Firefox 2.0 and the use of democratic features

Anti-phishing in Firefox

Lifehacker covers some of the new features of the upcoming Firefox 2.0. The fact that it will support google suggest and integrate with bloglines seem useful to me personally. A more interesting feature though is this anti-phishing/forgery one (pictured).

It seems to track phishing sites based on some central database, and people can “rate” a site as a forgery or not (I’m guessing by the “This isn’t a web forgery” link). I imagine it isn’t purely a human-generated list of sites, but I think the trend towards democratic, “wisdom of crowds“-type features is going to increase in browsers. Right now there are some Firefox plugins that fall into this category (stumbleupon comes to mind).

A lot of the web-2.0 apps these days rely on some democratic way for users to affect the experiences of the community. For example, if enough people digg a story it makes it to the front page, where it’s viewed by more people. It’s also common for even older sites like craigslist to offer features like “report this post as offensive” and rely on their user base to filter out content that might be inappropriate for other users.

It’s easy enough to game systems like this. Let’s say a group of people selling condos on craigslist band together and decide they want to shut out a competitor, they could simply all start reporting that the competitor’s posts are offensive. So, I presume at least some of these systems don’t simply rely on a fixed number (ex. when 10 people say this is offensive, delete it) and in fact have some form of human intervention (ex. when 10 people say this is offensive, have a member of our staff look at it). Or, like Digg, they might claim that they have sophisticated algorithms that detect “gaming patterns” to prevent these types of things.

Similarly, used to have a feature where you could list on a product page what products you’d recommend “instead of” the one people are looking at. Presumably, you could find suggestions for products that the crowd thought were better than the one you were looking at. Helpful right? However, if you were looking at a controversial book, say from one end of the political spectrum, that section would often turn into a set of books for the opposing party. Arguably this is still helpful, but I’d say by and large it’s not useful. That section seems to have gone away and now there is a section that says “What do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item?” – something much less susceptible to zealotry and gaming.

There are a ton of really cool features that can be built using these democratic principles, but a lot can go wrong as well. I’d be interested in finding out more about how people are solving these sorts of problems… assuming they’re not all top secret.