Firefox Personas

The Mozilla Labs team has been busy working on some new extensions to enhance user experience while testing out new concepts. One extension that recently got a major update was Personas.

The premise behind the extension is that it’s currently too difficult to trivially theme and customize your Firefox experience. To counter this Personas makes the experience fantastically simple. For example, the following can be achieved using only a single image (which is seamlessly chopped up and positioned by Personas):

Now what I find to be especially interesting about this extension is the recent introduction of dynamic content into the rendering area. Instead of requiring the use of an image you can now specify a live URL (which can contain any number of things – including images, SVG, Canvas Element, JavaScript, etc.).

Here’s a quick peek at putting a live Google map behind the top toolbar area of the browser:

Users are starting to contribute their own, like this page of a live web cam watching a university in Germany.

I’m really excited by this super-tivial means of styling an application. It’s like taking the best part of HTML/CSS/JS widgets and combining it with trivial user customization and community.

While the end result may, or may not, look glamorous (depending on your taste) it’s undeniable that simple user customization is a quick trip to get users more excited about their experience (making the browser ‘their own’). I’m definitely curious to see what will built with this tool – especially now that dynamic content is being thrown in to the mix.


I was able to get a code example from Chris Beard for developing one of these advanced Persona extensions. To quote him:

You just need to put in script or content within the header/footer blocks. Also adding support so that it will pop up a window on first run so you can prompt for settings (e.g. flickr tags to use to render a photo mosaic) as well as an options window which users will be open for each Persona from the main interface.

The URL gets called every 60 minutes loading into a background iframe. The iframe is then captured every minute with the resulting image transfer to the chrome as a PNG data URL. No user content is privileged.

This is especially interesting since you can seed your browser layout with personal information, as he mentioned (photos from your Flickr stream, weather for your location, etc.)

Posted: April 4th, 2008

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