Interview with Michel Gutierrez of Video DownloadHelper

11 Video DownloadHelper is by far the most popular of the video downloading add-ons out the for Firefox.  Only proof you need is to check out the most popular downloads page yourself.  It gets 480,759 weekly downloads.  With that in mind, I wanted to talk with the man behind what might be one of the most popular add-ons for Firefox, ever.  Who is this man? Michel Gutierrez is the brain behind the Video DownloadHelper and I was lucky enough to get him cornered to answer a few questions I had about the extension.

Out of all the different, “download the video from that video sharing site” services out there – what does it feel like to be the most popular one, right now?

It’s good and that’s even better to be one of the most popular Firefox extensions overall :)

I started computing in the early 80s on a Sinclair ZX81 (2KB of RAM!) and since then, i wrote many lines of code within a lot of various projects but DownloadHelper is by far the application that got the best success. So when you write a piece of software that will be executed one million times everyday, you for sure feel useful but a bit anxious as you have the responsibility to make this code work flawlessly.

What makes Video DownloadHelper different than the other video download tools for Firefox?

There are 3 major things for an application like DownloadHelper to be successful:

First, it must be easy to use: most users must be able to use it right away after the installation without having to read a long manual.

Second, it must be reliable and work without problem is a large majority of situations. However, in this particular video downloading area, you must accept that the application won’t work in 100% of the cases users would expect it to work.

Third, it must be trustworthy and not try to spy the users, send them popups or anything of that kind, where it would be technically easy to do so and financially lucrative. And not only it must respect the users but it must be seen as such. This is were popularity is quite useful: users know that if millions other people use the application, this one must be safe.

For the case of video downloading tools, DownloadHelper is well perceived because it matches well the 3 points above, in particular it uses generic capture methods that work well in practice and do not depend on a video site implementation that could change the next day, that’s for reliability. Also, it does not resolve video media addresses through an external web site where users could suspect someone spies them upon on the videos they are watching.

Did video web sites complain about your tool being able to grab their content?

No, on the contrary, many of them ask for their site to be included in our lists.

It’s important to understand that DownloadHelper is not only a tool to grab videos to your local hard disk, but the overall project also includes a registry of more than 600 video sites which is managed mainly on the web site ( and a bit in the extension (supported sites list). Thanks to the magic of statistics, from the data collected in the site over a large population of visitors, the lists are sorted accurately based on their quality. If a new good video web site opens, it will quickly show up in the top of the list.

This discovery feature generates everyday about 150,000 hits to those web sites. So to answer your question, a few sites requested to be removed and only 1 of them maintained this request once they understood the traffic was directed to their html pages and not directly to the media content.

Is there still room for improvement with Video DownloadHelper, or are you more focused now keeping it up and running with the most recent Firefox versions?

There is still a large functional margin with DownloadHelper and you can expect to see new great features in the near future. Amongst them, you should see:

  • much smarter naming of the videos: most users would prefer downloading a file named funny_basketball_shots.flv rather than 3246874321854.flv
  • video conversion parameters sharing: fine tuning the embedded converter can be tricky. As DownloadHelper users is a large population, sharing the
  • configurations that work best becomes statistically meaningful
    direct access to YouTube high-quality videos
  • several other features that are still secret :)

Do you have other secret Firefox-related projects?

Unfortunately, my brain is not powerful enough to handle other projects in parallel, and it’s certainly wiser to use the energy capitalizing on the popularity of DownloadHelper.

But still in the overall DownloadHelper context, the next big step is to take benefit of the exposure of the extension to help populations in Africa. It’s something to help people in developed countries getting videos, but if you can also provide a more significant support to people in need, then why not doing so ? I am currently discussing with associations to have that in place in late September or October.

How many people are contributing to the DownloadHelper project ?

About 2 millions daily users making suggestions and reporting issues (not all of them fortunately !), 800 beta-testers, 20 translators, ~10 advisers and 1 making the decisions and the coding.

What made you want to create the add-on for Firefox?

Basically the need for it.

In summer 2006, I wanted to download a video file out of YouTube. The only Firefox extension that was available at that time was really not good. As I developed several Mozilla extensions in a professional context, I had the technical expertise to do better, which I did in a week-end. The first day it was published on it downloaded 2000 times which I found very high. I now have other figures in mind to talk about success :)

What other Firefox add-ons out there really impress you?

I like small extensions doing a simple job well, like Download Statusbar, Mouse Gesture Redox, Table2Clipboard.   And also as a web developer, I could not live without Javascript Debugger (Venkman), Firebug and Web Developer.

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