Disclaimer: I'm speaking for myself here, and not for Flock.
My ex-co-worker Erwan Loisant blogged yesterday regarding the recent "Flock is/is not moving to Chrome" brouhaha. He sums up with the following statement:
At its early days, Flock decided to be a browser instead of a set of extensions. This choice makes sense for Flock's general strategy, but today I can't help but think that if Flock was an extension company, it could just have released a Chrome version along with versions for other browsers.
This oversimplifies one large point: Flock wouldn't exist now, because they would have burned through their VC money as an extension they most likely couldn't have monetized.
The monetization conundrum:
The problem Flock, and Round Two, it's predecessor faced with being an extension is unique to them. It's the standard problem of extension monetization. I'm not sure how Yoono or Foxmarks make money, but discovering how to reliably make more than just a pittance off an extension has been a recurring question and dilemma for extension developers. I feel this is the primary reason that we haven't seen more than a handful of companies emerge who specialize in revenue-generating extensions. Most companies creating extensions appear to author them as tie-ins to their existing revenue-generating product (ex: Facebook, NitroPDF), providing some revenue and brand awareness. Other companies (ex: Brand Thunder) seem to exist entirely on this brand awareness idea, creating extensions to skin the browser much like ads wrap city busses (at least in America and Canada). Note that out of the current top ten Firefox extensions listed on addons.mozilla.org as ordered by downloads, only number 10, CoolIris, appears to directly create revenue for the authoring company. Solving this is hard.
It's hard to compete with Free:
If, as an example, Flock were to be implemented as an extension and attempted to say, overwrite the affiliate tags for the search box in the chrome with it's own to redirect revenue, I think they'd be vilified and perhaps even blocked. Adding some sort of "shopping" functionality as Yoono has, or selling occasional ad space in the media bar as CoolIris does might be an option, although some (myself included) might find that a bit too blatant, feeling like egregious movie product placement. (ex: Apple in Independence Day, Cadillac in The Matrix, Dell in Ocean's Twelve) Instead, explaining/evangelising and providing some unique value to consumers would need to drive the downloads, similar to how Foxmarks provides unique value, and follow with some "pro" account feature users would be willing to pay for. However, then companies face the prospect of one of the Internet giants (ex: Google, Yahoo!) or Mozilla itself (ex: Weave) providing the same functionality, but for free, obliterating the market overnight. Flock took this idea to an extreme, adding value, but in order to not need a "pro" account fee (which would be a death knell in the browser space) they repackaged the entire browser with their added features, so they could legitimately drive their own search box revenue.
The Firefox App Store?:
The problem of extension monetization is one that many would like Mozilla to take on and provide a solution to. Perhaps there is a market for a browser that takes Firefox or Chrome, builds a slick App Store into it, promotes it among developers, markets it well with consumers, and then can sit back and make a pretty penny for their VCs. Maybe, but I don't feel that is the job of Mozilla, nor are they well-suited for it. While there are folks within Mozilla who are business-savvy, or who are charged with business-like functions (ex: marketing, PR), the majority of long-term employees are interested in the technology, and the opportunity of changing the world so dramatically with the amazing leverage they and Firefox have been lucky enough to find. You find examples of this throughout the product, where good-for-the-public ideals won over business goals. The latest that comes to mind is Firefox 3.1's native support for Ogg Theora and Vorbis. By shipping this, and motivating web authors to use these formats, Mozilla can do an end-run around the Adobe/Flash Video vs. Apple/H26n vs. Microsoft/Windows Media codec battle, and provide value to users, and even better, one that isn't tied to a particular company's balance sheet.
What it comes down to is that there is no easy solution for monetizing extensions, just creative ones. It's not Mozilla's responsibility either to come up with a solution, it's the responsibility of the market.