Tofino Project Goals Update

This is the first in a fortnightly series of blog posts providing updates on the Tofino Project’s progress. Expect Product design updates as well as more technical articles here every two weeks or so.

When we started working full-time on the Tofino project, the team was given a very ambitious and open-ended problem area: “what we need a browser to do for us — both on PCs and mobile devices — has changed a lot since Firefox 1.0, and we’re long overdue for some fresh approaches”. Product experimentation is difficult to do with an existing product, but Mozilla is a web company. We make browsers here because we love the web and want it to win, so let’s work on new browsing concepts and take real risks.

Personally, an important inspiration for my own approach to this project has been Stewart Butterfield’s really great post “We don’t Sell Saddles Here” about the birth of Slack. A key quote is particularly relevant to Tofino:

‘The best — maybe the only? — real, direct measure of “innovation” is change in human behaviour’.

Tofino’s real goal is to change people’s relationship with the web. To paraphrase Stewart, we’re not selling a browser, we’re reaching towards a new relationship between users and the web, one that solves problems people have with the web today.

“So that’s great, Jeff, very nice”, you say. “But what are you building?”

I didn’t have a very crisp answer to that question a month ago, even to my boss and his boss. Thankfully we’ve been working hard, investing time in user research and testing and having a lot of discussions with our engineering team and I’m relieved to say that we now have a much less fuzzy idea.

First off, we’re building an experimentation platform using electron, React and a few other pieces. We want to build our ui layer using web technology and we want to also be able to easily update and change the ui layer in order to test and learn things about people, how they use the web, and how they interact with discrete experimental features we produce to help them with all of that.

Second, we’re building an initial browser ui layer that in and of itself should be intuitive to use for users of existing browsers. When we do want users to test a new concept we don’t want them to have to learn ten new things, we just want to them to be able to browse the web with a single new thing. This is basic research methodology — if we don’t control for other factors we won’t be able to be confident in results from a given experiment.

Third, we’re looking for interesting ways to leverage both local and remote data sources and services to fuel new user experiences with the web. If you think of browsers like Firefox and Chrome as second-generation browsers ( tabbed browsing, tabs-on-top, search-oriented, bookmarks ), there is a lot of room to take risks with people’s browsing experiences. We intend to try a lot of things, testing with real users and validating or killing off ideas as we go. Tofino is an experimental project and as such we will be instrumenting everything we can to help us understand where user behaviour collides with our ideas to produce value.

Last week we landed a new theme for Tofino — the browser now literally looks like a blueprint. This is intentional — Tofino is not a polished product nor is it our intention to create one, at least not for a while. Our aim is instead to try things out and fail a lot, really quickly, and hopefully introduce you to a new way of working with the web that you’ll not only love, but also miss when it’s gone and you’re back in your regular browser.