Mozilla

5 Days in Europe; Feb. 2008

February 29th, 2008

Here’s a brief report of my trip to Europe, which started on Saturday, February 9 and ended on Friday the 15th.

Leave Saturday evening. Lose most of a night’s sleep. Arrive in London Sunday afternoon. Do some work, walk around a bit try to work out the kinks from the plane trip. Get a decent night’s sleep.

Monday: Up at 6 to get some work done before meetings start at 8 a.m. Press meetings go until almost 7 p.m., with fortunately a break for lunch. We had four taped sessions, two video sessions and two sessions with photographers. One photographer literally took us walking around the streets and blocking sidewalks for photos. The questions ranged from introductory and general topics to a discussion of philosophical differences reflected in different open source and free software licenses. Jane Finette manages the logistics and keeps me where I’m supposed to be.

Tuesday: Up at 5:30 for a flight to Munich. On the way Jane and I learn that the local city airport has cancelled many, many flights — including ours — due to heavy fog. In the cab Jane manages to get a new flight for us from a different airport and we head in a different direction. I was pretty surprised — I can’t really imagine being in a cab and being able to change a canceled flight from San Francisco airport to a different flight from the San Jose airport, all with a single phone call to a number gleaned from the airline’s website, but Jane and Lufthansa managed it. By the time we get to the airport (Heathrow this time) the fog has moved around and our new flight is a couple of hours late leaving.

This would all be fine except that the journalists we’re meeting in Munich have flown in from other parts of Germany and have their own plane flights back. We arrive at the hotel in Munich to find one of the journalists on the hotel steps eager to get started so we have time to talk. I’m so tired I promptly spill a bunch of coffee all over the serving table. But I’m also clear that the hotel has seen this happen many times, so I blithely ignore the dismay of the organizer and plunge in. Mozilla’s market share in Germany is around 35% so this is not an introductory conversation. It’s pretty deep into the specifics of Mozilla and the kinds of questions that someone very familiar with Mozilla would ask. The most novel part of the discussion was a few questions on the interaction of Firefox 3’s offline capabilities with our Prism project. I love the chance to talk to journalists who have time to develop their own expertise and perspective — one never knows where the conversation will lead.

Tuesday’s press meetings went until 7 p.m. or so. Jane and I managed to get a nice meal (my first actual meal of the day) about 8:30 p.m. I spent the rest of the evening thinking about the talk I would give on Thursday morning at the Netxplorateur Forum. I spent a few hours during the middle of the night thinking about this as well, since I wasn’t satisfied with my progress. I seem to be unable to develop a talk or a slide show or a presentation and give it over and over. Or even to take the same presentation and tweak it. I am compelled to prepare a talk for the specific audience and event. This means I am rarely really prepared until I have a sense of the event and the people. In other words, I am almost never prepared when I get on the plane. It adds a lot of extra stress but I’ve been unable to change this pattern.

Wednesday I leave Munich and fly to Paris. Wednesday evening Tristan, Anne-Julie and I meet up for a bit. Then we enjoy a delightful dinner with a bunch of Mozilla contributors who have gathered in Paris. This is my first trip to Paris on behalf of Mozilla and thus my first time meeting a bunch of these folks. I know of them of course, and in many cases have long online working relationships but of course meeting people and seeing all these folks together is extraordinarily invigorating. I leave around 10 to get ready for the talk the next day.

Thursday- get up early to get to the Netxplorateur Forum before it starts. Again, I am compelled to attend the early parts of an event where I’m speaking. I like to hear the introductory remarks and absorb the tenor of the event so I can speak more clearly to the audience. In general I like to hear the keynotes for this purpose. But today I am the keynote, so I have to gather the sense of things from smaller clues.

The event was “designed to enable key political and business figures to grasp how Internet culture will transform the way our institutions and our companies are managed.” The audience was described to me as “400 French political, business and media decision-makers . . .” So the audience is clearly educated, in leadership positions but not necessarily particularly familiar with the ins and out of Internet technology. Firefox market share in France is around 25%, so I expected most of the audience to know of Firefox, but not necessarily to know much about the way it is created or how Mozilla is organized, or why so many participate. I was asked to speak for about 45 minutes and then to answer a few questions. The event was held at the French Senate. It was an odd setting because the buildings themselves are spectacular but they are not set up for an event like this. There was no place to get water for example, which is hard during a day of talking.

I spoke about what Mozilla is, how we work, our public benefit basis, why we believe building public, civic and social benefit into the Internet is both important and possible, and about the techniques we have found that promote participation and individual motivation. These are topics that people are very interested in. A number of people stopped me afterward to say how encouraging and hopeful they find Mozilla and our ways of working. Many of these people are not remotely technical and are unlikely to build software. But they certainly understand the importance of the Internet, the desire to be able to participate, and the joys of an organization where doing things well relates clearly to one’s influence and leadership.

Thursday afternoon was a series of meetings with French press. These conversations were detailed and deep, with journalists who know a great deal about Mozilla, Firefox and Thunderbird. We finished about 7 p.m. or so. Anne-Julie worked some miracles to get water, juice and even a good space where we didn’t have to keep changing rooms.

Thursday night I had dinner with Tristan and we talked about Mozilla Europe and Mozilla in Europe and Europe’s influence on the Mozilla project in general. It was a funny evening. We realized that afternoon that Thursday was Valentine’s Day, and thus a bad day to try to find dinner without a reservation in Paris. We managed it at one place, but then learned that the meal was a special 4 course Valentine’s Day dinner, complete with Valentine’s Day decorations and wine and rose petals and such. So we ended up in the bar of my hotel where they said they could make some sort of vegetable soup. I was a bit distressed — it was another day where by 8:30 p.m. I hadn’t actually had a meal yet, just a lot of coffee and a snack here or there. But I forgot, I was in Paris, and even the makeshift vegetable soup was lovely. It wasn’t actually much of a meal for the day, but it certainly was tasty. Tristan and I managed to cover a lot of ground talking about Mozilla and making it even stronger and more effective at bringing openness and transparency to the Internet.

Friday morning I got up and went to the airport. Actually, I got up early to go to the gym after so many hours sitting in uncomfortable settings. But the hotel had forgotten to mention their gym was under renovation and not available. So much for trying to stay healthy! I made it home Friday night on the edge of a flu, but managed to shake it off by doing nothing Saturday but sit around feeling exhausted.

I was on vacation the week after the Europe trip, so haven’t had a chance to see the results of the various interviews. I’m feeling a bit out of touch still but hoping to get back into the swing of things in the next day or two.

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