The sunset of getpersonas.com
Over four years ago getpersonas.com was built as a gallery to hold Personas - easy to make and use themes for Firefox. A lot of programs were supporting skins at the time, but I don’t know of any which were so simple (literally, move your mouse over an image on a webpage and it’s applied). A community of artists formed and many designs emerged - some amazing and popular, some focused on specific things (hat tip to CollieSmile), many for sports, or brands, or just people who wanted pictures of their family in a spot they noticed all day long.
Honestly, I thought they seemed gimmicky at first, but I started using them casually and they can be pretty fun. Every once in a while I’ll look up at my search box and see this guy and crack a smile and that’s enough reason to keep using them for me.
Now I’m treading down the dangerous path of naming names - a road full of mine shafts and sharp turns - and if I make a mistake, my apologies, please let me know or leave a comment. I wasn’t involved at the start of the Personas project but I think credit for the idea goes to Chris Beard, original add-on development to Myk Melez, original Firefox development work to the Mozilla Labs team, Toby Elliott and Ryan Doherty as the primary web developers, Stephen Donner and Krupa Raj for QA, and Jeremy Orem for IT Support. I know other teams worked on code here and there, but I think those were the primary contributors. I was focused on the engineering aspects so I’m not sure who to credit for the operational side of things - I know someone was managing day to day life at the time (it was Deb Richardson at some point, and today it’s Amy Tsay) and there were numerous volunteers reviewing submissions as they came in. It’s probably worth noting that in all the queues of all the sites at Mozilla the getpersonas.com queue was the only one I regularly saw completely finished and empty - kudos to those reviewers.
After seeing the rapid success of Personas we began talking about what we should do with them. The site didn’t have anyone adding features or doing maintenance on it - Ryan was the closest person to it and officially he was working on AMO. So, after some discussion we decided we would migrate all the data in getpersonas.com to AMO which would keep all of our themes and add-ons in one place. We finished the first steps (relatively) quickly - we wrote a questionable script which ran periodically and synced Personas listings from getpersonas.com to AMO. The files themselves and all the users remained on getpersonas.com. Looking purely at the number of times the script finished vs failed, it did pretty well, but there were times when it would fail constantly until someone could find time to fix it, much to the concern of the artists who didn’t see new data showing up on AMO.
Meanwhile, our security team decided to add getpersonas.com to the bug bounty program which surprised everyone and which we’ve playfully chided them about ever since. Some of our oldest and hacked together code (remember, this was originally an experiment) was now coming under scrutiny from security professionals and bored/gifted students from around the world. Special thanks to Matthew Noorenberghe and Brandon Savage for writing patches to fight back the flood of incoming security bugs.
A final spur to getting the migration finished came in the form of Mozilla Persona - an aptly named identity system, also from our company. After some spirited debate it was decided the identity project would use the Persona name and the personas on getpersonas.com would be referred to as Themes (and the existing themes we had as Complete Themes). With all the logistics out of the way we rapidly adopted the new names everywhere save getpersonas.com which continued to cling to life.
Late last year Chris Van Wiemeersch spearheaded a clandestine operation to finally finish closing down getpersonas.com (with special mention to Kevin Ngo for contributing piles of code all the while finishing his final exams, and Kris Maglione for updating the Personas Plus add-on).
After another quarter of late nights balancing the migration with developing the Firefox Marketplace it’s finally happened: I’m happy to announce that getpersonas.com has now officially retired and all the content and artist accounts have been migrated to AMO.
It’s exciting from a Mozilla point of view because the confusion of projects can finally end and we can stop pretending to maintain a site that we haven’t actually done anything with for years. The artists and users have reason to be happy also, though - moving to AMO means it’s on an actively maintained site. Improvements can happen, features can be added, and new ideas can be explored. Finishing this long awaited migration will breathe new life into the themes community and I’m looking forward to all the fun new ways we’ll see Perso-uhh - I mean - themes, being used.
A screenshot of new users on AMO on the night we imported the accounts. Our usual numbers of 1500/day are eclipsed by 1.5 million that night. Also a testament to the site’s scalability that it didn’t miss a beat.