It isn't often that software companies listen closely to their customers. Sure, every software exec I've ever met pays lip service to that, but few actually do it. So it's great to report that the Mozilla Foundation, which publishes the Firefox browser and the Thunderbird mail client, is responding to numerous complaints that its rapid upgrade cycle is causing big headaches for users.
We'll get to that in a minute, but the last couple of weeks also delivered some good news for fans of Quora and Delicious. Both are social networking sites; Delicious has survived a near-death experience and relaunched, while Quora has made a major enhancement with the addition of an iPhone app.
As you may recall, Delicious, a social media site for storing, sharing and learning about new bookmarks, was owned by Yahoo, which indicated in 2010 that the service would be killed, or in Silicon Valley-speak, "sunsetted." Delicious was sold last April. Although the idea of social bookmarking may seem dated, the 27 September relaunch of the site shows the new owners have some good ideas.
The basics are about the same. Simply add a green Delicious "save" button to the toolbar of your browser and click when you come across a link to save. You can give links a title and tag them, and share them with other Delicious users.
"Stacks" are the new wrinkle. A stack is a collection of links, videos, music or pictures around a given topic. You can label them, organize them in a particular order and then go ahead and share it. The company calls them "the playlists of the Web," and that's not a bad way to think of a stack.
I think the management team figures that stacks are their best hope to win back users who may have defected. They announced their new strategy in a blog post last week and it's worth noting that it says "back to beta," which is to say there may be some bugs.
"We're proud of what we built, but the process has also brought the site 'back to beta' as a work in progress. Much more work will be needed to realize our vision: keeping the essence of Delicious -- the premier social bookmarking tool -- while building upon its core functionality to create a great discovery service, too."
Quora goes mobile
Quroa is a question and answer site best known for a user base that includes a lot of Silicon Valley's big shots and journalists who write about the tech industry. It's been around for a while, so it's good to see some changes.
Pretty much anything you can do on the regular Web site is possible with the free iPhone app, but mobile being mobile there's some decent added value. Once the app receives your permission to use your GPS position, you'll get suggestions on Q&A topics to look at. Since I live in San Francisco's Glen Park neighborhood, I immediately was steered to two streams: One asking what time the neighborhood BART parking lot clears out, and where I can I find the best burrito joint around here.
Earthshaking? No, but fun. There are also many threads that are weightier than parking and burritos, such as what products will Apple announce this week. In that case, it's handy to be on a service that has well-connected folks on it who might have something worthwhile to say on the subject.
There's also the "shuffle" feature, accessible via an iTunes-like icon at the bottom of the screen. It reminds me of Google's "feeling lucky?" button; click it and who knows what you'll get. Just a minute ago I did that and came across a discussion of the qualifications of Yahoo's board of directors. Clicked it again, and there was a Q&A about tags and their relationship to SEO, or search engine optimization. As I said, lots of Silicon Valley types are using this application.
Mozilla opens its ears
I've never understood why Mozilla felt it was important to rush out a new version of Firefox every six weeks. What do users get out of that? Um, lots of annoyance, as the program nags you to download updates and add-ons, while some of your old updates and add-ons stop working because of incompatibility with the new version.
The problem is much worse on the business side, where IT departments spent months testing new browsers for security and compatibility with corporate software. Having new versions pop up while the old version is hardly out of the wrapper, makes those techies really mad, particularly when Mozilla stops supporting the old versions.
After months of listening to complaints - not always patiently - the Mozilla foundation is moving to ease some of the pain associated with the hyper-fast upgrade cycle. No, the consumer upgrade cycle is not going to slow down. But Mozilla is now suggesting that its developers actually consider the impact on add-ons that each new rev is likely to have. And equally important, Mozilla will start notifying add-on developers to be sure they know what's coming and can write, or rewrite, their applications accordingly.
On the business side, Mozilla has revived its Enterprise User Working Group to address concerns about issues troubling corporate IT departments. The group has already drafted a proposal calling for Mozilla to publish (and support) new business versions of the browser every 30 weeks. If the idea is adopted, it will probably be implemented in time for Firefox version 8 or 9.
Meanwhile, Firefox 7 is out. I've been using it for less than a week, and as promised it does seem to be more stable than its predecessors, probably because it uses significantly less memory. There are other changes under the hood as well, but as far as the stuff the average user will notice, there's not much to write home about.