Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

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Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Moonchild » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 16:56

Because nobody needs those or ever uses them, right?

bug #1477667
2018-07-23
Gijs Kruitbosch wrote:After careful consideration of various options (which also included doing nothing, or investing heavily in updating the code), we've decided to go ahead and remove builtin feed support from Firefox.


Draft blog post:
Removing feed support from Firefox

What’s happening?

Having gathered data on usage of the feed preview and live bookmark feature in Firefox, considering the technical state of their implementations and their maintenance costs, and reflecting the wider state of traditional RSS/Atom feed usage on the web, we’ve decided to remove the built-in feed reader feature as well as the “live bookmarks” support that allows users to view feed articles within the bookmarks UI.


Why are you doing this?

These features had an outsized maintenance and security impact relative to their usage. Making these features as well-tested, modern and secure as the rest of Firefox would have cost significant time and effort, and the usage of these features doesn’t justify such an investment.

There are comparatively very few existing automated tests for both features. The live bookmarks implementation uses old, slow ways of accessing the bookmarks database, and complicates the rest of the bookmarks implementation unnecessarily. The feed viewer has its own special XML parser rather than using the main Firefox one, and hasn’t had a significant update in styling or functionality in the last 7 or so years, gradually becoming more broken and looking more and more outdated.

What’s more, these parts of Firefox aren’t offering features users want. Live bookmark doesn’t really have a concept of “read” state (it uses history visit state as a proxy, which doesn’t work for redirects), it doesn’t work well with sync, and arguably shouldn’t be part of our bookmarks implementation in the first place. It’s also not available on either Android or iOS and so has no mobile integration. Finally, podcasts are more successful than text-based feeds, but neither our feed viewer nor live bookmarks have good integration for them.

Usage data from Firefox shows that 99.9% of our users don’t actually use either the feed viewer or live bookmarks. Furthermore, the usage of feeds outside of Firefox doesn’t justify it, either - RSS/Atom has been slowly losing popularity, and various tools and companies have dropped support years ago (Apple Mail, Google Reader, …), stopped existing if they were focused on feeds (e.g. FeedDemon) or changed focus (e.g. NetVibes).

Additionally, we are working on various initiatives that operate in the same area of focus as RSS/Atom feed support, like Pocket (including ways of aiding content discovery and selection by users), Reader Mode (including e.g. voice support, user-controlled styling of content, …) and WebExtensions. All of these features are in a better place in terms of maintenance and usage, and so it makes more sense to expand them than to double down on our feed viewer and live bookmark support. We will likely invest more in those areas in the near future.

What will happen to my existing live bookmarks?

When we remove live bookmarks, we will:

  1. Export the details of your existing live bookmarks to an OPML file, which other feed readers (including ones that are webextensions) support importing from.
  2. Replace the live bookmarks with “normal” bookmarks pointing to the site (not feed) URL associated with the live bookmark. If no site URL exists, the original live bookmark is removed.
  3. Tell you when this has happened, and offer you some suggested options for how you could continue consuming those feeds.

This work is currently expected to be done for either Firefox 63 or 64, scheduled for release in October and December 2018, respectively. We don’t intend to change anything on ESR, so Firefox 60 ESR will keep support, and the next ESR won’t have support anymore.
Last edited by Moonchild on Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 17:00, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby JustOff » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 17:23

Unlike other recent Mozilla decisions, this one seems quite reasonable. I even wouldn't mind if Pale Moon followed the same path :coffee:
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby GMforker » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 17:59

JustOff wrote:I even wouldn't mind if Pale Moon followed the same path :coffee:


...but without me.

RSS/Atom has been slowly losing popularity


In my opinion it is nonsense.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby billmcct » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 18:01

Please, Please, Please, do not remove Live Bookmarks.

I have used Lve Bookmarks on a daily basis for over 10 years, and now using JustOff's "Responsive Bookmarks Toolbar" I would be totally lost.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby JustOff » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 18:28

GMforker wrote:
RSS/Atom has been slowly losing popularity

In my opinion it is nonsense.

Unfortunately, this is true, although personally I still do RSS daily :roll:

Nevertheless, I've never been comfortable using live bookmarks, so for several years of using infoRSS, I switched to a standalone RSS reader.
Last edited by JustOff on Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 18:33, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Al6bus » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 18:59

Off-topic:
поставил на последний unstable этот самый infoRSS, установил, попросило перегрузить луну, теперь pm не загружается, только 2 процесса в диспетчере задач (palemoon *x32) появляются. сейчас зашел через shift с отключением аддонов. помогите пожалуйста.
гитхаб для илиты, постараюсь написать в темку :)
Last edited by Al6bus on Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 19:35, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby JustOff » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 19:23

Off-topic:
Al6bus wrote:infoRSS, установил, попросило перегрузить луну, теперь pm не загружается

You better ask the developer here or there. And use English in general sections 8-)
Last edited by JustOff on Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 19:30, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Moonchild » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 20:09

Usage of RSS feed pages and live bookmarks has always been relatively low, percentage-wise. It's also mostly the long-time users who will be using this functionality.
For Firefox, this means two things:
  1. Their telemetry is way off the mark. Seasoned users (the users of live bookmarks and the feed reader) will not be opting in to data collection, as a general rule.
  2. Removing this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy: the users they lose as a result are the type of users they are no longer targeting with their recent changes.

As for the maintenance cost? Feed reader and RSS/Atom parsing and display is code that hasn't been touched in quite a while, and is a stable front-end component -- so there is really no maintenance cost there to speak of. Feeling they need to rewrite it is probably fallout from their continued hunt to reduce XPCOM. Talking about code size? it's barely over 100 kB everything combined (both the feed reader and the subscription page) and is a fairly stand-alone component.
So what's really going on? More likely than not it "no longer fits in the corporate strategy as a desired feature". As opposed to the bugzilla post, "doing nothing" and keeping this functionality in its current state is no loss and IMHO the right way forward. Yes, the reader is rudimentary in some respects -- but that is exactly the kind of baseline functionality you want in an extensible browser.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby coffeebreak » Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 22:21

Moonchild wrote:Usage of RSS feed pages and live bookmarks... [the entire post]

It sounds like they probably won't be removed (many many thanks if that's true).


But just to put my voice on record:

I use and deeply value live bookmarks - have done for many years
(and prefer them to a dedicated feed reader, i.e. extension or standalone).

To me, their removal would be a big loss.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Moonchild » Thu, 26 Jul 2018, 02:46

Just to be clear: I see no reason to remove this feature from Pale Moon or Basilisk (other applications may of course decide either way). It's clearly being used, it's stable, and there aren't any known issues with it apart from the lack of indicating it's an encrypted feed in the UI when pulled over https (Issue #455 (UXP)), and an odd-ball error thrown with a corner-case sequence of steps that is otherwise non-breaking AFAIK (bug #1110794). My watching of the latter for updates alerted me to the planned removal of the feed functionality from Firefox.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby tuxman » Thu, 26 Jul 2018, 13:30

RSS/Atom has been slowly losing popularity


Which is why Feedly, BazQux, InoReader and NewsBlur are quickly gaining popularity. :coffee:

Shameless self-plug: I published an RSS feed generator a while ago because some websites don't have one (yet/anymore). Maybe it could be interesting for some of you as well.
Last edited by tuxman on Thu, 26 Jul 2018, 13:34, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby back2themoon » Thu, 26 Jul 2018, 13:34

Moonchild wrote:Just to be clear: I see no reason to remove this feature from Pale Moon or Basilisk.

Good to hear, I use it daily. Never really understood how/why to use a full-blown, separate RSS reader. I just preview the article titles on my organised bookmark toolbar, and if I'm interested I'll open the link in the browser. Perhaps I'm missing something.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Terryphi » Thu, 26 Jul 2018, 13:59

I prefer a standalone feed reader and the Linux Liferea feed reader is perfect for my needs.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby thosrtanner » Sat, 28 Jul 2018, 21:48

JustOff wrote:
GMforker wrote:
RSS/Atom has been slowly losing popularity

In my opinion it is nonsense.

Unfortunately, this is true, although personally I still do RSS daily :roll:

Nevertheless, I've never been comfortable using live bookmarks, so for several years of using infoRSS, I switched to a standalone RSS reader.


Dang. I thought inforss had a client base.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby CharmCityCrab » Sun, 29 Jul 2018, 05:22

I remember when Firefox used to include a dropdown RSS feed of the latest BBC News articles on the upper left right below the line with the back, forward, reload, stop, and home buttons. By include, I mean it was part of the default install. Download Firefox and install it, click the button, and there was your British Broadcasting Corporation News RSS feed- in America. :) It didn't come off as an ad, because the BBC is a publicly funded non-profit in the UK, despite the use of the word corporation in the name. :) Anyone remember what the first and/or last FF versions to include that feed by default on new installs was?

I wonder if RSS feeds would be used more by Firefox users today had that developers kept including one feed by default to make users aware of, or to remind them of, the RSS feature (It was user deleteable, of course).

Honestly, I think the majority of web browser users just install the thing and never delve into options, add-ons, about:config, or other customizations. Even the largest minority that does is doing so entirely for the purpose of installing an ad-blocker.

So, a lot of times Mozilla is determining there is no demand for things based on very few people using them, *but* very few people use them because Mozilla at some point made the decision to take them out or never put them into the default interface and setup that people see. Software can often lead a userbase one way or the other on these type of things.

Also worth mentioning is that the type of people who'd root around for RSS feeds and other options are the same type of people who would turn telemetry off. Actually, I think turning that stuff off is just a sign that someone has read the options menu. :) Most people click no to telemetry and whatnot if they happen to see a checkbox. And if they are in there to see the checkbox, they might discover some features while they are there. But most people don't explore the options menu.

Now, I am not necessarily mourning the death of the RSS feed in general. I used to use them a lot, but now the only thing I use them for is to enter into the podcast app on my phone, which isn't a web browser thing, obviously (On a side note, it'd be nice if podcasters would remember that podcast feeds solely hosted by the iTune Store are inaccessible to anyone who doesn't have an iPhone as their smartphone [Like, you know Android users, among others], doesn't use iTunes on their Apple or Windows computer, or has a device that is basically anything else [i.e. Sony walkman, etc.]. Sometimes they'll even give you an itunes and a stitcher link and call it a day, as if those were the only two options. I suspect this will get worse if Google's new in-house Podcast app for Android catches on. Just include an RSS feed and we select what we want to use to download and listen with.).

Really, I'm just saying that developers tend to hide features and then later say no one uses them and eliminate them. Its the cart driving the horse. They've made the decision to create the conditions that will eventually justify what they want to do.

I wonder what would happen if a browser intentionally put stuff like this out in front on default installs and if that would increase their use on the browser, and provide a positive differentiation that could create a fan base with reasons why your product works best for them rather than it just seeming like browser choice is mostly about branding and what icon people want on their desktops, with all seeming aboit the same if don't explore settings and options.

To be fair, Mozilla is kind of doing that with Pocket, but one needs to both customize the menu bar and go into about:config to get rid of all user facing elements of it may cross a line.

I like the return of the square tabs, though. That is as it should be. :) It also provides an immediate default visual distinction from Chrome.
Last edited by CharmCityCrab on Sun, 29 Jul 2018, 05:23, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby SpockFan02 » Sun, 29 Jul 2018, 06:35

CharmCityCrab wrote:...

So, a lot of times Mozilla is determining there is no demand for things based on very few people using them, *but* very few people use them because Mozilla at some point made the decision to take them out or never put them into the default interface and setup that people see. Software can often lead a userbase one way or the other on these type of things.

...
Just like Panorama/Tab Groups*, complete themes, soon userChrome.

*(The feature wasn't made easy to find (e.g. bug 626500), and then since it seemed not many people were using it, it got the chop.)

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Moonchild » Sun, 29 Jul 2018, 08:35

There are several factors that made it nondiscoverable for most people.
Indeed no longer including a bookmarks toolbar entry that is a live bookmark to display the feature, but even more so removing the feed indicator from the address bar (which I restored on purpose) because since that point, there was no longer an indicator that a website supported feeds or not. In the long run I think that is what made usage drop. If you don't know a feed is offered, you're not thinking of actually using it.
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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby IceKirby » Tue, 31 Jul 2018, 23:03

If Firefox still had any chance of getting me back to use it, they just now destroyed it completely. A few years ago I thought about changing from Firefox to Opera (when it was still very customizable), but ended staying with Firefox simply because of the live bookmarks.

Live bookmarks are a central part of my web browser usage. I'm not necessarily interested in all news published by some site, so just having the headlines before I can decide if I want to read that piece or not is very handful.
And I also use feedly for some other sites (mostly memes sites) where I actually think there's something to gain from seeing all the articles posted.

There are comparatively very few existing automated tests for both features. The live bookmarks implementation uses old, slow ways of accessing the bookmarks database, and complicates the rest of the bookmarks implementation unnecessarily. The feed viewer has its own special XML parser rather than using the main Firefox one, and hasn’t had a significant update in styling or functionality in the last 7 or so years, gradually becoming more broken and looking more and more outdated.

Geez, I wonder if those are somehow related to each other.

Finally, podcasts are more successful than text-based feeds, but neither our feed viewer nor live bookmarks have good integration for them.

I don't mind if they think podcasts are better (I pretty much never use them), but this part sounds like a bad excuse to justify whatever they are trying to do. Having more options is always better (except on Mozilland, apparently). I will always prefer text over audio/video since I can do dynamic reading and quickly figure if the contents interest me or not.

RSS/Atom has been slowly losing popularity, and various tools and companies have dropped support years ago (Apple Mail, Google Reader, …)

Feedly was a nobody in the internet until then, but became a respectable site after Google dropped Reader. Feels like they are not mentioning feedly on purpose here, because they have no excuse to explain it.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Phantom » Wed, 01 Aug 2018, 03:40

Just another move to copy Chrome IMO.

I use RSS feeds with a bookmark folder in my toolbar for blogs.

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Re: Next on Mozilla's chopping block: Feed reader/live bookmarks

Unread postby Moonchild » Wed, 01 Aug 2018, 08:29

IceKirby wrote:I don't mind if they think podcasts are better [...] I will always prefer text over audio/video since I can do dynamic reading and quickly figure if the contents interest me or not.


No podcast, audio or video will ever be able to keep up with my speed-reading/scanning of documents. I personally hate all these "articles" that force me to slow down because they only make the full content available as video/podcast.
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