Mozilla competes with 3 massive multinational companies (Google, Apple and Microsoft) who have between 30 and 200 times more employees than we do, allied with development and marketing budgets which dwarf our entire income. There is a clear and obvious revenue stream (advertising via search) tied directly to success in our market. They have awesomely powerful distribution channels that we just don’t have. How can we possibly win? What are our competitive advantages?
I suggest we have 3:
Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but the often-quoted figure is that 40% of the Mozilla codebase is contributed by people we don’t employ. However, that doesn’t count the massive efforts people put in doing QA, documentation, support, local activism, and encouraging their friends to download, install and use Firefox. IE doesn’t have fans so keen they do this. Or this. When the Mozilla Foundation was 6 people in a borrowed office somewhere in Silicon Valley wondering what they’d do when AOL’s $2 million ran out, the community was what kept us going. And they’ve been vital ever since.
One thing which prevents the community growing is that we keep hiring people out of it. Which is fine – but if we want to keep employing people who believe in what we do, rather than people who are just here for a few years as the next step on their career ladder and because Mozilla looks good on the CV, it’s important to keep that source of passionate talent healthy. Which means giving responsibility to people we don’t pay, levelling the playing fields inside the project, and enabling meaningful participation.
We need to make sure we don’t take our community for granted.
If you promote your product as “the new shiny”, then people will leave it pursuit of the newer and shinier. I think that a while back, someone realised this, and that led to the Mozilla marketing being refocussed to emphasize more that we are a non-profit, and are in this for the good of the web, not the good of the shareholders.
I’m sure a large proportion of Chrome users are ex-Firefox users. In the time before Chrome, when we were the new shiny, we missed an opportunity to educate them about why Mozilla is different, why the open web is important, and why having the coolest, fastest, slickest browser around is a great thing but it’s not the most important thing. So when something they perceived as cooler, faster and slicker came long, they left us for precisely the same reason they arrived. We didn’t tell them why they should stay.
We need to make sure we don’t keep missing that opportunity.
Goodwill is Community x Ideals. People who believe in our mission and what we are doing have gone to great lengths to persuade their family and friends to use Firefox. As users regained control of the web with popup blockers and the like, they realised that here was an organization which cared about more than the contents of their wallet. And they installed it for all their friends. But now, all those friends are ringing them up complaining that Firefox updates too often, the UI keeps changing and their addons no longer work. Heck, some of their own addons no longer work. They don’t understand why all this is happening, but they do know it’s a pain in the ass.
People who believe in us have fought inside their companies against recalcitrant IT departments, indifferent managers and our lack of formal support for enterprises to get Firefox to be an accepted or even the default option on their corporate desktops. These people understood that we didn’t have the resources to make their lives easier, but up until recently, what they also understood is that we empathized. We couldn’t give them technical help like MSIs or Group Policy support, but we could say “thanks very much”, and “we appreciate your efforts”. And that made it all feel so much better. Now they think we don’t give a monkey’s about them, and are wondering why they bothered.
We need to not give our friends the finger.