A couple of weeks ago Alex posted asking the question whether browser add-ons can be real businesses. Alex came to no definite conclusions and looking at the comments on his post, the readers were very split about the reality of browser add-ons become standalone businesses.
I meet from time to time with Seth Wagoner, CEO of browser add-on company Interclue and we had a discussion about Alex’s post. Rather than paraphrase Seth’s thoughts, I thought it best to post his salient points directly.
At a very general level, I think of commercial software as “monetizing pixel-seconds”, whether they’re on the desktop, in the browser, on your phone, whatever. You’ve got to *earn* your pixel-seconds, by providing value to the users. Usually, the pixels closer to the user’s mouse pointer are quite a bit more valuable than the ones around the edges of the browser or the screen. Any setup&takedown time counts against your value as well, although if this can be done at a time when other stuff is happening the user notices less. It takes a while to start up MS Word and close it again. Not so long to start up Google Docs. No time at all to open a clueview [editor’s note – clueviews are Interclue’s pop-up window previews]. I’m not sure whether this applies to everything (video? screensavers?) but in general if the user is letting you take up bits of their screen and not complaining about it then you have a reasonable chance of making money from it.
The reality is that as more people spend more time in their browsers, browser add-ons will get more chances to make money. Browser add-ons that can actually inject stuff into the pages near where the user is actually looking will likely do even better. But if you want to get the user’s face like that you really do have to provide quite a lot of value.
It’s not impossible to create viability for a browser add-on business but it does require nailing some use cases that are conceptual at best (or yet to be conceived at worse). All credit to those attempting to build businesses of this type – you’ve picked yourselves a scary but potentially rewarding, space.