This week, Mozilla Labs announced a new project to develop social functionality within the Firefox browser. The Coop aims to “create a fun and easy way to share links with your friends, and to browse the set of links that friends have shared with you. We also want to make it easy to ‘subscribe' to a friend.”
Firefox could become the place where you keep up with everything online. The main interface consists of boxes representing friends whom you select. Their faces are supposed to light up when they have something to share. More practically, you're able to sort by friends, their content, or content type. There are more specs in the The Coop's wiki.
At first glance, this social browser should appeal to users who already spend their days actively tagging and sharing. There are many who use tagging tools like del.icio.us and furl.net, and are accustomed to using their browsers already. For them, the transition seems natural.
The Coop also might attract people who actively participate on social sites. It's a slightly different mindset, since you make your primary social connections on the browser first rather than the domain-based social site. However once you select your friends, it's a convenient option.
For just about anyone, having ready access and links to all forms of media is a nice feature. You could start to consider browsers as mini-portals, if set up according to your specific interests. Take a quick look at this video mock, where the latest video finds among friends are easily shared.
What's Not Appealing:
First, the social browser is "set" to the same channels of friends and content. When your interests change, that means you'll want to re-tune to other people. Otherwise, you'll see things that aren't interesting -- literally every time you open your browser.
Also, the Coop doesn't fully consider the vast amount of people you reach occasionally online. You might have some interests in common, but aren't going to sign up to see everything these people want to share. It makes me wonder where social search fits in this picture.
The most basic pitfall? Browsers aren't portable and many people have separate work and home computers. While both can be set up, it may not be desirable and synchronization could be a hassle. Not everyone is tethered to their own machines either, so they lose access to their social connections.
The Bigger Picture:
From a traffic perspective, patterns would obviously shift because the social browser creates a noisier environment surrounding websites. What people visit online is disconnected from what's shared in the browser. I'm not sure who comes out ahead, but there should be new traffic driven by the browser-based links shared by friends.
Also, there isn't any monetization path. On social sites, there are active CPM and CPC advertising efforts, but The Coop spec stays ad-free. However this browser will expose ads attached to external feeds, which is how some feed providers make money. Any incremental revenue opportunities on Firefox aren't likely.
The Coop is freshly hatched, and defined as a communication and sharing mechanism, which depends on the interests of active users and their crowds. It follows the paths set by other social sites, only without the site. When it develops in coming months, let's see what happens with adoption rates and business opportunities.