mozilla-foundation-logo-250x2351Mozilla has launched the online equivalent of a tip jar for developers of Firefox add-ons to make money from generous users. There is now an optional “contribution button” that they can put on their add-on pages so that users can donate via PayPal.

Of course, no step in this process is compulsory. Even if the contributions button is there, users can still freely download and use the add-ons in question. Anything more than that would cramp Mozilla’s open-source style. That being said, developers can set their own prices for suggested donations, making downloading their add-ons a bit like going to a museum or zoo where the “suggested” admission price is $50 (and it’s nearly impossible not to pay — though that might be due to peer pressure). It will be interesting to see what some of these developers believe their wares to be worth — and whether their users agree.

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CNet has been running a poll, asking readers whether they would pay for Firefox add-ons, and if so how much. The results so far, after 269 voters, aren’t auspicious. Most people (48.7 percent) say they would never pay for an add-on, while 45 percent say they would pay between $1 and $5.

Right now, this new donations feature is only a pilot program with a limited number of participating developers. It’s unclear whether or not it will stick, but in the meantime, developers will actually get the full amount of the contributions made (aside from PayPal’s transaction fee). But if it becomes an institution on the add-on sites, Mozilla says it plans to take a small percentage. Looking out for itself and its own, the company is urging developers to set up special PayPal accounts to handle transactions under $12 so that they pay lower micropayment fees.

Incidentally, Mozilla also launched “About the Developer” pages simultaneously, not so subtly hinting that there are real people behind the many add-on offerings — real people who wouldn’t mind getting paid. The pages allow developers to tell their stories, how they came up with various add-ons and what their roadmap or vision for them is going forward. With the new payment structure in place, these pages will no doubt turn into valuable marketing real estate, with developers explaining why users should pay up.

Both of these moves on Mozilla’s part point to its awareness that its add-ons are the foundation of its success. People use Firefox because it is so easy to customize to personal needs. The company has major incentive to keep attracting talented developers into its fold — and the Contributions widget, whether it works well or not, seems like a smart PR strategy to keep the ball rolling.

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