Mozilla adds Suggested Sites feature to New Tab Page

This is probably just me, but whenever anything on the internet suggests something that I might like, they’re almost always about as wrong as wrong can be.

Mozilla pushed out a New Tab feature with today’s Firefox Nightly update that introduces Suggested Sites on the page. If you are running the most recent version of Firefox Nightly, the cutting edge version of the Firefox browser that receives all feature updates first, you may have been greeted with a prompt introducing a new feature for the browser’s New Tab page.

Firefox’s New Tab page links to a selection of sites based on several factors. First, it links to sites that you have visited in the past based on popularity.

You may modify that behavior by pinning sites to the New Tab page so that they are displayed on it permanently.

The third and final type are sponsored results that Mozilla may display on it provided that you have not disabled the feature. Sponsored tiles are clearly marked as such on the New Tab page.

Today’s update introduces another type of tile that you may see when you open a New Tab page in Firefox: suggested tiles.

The core difference between sponsored and suggested tiles is that the latter are suggestions based on your interests and not paid for by sponsors.

firefox suggested tiles 1

firefox suggested tiles 2

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You may not see sponsored or suggested tiles on the New Tab page if you have used Firefox for a while already.

When you remove enough sites from the page, suggested sites may be displayed after all. These sites are displayed with a suggested tag similar to how sponsored sites are displayed with the sponsored tag on the page.

firefox suggested site

The only site suggestion displayed on my computer’s new tab page was one for Booking.com. Since this is a commercial site, it could as well have been displayed as a sponsored result.

I did browse several travel related sites in the past week though. Mozilla has not revealed yet how Firefox comes up with the suggestions.

It is likely however that it uses the same system as the Interest Dashboard extension that Mozilla launched as an experimental add-on back in November 2014.

The extension analyzes the browsing history and sorts visited sites into categories like sports, technology or arts. It includes a recommendation engine based on interests and that is likely being used.

It is unclear right now however if Mozilla uses a whitelist of sites for the suggested tiles feature. It would make sense to limit suggestions as it could become a highly problematic feature otherwise when users are not satisfied or even offended by the suggestions.

Turn Suggested sites off

It is easy enough to turn off the suggested sites feature.

  1. Open the New Tab page in the Firefox browser, for instance with the shortcut Ctrl-t.
  2. Click on the cogwheel icon on the page to display a configuration menu.
  3. Remove the checkmark from “include suggested sites”.

To turn it back on, add the checkmark again.

Closing Words

I have never been a fan of suggestions or recommendations based on an analysis of the browsing history. The main reason for that is that the suggestions are either not very good or not safe bets. I have never seen a suggestion for a site that is not mainstream.

That does not mean that other Internet users may have the same objections. New users may find it useful but if you are a veteran Internet user it is unlikely that it will be of use to you.

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