabs can appear in two different places, depending on where you opened them. It violates the principle of consistency, which is generally considered one of the most important UI principles. This inconsistency hasn’t really bothered me personally. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because opening a tab through a link, and opening a new blank tab, feel like different actions to me. There’s a difference in what I’m thinking about. But I can certainly understand how it feels like a consistency violation to other people.

My wife also doesn’t like that there’s no way to change Firefox back to the old behavior without going through about:config. (If you’re interested: type “about:config” in the location bar and hit enter, then do a search for a preference named browser.tabs.insertRelatedAfterCurrent and set it to True or False, as you like.)

So I hear there’s this website called “The Facebook” that is really popular with the kids these days, and I decided to check it out…

Kidding, kidding. Of course I know what Facebook is. I’ve just been choosing not to participate. The whole “social networking” thing doesn’t offer me anything I want that I can’t already do through e-mail or by building websites. (I recognize that I am atypical in this regard).

I actually tried out Facebook back when it was university-students-only. I built a profile, linked it to my friends, and then said “Well, now what? I guess I’m done.” And I never went back. Eventually I deleted my profile, just to avoid spreading outdated information about myself.

Of course, Facebook now is not really the same application as Facebook in 2004. With over 350 million users (as many as Firefox), it forms a significant part of how many people experience the Internet, and as such it shapes their expectations for how web interfaces should look and feel, as well as how their real-life relationships should be represented in software.

This was the argument given by many of my coworkers, who told me that I ought to at least try out the modern Facebook, so that I could better understand where many of our users are coming from.

So I went to Facebook and started creating an account. I entered my first and last name and email address, and Facebook showed me a page saying “We think these people might be your friends”. There were several dozen people there who I actually know, mixed in with several dozen who I don’t.

Wait a minute, How does Facebook know who my friends are?? Remember, I hadn’t told them anything except an email address at this point. I was disturbed by how much they knew about me. More than disturbed. I was freaked out.


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