These are yesterday’s Feedburner stats for this blog:
feedburner stats

Notice anything striking?

Wow. 75% of this blog’s feed reader audience uses Firefox Live Bookmarks. That’s a very large proportion of users. Back in November I remember looking at the stats and it was quite a bit fragmented. So how did Firefox gain so much feed reader market share in that small timeframe?

Enter “the power of the default”.

One of the new features in Firefox 2 is the built in WebFeeds feature:

Firefox 2 gives you full control over Web feeds, showing you a preview and letting you choose how you want to subscribe. You can use a Firefox Live Bookmark, or a feed reader that you’ve installed on your computer, or through a Web service such as My Yahoo!, Bloglines or Google Reader.

Now everyone who uses Firefox 2 and clicks on an RSS feed gets the following page:
FF feed reader screenshot

Obviously it’s easiest to just click “subscribe” and use Firefox Feed Reader. But wait, their descriptions says “… or a feed reader that you’ve installed…” so if you click on the dropdown, they’ll give you some options:
FF feed reader options

You’ll notice the lack of options here, most notably any web-based options such as Netvibes, Newsgator, Protopage, etc. (nor do they offer an option to add them).

After having tried a number of personalized start pages and news readers, I’ve been a pretty loyal user of Netvibes. Even since I’ve installed Firefox 2, the process of adding any feed to Netvibes is quite a bit more complicated than it used to be when Feedburner controlled the subscribe page. I have to copy and paste the RSS url to my Netvibes start page.

This extra effort is enough to really erode marketshare from anyone other than Firefox and the treo of default options (Bloglines, My Yahoo, and Google Reader) because most users will go for the path of least resistance. I’ll still be using Netvibes for some time to come, but I’m probably in the minority.

So why the comparison to Microsoft in the title? Well, Microsoft was built on the “power of the default”. Since IE was installed with the operating system, they basically muscled their way into becoming the standard browser by leveraging their OS market share. Since there’s probably a high correlation of Firefox users to feed readers (the savvy web users), you can argue that Firefox users are the early adopters that will guide the market for feeds in general.

Now Firefox will argue that the WebFeeds option is actually making the users’ lives easier – it’s a very good argument and I agree to an extent. But I also think they are using their dominant position in the market to make Firefox the standard feed reader in the market. I think my feedburners stats above prove that.

What do you think? Should the Firefox browser handle feeds differently?

Update: Check out Stefan’s post about how Firefox handles subscriber counts and how the stats above might be wildly inaccurate because of it.