A couple days ago I posted an entry about Mozilla’s new Fashion Your Firefox add-on promotional campaign. Among the apps listed was one that I nearly overlooked, but that now strikes me as indispensable. It’s called Thumbstrips, and it’s a product of Intuit Labs, an innovative new venture by the makers of Quickbooks, popular tax software for Windows and Mac.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with two Intuit staff members to talk about Thumbstrips, Fashion Your Firefox, developing for Mozilla, and Intuit Labs.
Tara Tarapata, Group Manager for the Intuit Innovation Lab, and Scott Williamson, Software Engineer and an early developer of Thumbstrips, both gave me the impression that Intuit is an organization staffed by passionate people who are trying to shake things up in software development.
While I did not mention Thumbstrips by name in my initial overview of Fashion Your Firefox, I’ve since come to regret the omission. Since downloading the add-on, it’s become an integral part of my Firefox browsing experience.
Put simply, it allows you to view your history as a visual filmstrip of thumbnails in a pane at the bottom of your browser window. Definitely saves you time time digging for that page you forgot to bookmark when you’re involved in a deep dive and can’t be expected to keep track of every little link that might prove useful. Tara pointed out other uses, including comparison shopping, bug-testing for web developers, and as a live screenshot demo reel for giving presentations.
The add-on itself is only the beginning of the story. If you’re involved in developing apps for Mozilla, a behind the scenes peek at how Thumbstrips became one of the most-downloaded add-ons available is particularly illuminating.
Thumbstrips took its first steps in the Intuit Innovation Labs, a breeding and testing ground for promising ideas and applications in development at Intuit. The Labs allow software end-users to become an integral part of the development community. According to Tara, the purpose of the space is to make sure that the applications that end up in the hands of users has the functionality that they actually need. Using the website’s “Count Me In” feature, you can sign up to become even more involved. You’ll get access to new ideas as they arrive, interact with Intuit software engineers in the development process, and help guide the future of Intuit Labs itself.
From the labs, Scott said the next step was getting listed on the official Mozilla add-ons page. Once they were listed, download numbers skyrocketed. Eventually, Thumbstrips became so popular that the Intuit team decided to apply to become a Recommended app. Yes, that is a developer-initiated process. Thumbstrips was accepted, and now enjoys regular rotation in and out of Mozilla’s Recommended apps.
The last step, the actual inclusion of Thumbstrips in the list of apps featured on Fashion Your Firefox, came as something of a surprise to the add-on’s development team. They’d heard about the launch of the new web app, and were curious to see what was available. Scott actually discovered Thumbstrips’ inclusion when he clicked to expand the “Digital Pack Rat” category. Since its inclusion, downloads of Thumbstrips have gone up 200-300%, up to 400+ daily. Clearly Mozilla’s initiative is sparking some interest.
What’s ahead for Thumbstrips?
Tara says they unfortunately can’t devote much more of their internal team’s time to the add-on, but that’s where the beauty of the Intuit Labs community lies. They hope to open source the software soon, handing it over to interested developers so that it will continue to grow thanks to the efforts of those who helped maked it a reality to begin with. And Thumbstrips is just the beginning. Tara, Scott, and the rest of the Intuit team hope to break new ground in allowing as much of their catalogue as possible to become open source once in-house development stops. With the help of the Intuit Labs community, this could ensure that applications live on, evolving to meet user needs well beyond the lifespan of traditional, privately developed software.