Mozilla

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Content, Ads, Caution

February 13th, 2014

I’m starting with content but please rest assured I’ll get to the topic of ads and revenue.

In the early days of Firefox we were very careful not to offer content to our users.  Firefox came out of a world in which both Netscape/AOL (the alma mater of many early Mozillians) and Microsoft had valued their content and revenue sources over the user experience.  Those of us from Netscape/AOL had seen features, bookmarks, tabs, and other irritants added to the product to generate revenue.   We’d seen Mozilla code subsequently “enhanced” with these features.

And so we have a very strong, very negative reaction to any activities that even remotely remind us of this approach to product.  That’s good.

This reaction somehow became synonymous with other approaches that are not necessarily so helpful.  For a number of  years we refused to have any relationship with our users beyond we provide software and they use it.  We resisted offering content unless it came directly from an explicit user action.  This made sense at first when the web was so young.  But over the years many people have come to expect and want their software to do things on their behalf, to take note of what one has done before and do something useful with it.

In the last few years we’ve begun to respond to this.  We’re careful about it because the DNA is based on products serving users.  Every time we offer something to our users we question ourselves rigorously about the motivations for that offer.  Are we sure it’s the most value we can provide to our users? Are we sure, doubly-sure, we’re not fooling ourselves?  Sometimes my commercial colleagues laugh at me for the amount of real estate we leave unmonitored or the revenue opportunities we decline.

So we look at the Tiles and wonder if we can do more for people.    We think we can.  I’ve heard some people say they still don’t want any content offered.  They want their experience to be new, to be the same as it was the day they installed the browser, the same as anyone else might experience.  I understand this view, and think it’s not the default most people are choosing.  We think we can offer people useful content in the Tiles.

When we have ideas about how content might be useful to people, we look at whether there is a revenue possibility, and if that would annoy people or bring something potentially useful.  Ads in search turn out to be useful.  The gist  of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like 9 Tiles on a page, and that 2 or 3 of them would be sponsored — aka “ads.”  So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka “ads”) could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes.

These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.

Why would we include any sponsored results?  If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value.  That generates revenue that supports the Mozilla project.   So to explicitly address the question of whether we care about generating revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s work, the answer is yes.  In fact, many of us feel responsible to do exactly this.

Pretty much anytime we talk about revenue at Mozilla people get suspicious.  Mozillians get suspicious, and our supporters get suspicious.  There’s some value in that, as it reinforces our commitment to user experience and providing value to our users.  There’s some drawbacks to this as well, however.  I’ll be talking with Mozillians tomorrow and in the coming days on these topics in more detail.

Netscape, License, Me

December 18th, 2013

Yesterday I came across the image of the launch day version of Netscape Navigator 1.0 – the first commercial browser that set the World Wide Web on fire, and caused the explosion of Internet technology into everyday life.  Here’s an image of an early info Netscape provided — how to click a link, find things in that era, etc.  Some fun history of the early, early World Wide Web. It’s so early that the list of search engines does not predates Google.

The image has a link labeled “LICENSE.”  I found myself trying to click on the link.  Silly, but still I wanted to see it.  I wrote the license that link used to point to.  I wrote every end-user license in Netscape’s products for many years, until the mighty Liz Compton took over.  The licenses were complicated.  They reflected something new — free product.  Today we are used to getting consumer grade software for free, but Netscape was a pioneer.  Netscape Navigator was free until the 1.0 version, and then they were free to charitable organizations.  (This change was quite controversial among Netscape employees; I was not the decision-maker.)  That made for complicated business terms and license terms.  We had long negotiations with organizations that supplied code we integrated, explaining to them why Netscape would not pay them for every copy distributed.  Explaining that the software was sometimes given away led to astonishment at first, and long negotiating sessions.  I was responsible for all these negotiations with external vendors of software bits as well, so at least I knew how important it was.

One time I had to rewrite the license because our installer program had a length limit.  I think that’s when we combine the licenses for the free and the paid versions into one document.  Perhaps that was a good forcing function to shorter licensing terms, but it did require the business owners to take some risk with less specific language.

All these licenses were training for writing the Mozilla Public License 1.0 (now superceded by the 2.0 version). I see the MPL as the highlight of my time in the licensing world.  I had help, including  Liz and Harvey Anderson, both now with Mozilla.  Even so, I “held the pen” and by the time I was done I had memorized almost every clause.  Harvey had a big role in the patent pieces of the 1.1 license, which may have been the first open source/free software license to have a patent defense clause.  It’s the first I know of so far, and I know we didn’t work from examples, so at least it was an original creation.  (Ironically, original creation is not a patent defense although it is for copyright infringement.)

The idea of Mozilla was announced on January 22, and the project launched March 31, 1998.  I wrote the MPL within that period, as the engineering team got ready for the release and we all worked to figure out how the first iteration of Mozilla would work.  A bunch of today’s Mozillians have stories of that time.  Many people told us a license couldn’t be created, let alone in 2+ months, but those of us at Netscape just went ahead and did it.  We had public review via newsgroup — appropriately called 331.  If anyone has archives of that newsgroup I would love to get a copy.  Once again, a part of Mozilla’s history predates the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

(As a side note, the wondrous Internet Archive suffered a fire which damaged its building and its digitizing materials.  The fund-raising campaign to support rebuilding is underway.  Mozilla is contributing to this invaluable asset and we hope to see the Internet Archive fully restored as soon as possible.)

I still wish I could click that “LICENSE” link … “-)

State of Mozilla and 2012 Financial Statements

November 26th, 2013

Mozilla is a global, non-profit community dedicated to the mission of building an Internet that is “knowable,” interoperable and open to everyone.  When the Internet is knowable it is transparent, we can see it and understand it; we can know more. When the Internet is interoperable we have more opportunity to try new things; we can do more. When it is open to everyone it becomes “ours,” and we can build things that support the full range of human life, from economic to social to public to individual; we can do better.

When we use the word “open” we mean all of these things. We expect these traits in all aspects of online life. We work to represent these traits in how we organize and operate as Mozilla. We are organized as a non-profit so we can put these elements first, always. We seek to influence the Web as a whole towards user-control, towards the openness that builds accountability and trustworthiness, and individual choice and empowerment.

We build products, such as Firefox and Firefox OS, to make our values concrete and part of daily online life. We empower global communities, so more of the people who share our mission have the knowledge and experience and credibility to move the mission forward. We do this by deepening our volunteer engagement in our core products, and by encouraging them to develop their own projects. We teach and learn, both through our product development and through dedicated teaching and learning programs such as Webmaker. Ultimately we aim to shape environments, from the consumer Internet experience to public policy to learning environments.

Mozilla’s direction and decisions are based on our mission of making the Internet understandable, interoperable and open to all, while moving the Web forward as a platform for creation and consumption. We recently released our State of Mozilla and audited financial statements for 2012. That generally sparks comments on our finances, which of course makes sense. The finances are important, they are what allows us to support our work at the scale at which we need to operate and to advocate for the Web and the billions of people online. For us, however, financial return is not our main organizing principle. Our stakeholders are our global communities, the people who use our projects and ultimately all those interested in the health and openness of the Internet. The key return on investment for these stakeholders is the degree to which we move Internet life towards being knowable, interoperable and open to everyone.

UC Berkeley, Mozilla, me

November 12th, 2013

Friday I attended the inauguration of the new Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley.  I spent a lot of time at UC Berkeley (or “Cal” as it is known among students and alums).  I got my undergraduate degree (in Asian Studies, an interdisciplinary degree) from Berkeley.  I worked as a staff member at the Center for Chinese Studies Library for a few years, where I was generally the only non-native Chinese speaker in the Library.  In an odd turn of fate I returned to Berkeley for my graduate degree (in law).

Berkeley is part of the much larger system of public education in the state of California.  “Public” higher education may seem obvious to some, if you come from a part of the world where this is standard.  In the US, many universities (e.g., Harvard, Stanford, Yale) are private organizations, and so the public nature of the University of California is a big part of its identity.  The entire system includes a set of 2-year Community Colleges, almost 25 California State University campuses and 10 University of California campuses.  I was very fortunate because during my college and graduate years the State of California provided immense support to public education, and I was one of the many beneficiaries.  I benefited from a world-class education without the kind of crushing debt that colors one’s choices for years afterwards.  I see my work at Mozilla as possible in part because the State of California invested in me.

I have always found UC Berkeley to be a funny mix of radical, innovative, and traditional.  The student body is politically active at Berkeley.  The Free Speech Movement in the early 1960′s established the right of students to engage in political speech on campus, something I took for granted.  The faculty at Berkeley is active.  In the 1920′s a “faculty revolt” resulted in the faculty (through the Academic Senate) obtaining a much-extended role in shared governance of UC Berkeley.  The staff at Berkeley is active as well, demanding respect as part of what makes Berkeley great.  (I was staff at UC Berkeley for a few years before graduate school, so I remember this aspect as well.)

Both of these elements were present at the inauguration.  The event started with a student protest about Janet Napolitano, ex head of US Homeland Security and recently appointed as the President of the UC system.  It’s a controversial appointment since her background is in security and immigration/ deportation rather than education.  The protest was actually quite moderate.  The students sat up in the balcony, stood up as soon as the event started and chanted their position.  This took maybe a couple of minutes.  Then they left.  No on-going heckling, no need to be tossed out.

A few things I noticed about the content of the event.  During the procession (classes, faculty, other institutions, staff), I felt myself perk up at one point.  I wondered why, especially as the law school classmate I went with didn’t seem to notice.  Then I realized — the orchestra was playing the UC Berkeley  “fight song”.  I’ve heard this a million times — it’s like hearing your name.  The song refers to the UC Berkeley mascot — the Golden Bear. It includes a verse:

From his Lair he fiercely growls.
What’s he say? He says:
From his Lair he fiercely growls.
What’s he say? He says:
Grrrrrah, Grrrrrrah!
Grrrr, Rrrr, Rrrrrah!

So, after the first Processional there was a very quiet sound from the hall:

Grrrrrah, Grrrrrrah!
Grrrr, Rrrr, Rrrrrah!

After each Processional group the Golden Bear got louder.  Never as loud as at a football game, but still it felt like Berkeley.  Funny tradition of activism and chants.  Similarly, many of the speakers at the inauguration ended their remarks with the classic call “Go Bears!”  You can hear it at the end of the Men’s Octet rendition of the fight song.

More seriously, the remarks made by all speakers reinforced a few key concepts:

  • Cal seeks to be the world’s pre-eminent public research university, promoting both excellence and education as an important element of democratic societies, not just economic benefit of individual students.Cal aims for excellence, affordability, and diversity of students.
    Calls for social justice, both for working people and for undocumented students.  For those not familiar with US immigration issues, “undocumented students” refers to people who hold neither a US passport nor a visa to remain in the United States.

There were also many references to the difficulties the UC System faces.  Finances are tight, the State of California has reduced its support dramatically and tuition rates have gone up. Undergraduate education vs  graduate and research efforts are a topic.  The value of studying humanity (“liberal arts”) as well as technology is a topic.

The new chancellor described all of these, plus the plans to move forward.  This part of the talk was a bit long for me.  It was a speech, rather than the short remarks of the other participants. This makes sense to me.  But I have to admit that my working life is mostly focused around very short attention spans — like 15 seconds.  :-)  Seriously, that’s advice I give people who are dealing with executives for the first time.  You have about 15 seconds to get someone’s attention, especially via email.  So even though I was a bit itchy during the end of this talk, I was still able to focus enough to appreciate the core content.

Since I moved to Silicon Valley, I’ve come to appreciate how amazing Stanford University is.  It’s a key component of the innovation and intelligence and excellence that the Valley produces.  I didn’t understand its important until I lived here a while.  I’ve always found Stanford very difficult to develop any relationship with as a non-alum, but I have come to be awed by it as well.

I have to say though, it was wonderful to be at UC Berkeley, where I felt at home — utterly, totally, and completely at home.

Getting Ready for Summit 2013; Fun Already!

September 27th, 2013

In just a week Mozillians will gather for the Mozilla Summit 2013.  I’ve been working with a number of the facilitators and the “track leads” and I have to say, it is really rewarding.

The Summit will have 4 or 5 “plenary sessions” with pretty carefully planned content.  We also have identified some key ideas and topics that the plenary talks will raise, and planned session to address some of these. These are known as “Supporting Sessions.” We expect to have the same Supporting Sessions in each of the 3 locations, facilitated by people in each location.  (There will also be a big chunk of time for Open Sessions –anyone proposes a session — and for spontaneous groups to gather.)  The topics for the Supporting Sessions were determined by the 60 or so Assembly Delegates and the rest of the summit organizing team.  These groups did not determine the actual content of the Supporting Sessions.  Instead, we gave a topical statement to guide the facilitators in developing an approach to the session.   The Track Leads have the roles of looking at all the supporting Sessions for a particular theme — product and technology, people and process, purpose and strategy.  They also assist the facilitators stay connected with the overall picture.

I’ll give one of plenary talks, focused on the nature of Mozilla, who we are, why we exist, how we work, the attributes of success, and the connections to our products and communities.  So far I’ve talked with the facilitators of 3 the Supporting Sessions that relate to these themes:

what does “mozillian” mean? ”
“practicing Open;” and
“distributed leadership and decision-making.”

Wow!  In each case I was impressed with the sophistication of the work the facilitators and track leads are doing.  These are complex topics, selected to represent some key elements of Mozilla that are different from most organizations.   That means it’s really important to develop a shared understanding of our goals, and yet we can’t simply do what everyone else does.

I’m looking forward to the Summit more than ever!

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