Mozilla today unveiled a new project called the Context Graph. In short, the company is looking to build “a better forward button” that helps you understand a topic, find alternative solutions to a problem, and in general allow browsers to offer useful information without demanding input.
Context Graph is a “recommender system for the web” that is supposed to help the company develop an understanding of browser activity at scale. By tapping into what and how people are browsing, Mozilla hopes to unlock “the next generation of web discovery on the internet.”
Here’s Mozilla’s official description of the new project:
The goal for Context Graph features is to help people find new stuff based on their current context. For example, lots of pages link to a single YouTube video, but there’s no way to get at all those pages from the YouTube video itself. If we can understand this network of links, we can use it to build a better recommendation system.
Another example is learning how to do something new, like bike repair. Context Graph should be able to help you learn bike repair based on the links others have navigated to when they attempted to learn the same thing. “This should work regardless of whom you’re connected to, because your social network shouldn’t be a prerequisite for getting the most from the web,” Nick Nguyen, Firefox’s vice president of product, said.
Context Graph will naturally raise privacy concerns. Nguyen explains that Mozilla is working with a group of volunteer users to figure out how best to collect data and start building experimental systems for making contextual recommendations. He also promised that the tool will respect user privacy and be open source:
We also believe there is no necessary tradeoff to be made between user control and personalization, and we will prove that these products are achievable without violating user trust or privacy. We will work to make sure our users understand what they’re sharing and the value they get in return. True to our open heritage, our methods will be open for scrutiny by anyone.
After mentioning both Google and Facebook, Nguyen explained that this latest project comes from the same place that all of Mozilla’s recent initiatives do: The web is becoming less open. “What concerns us is the long-term impact of a world where a small number of companies dominate the web for discovery and services, and the leverage that creates,” he said. “[Nowadays] the only path for new ideas requires either payment or acquisition, either of which tend to cost a lot of money.”
We’ve actually seen a little of this project already: Mozilla says Activity Stream is the first Context Graph feature. The new functionality was made available in the Firefox add-on Test Pilot, which launched in May.
Activity Stream makes it easier to navigate through your browsing history and rediscover the sites you love the most on the web. But Mozilla promises it will evolve into also helping you discover places on the web you haven’t yet seen.
Context Graph appears to be Mozilla’s latest attempt to create something as big as Firefox. The need to further open up the web is certainly there, but it’s still way too early to say whether this project has legs. Still, it’s great to see Mozilla tackling something that is in line with the organization’s DNA of improving the web.