Lessons of Failure
Humans + Software Development = Always Interesting



Worst Idea of 2010: Firefox Personas

Seriously, has the Mozilla team run out of important things to work on in Firefox?

My Firefox browser updated to 3.6.2 today and I’m greeted with this page, asking me to try their new personas:

Rollover and Change what?I’m not really a customize-my-browser-to-look-like-a-teenage-girls-Twitter-page kind of guy, but I thought I’d give it a shot and see what happened.

In a word:  horrific.

My browser’s link bar went from easily readable to complete obscured:

And not just with one, but pretty much ALL of their “recommended ones”.

WTF Mozilla?  Have we decided to throw out 30-odd years of user interface practices in favor of ponies, rainbows and unicorns? Really?

There are 30,000 MORE of these monstrosities to choose from!  Keep in mind that Mozilla would, of course, showcase the best and most interesting on their update page…But if these are the best, I’m frightened to dig any deeper.

This reminds me of the skinning snafu of the early 21st century where every damn audio application (WinAmp for example, but certainly not limited to them) had to come out with 368 cool skins to go with their app.

Not only did you have to learn an entirely new interface with the application’s custom look-and-feel, but you often had to relearn it for each damned skin you switched to.  The same was true of Linux usability.  Reminds me of a quote:

Whenever a programmer thinks, “Hey, skins, what a cool idea!”, their computer’s speakers should create some sort of c*ck-shaped soundwave and plunge it repeatedly through their skulls.

This is a usability nightmare**. No, wait, usability nightmare doesn’t even begin to cover it.  And now Mozilla wants to do that with my browser?  As if MySpace pages didn’t make the web awful enough…

For the love of all that is good and easy to read in the world, stop.  Just please stop.  Tell me where to send the money to make it stop.

My eyes are still bleeding.

UPDATE (part 1):  Looking to REMOVE the personas?  Do this:

Go to Tools -> Add-ons ->Themes Panel.  Click on Uninstall on the persona.  Then restart Firefox.

UPDATE (part 2):  Since I have the (un)fortunate Page 1 Google ranking in “firefox personas”, and the comments seem to fall into 3 categories in rough order:

  1. Dude, you’re a grouch.
  2. Dude, you’re an idiot AND a grouch.
  3. Dude, I totally agree with you.

I realize I fell prey to a classic issue often happened in math class too…I skipped straight to the answer and failed to show my work.

** When I say “usability nightmare”, what I mean (hyperbole aside) is that personas violate some well-known principles of web usability all posited by Jakob Nielsen, the guru of web site usability.  He doesn’t just guess on these things, he actually researches them, observes behavior and reports results.

Which principles?  Well, I can probably dig up a dozen if I try hard, but without going too crazy, here’s a short list of the ones that FF personas pretty much violate right out of the box:

Usability matters.  And grouchiness aside, the more we infect these kind of eye-Twinkies (think:  eye-candy, but far less nutritious) on people, the less capable they are of actually using the web in the first place.

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  • Amber · March 24, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Yes I agree that it was weird and highly unusable. In the end, I did settle on a nice metallic number with a firefox logo on the right from the “Solid” category (which ironically contains mostly non-solid designs, but still simple enough to be usable). I think it’s nicer, but not worth the few minutes it took to find it.

    Maybe they assumed that since users submit them, and users selecting them makes them popular, that it would automatically filter unusable images out – but they were wrong. If they wanted to do it, they should have made it editorial, not crowd sourced, like google’s logo changes.

  • ron stark · March 24, 2010 at 9:46 am


  • dude · March 24, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Oh man I’m lol-ing so hard over here… at personas? No, not really. What’s really getting me going is that you’re using Windows XP! HAHAHHA!

  • Author comment by Dave · March 24, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Hey, everyone laughs at the guy with the 15 year old car…but it’s paid for and the insurance is dirt cheap. 😉

  • dude · March 24, 2010 at 10:50 am

    … I know an OS platform that’s even cheaper.

  • Analogies r fun · March 24, 2010 at 10:52 am

    And then the guy in the 15 year old car gets judgmental, and makes a blog post ranting about how FAIL it is to drive a flashy new car.

  • Fırat · March 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

    It is opensource. You may contribute an useful option for firefox. It is so simple to critisize the community.

  • sli · March 24, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Personas aren’t new by any means.

  • sean · March 24, 2010 at 11:31 am

    You’re like six months late on this one, hoss.

  • Francis · March 24, 2010 at 11:32 am

    +1 for personas suck. If they are theming the app, then theme it, don’t just decorate the most used section of the app and make it harder to use in the process.

  • Mark · March 24, 2010 at 11:39 am

    You’re familiar with the word “optional” right? As in, you don’t have to send any money to anyone (FF remains a free and open-source browser), you can just… not use it.

    If this is the worst idea of 2010 we’re on track to have the most consistently reasonable year of all time.

  • arti · March 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I’ve been using personas since it was an extension and I’ll keep using them at least for a while.

    They help me to differentiate Firefox profiles (the secure, the insecure and the tor enabled)

    There are multiple designs for different layouts (I have no bookmarks bar and I have compacted the navigation bar and the menus) so I don’t need anything except the tab bar and the status bar to be readable

  • Mac · March 24, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I enjoyed the post and agree about skinning. But boy do you have some whiny quick-to-call-you-out readers. Just enjoy the humor of the post and stop taking it so seriously people. Dave’s point stands, stop being pedantic.

  • Darren · March 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    @dude, XP SP3 is the best OS M$ has ever made. It’s as fast as Windows 7 on most tasks (faster on older hardware) but more importantly, it lets you do what you want rather than treat the user like a moron. But maybe you enjoy that?

  • foobar · March 24, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    You forgot to mention the animated personas! The rabbit hole goes much, much deeper.

  • Major DB · March 24, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Your opinion is noted. My personal belief is you are wrong. I chose a persona that fits my own tastes that does not obstruct any menus. In fact, my FireFox looks better than ever.

    Just because there are a great number of horrific examples does not mean that the entire idea is not worth time. Your domain name is apt.

  • deeproot · March 24, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    what is the point here?
    if u think your usability is hindered by this, then dont apply personas.
    just do not use it, use plain simple firefox.

  • simon · March 24, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    many people like it, many people dislike it, no need to blame

  • Thomas Crowne · March 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    It is very easy to criticize but did u think of any way to either enhance personas or provide better alternatives to the current experience? By the way did anyone put a gun to your head with threats to kill you if u did not use personas?

  • fauzty · March 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Worst Article of 2010. (Nomination)

    The author does’t like Twitter’s customized page, while his blog is in fact a customized one. (a.k.a. Skined)

    He said this is about usability, but he didn’t notice that the look-and-feel wasn’t change at all, did he? The size and color of buttons stayed the same, so did their position.

    “I see dead nightmare.” Oh. Really? I’m not Bruse Willis. Man, just stop complaining the-wallpaper-feature-10yearsago-is-unnecessary-thing.

  • Robert Hopson · March 24, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I freaked out about that page too, and then created the Zero Personality add-on: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/108864

  • Chirag Chamoli · March 24, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    You can choose not to use it, it is just a feature.

  • TViljanmaa · March 25, 2010 at 12:51 am

    I don’t see a problem here. You don’t really have to use those personas but I can imagine that someone would like to use them.

  • Fie · March 25, 2010 at 1:24 am

    But if you like the unicorns and rainbows, and theming the browser is not enough… try out http://www.cornify.com to pimp up every site you have with rainbows, flowers and unicorns!


  • Sakuraba · March 25, 2010 at 2:05 am

    Skins can be quite nice, but those Personas are just a plain picture strapped onto the background, which distorts the contrast between the black font and the picture.

    Skins dont suck themselves, but implemented in a suckass manner like those Personas, thats when they suck.

  • Julie · March 25, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Like them or leave them. I personally love them.

  • RM · March 30, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Worst idea? You’re kidding me, right?!

    Firefox Personas, WordPress-style: http://wordpress.org/development/2010/03/firefox-personas/

  • cloez · April 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Gosh talk about grouch huh?? You don’t have to use it ! I love them , it was the best idea ever !!! They are so good that brought me to your website !!! hehehe.. relax and enjoy !!!

  • Stop Breaking These Laws (of Software) | Lessons of Failure · April 6, 2010 at 9:01 am

    […] Worst Idea of 2010: Firefox Personas […]

  • The Heretic · April 8, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Dude, I totally agree with you.

  • Oldtimer · April 11, 2010 at 8:12 am

    This post is genius and firefox personas are not.

    Whatever happened to the simple, fast and stable browser of yore? The one that gave us a proper alternative to IE. Down and down we go.