Archive for April, 2005

Time Magazine Dinner

April 26th, 2005

Time Magazine hosted a dinner for the Time 100 last week, inviting this year’s list, last year’s list and a set of other interesting people. As you might imagine, many people don’t attend. I went, thinking it would be an opportunity to meet interesting people. The dinner was a black tie event held at Time Warner Center in Manhattan. That’s “Time Warner,” as in used to be “AOL/Time Warner,” which I found somewhat ironic. It was a classic New York event, black tie, with the red carpet and photographers and “headliners” to generate interest and so on. I was reminded once again of how pervasive the role of the media is in New York life, and how unabashedly people seek the spotlight.

We (my husband and I) did meet some interesting people. For example, we turned around to talk with a gentleman standing behind us to learn he was James Watson who, with his colleague Francis Crick, is credited with figuring out the structure of DNA.

As we got to the dinner table I found myself standing between two people from the Time 100 group of 2004. One woman, from the investment world, looked a bit unsure as I described Mozilla and Firefox. But she had brought her son as her guest and he immediately piped up “Firefox! Everyone I know uses Firefox!” And went on to describe why. I then turned to person on my other side, who is active in politics. He too looked a little lost of the idea of software. But his companion, a doctoratal student in the biosciences looked up and said “Firefox! I absolutely use Firefox. All my colleagues use Firefox.” And he went on to explain why as well. Then someone from the other side of the table joined in about Firefox. One person has a Spread Firefox account. I could feel the initial confusion morph into something along the lines of “hmm, I may not know of it, but it feels like something is going on.”

I found the experience to be a perfect example of the Firefox phenomenon. A whole set of people have no idea about the Mozilla Foundation. Many find software confusing in general and have little interest in sorting through the complexities of the browser or other software. And yet all around them are people they respect who are aware, who do care, and who are actually connected to the Mozilla project in some fashion.

Two Interactions with Time Magazine

April 11th, 2005

A while back (in early January I think, but I can’t be sure) we hosted a writer for Time Magazine at the Mozilla Foundation office. He talked mostly (maybe exclusively) with Ben Goodger and me. would have preferred that this discussion included a set of other people who are central to the project, but we don’t make these decisions. We talked a bit about the community of people that makes the Mozilla project happen. (We try very hard to describe this community to the press, although this focus doesn’t always appear in the resulting stories.) This writer noted the importance of community and was clear that we wanted to know something about me as well.

This made the interview quite different from almost all others. (Esther Dyson is the only other person I can recall who has been quite so interested in the mindset and motivations of a non-programmer like me, and my discussions with Esther were several months after the Time Magazine interview.) The writer asked a set of questions about motivations, approach and leadership techniques that had not been asked before. Some were broad — I remember something about whether my participation in the project reflects a specific view of human nature — and some more specific. It was a thoughtful interview for me.

This made me very interested to see the piece, as I had no idea how it would turn out. But it never ran. The interview was midweek, the writer said he would have the piece done by Friday, and it would probably run the next week. But it didn’t, nor the week after. We never found out why, that’s just how things are.

Months later I was in the office during the early morning mail delivery time. First I open the door for a UPS delivery man with a package for a Mozilla Foundation employee. A few minutes later I did the same for a FedEx delivery. It is astonishing how much junk mail we receive at the Foundation. There appears to be an entire industry that scans some set of databases and does mass mailings to anything that looks like it might be a business and spend money. So a lot of dealing with mail involves sorting this stuff out from the legitimate mail. I looked at the FedEx package skeptically. It was addressed to me, from Time Magazine. “Right.” I thought. “What kind of attention-grabbing scheme is this?” Then I noticed that the return address had an intelligible name. (Of course FedEx requires this, but in the context of expecting advertisements it was a surprise.)

I opened the FedEx package. Inside was a red envelope with my name printed on it. Inside the envelope was an invitation to a dinner at Lincoln Center somehow related to something called the Time 100. That’s it. No explanation. Just the invitation. Browsing the Web I found information about last year’s Time 100 and the Time 100 for 2000. (Have I said before how much I love the Web?)

I thought “I’m on someone’s list of people to invite to fill tables.” Whose list could I possible by on? Rafael, our marketing guy, had a different take. “You’ve been nominated — I’ll bet you’ve been nominated.” I didn’t believe it in the slightest. So Rafael got the job of tracking down the person at Time Magazine and figuring out what was going on. A day or two later he came back to report that he was right, I had been nominated. The list would be announced in a couple of weeks.

Then the list appeared online. Blake Ross pointed me to it and yes, I was included. It’s a fine description (except for the late-40’s part, which seems an exaggeration to me, but that’s life). It’s not the interview from my first interaction with Time Magazine. I would still like to see that piece. But this brief description has a good focus on the Mozilla project and the value of the project, which is good to see.

In guiding the Mozilla project I find myself thinking about topics, organizational dynamics and goals in a way that is new and challenging. The existing analytic frameworks — how does one lead an organization to accomplish goal X — are helpful but do not fit our setting. The Mozilla project combines a set of passionately committed individuals with commercial and business players to produce great technology. Our goal is the health of the Web itself — the client side anyway (that’s ambitious enough). Choice on the client side, combined with innovative technology to bring the myriad possibilities of the Web to citizens and consumers everywhere. We achieve this goal partially by creating choice and great technology, and also by appealing to consumers so they take the extra steps to adopt it.

It’s a new and exciting task. The Mozilla project has always broken new ground, building on Open Source traditions, learning from our peers and bringing our own experiences, creativity and drive. The Web is still young. It’s a fundamental piece of the digital world, and something as seemingly mundane as one’s choice of Web browser software makes an enormous difference in the long term health of the Web. Mozilla Firefox gives people that choice, provides a Web browsing experience that people love, and demonstrates that the commitment and dedication people bring to the Mozilla project makes a difference.

It takes constant inventiveness to guide the Mozilla project. Fortunately that challenge is met by the enormous number of creative people within the project. At some point I assimilate the various needs and goals and try to create an over-arching framework in which people can be successful. This is always done in close collaboration with Brendan Eich, co-founder of, technical lead for the project and my anchor for making sure the project stays on course. That assimilation is a personal challenge as well, driven by the goals of the Mozilla project, the vitality and dedication of our community and the quality of people drawn to the project. Altogether it adds up to a sense of great responsibility, of enormous possibilities, and of great good fortune to be involved.

Thinking About Search

April 4th, 2005

I’ve been thinking a lot about search these days. For quite some time we’ve been saying that the browser is important because it provides the mechanism through which human beings can access and use a range of web services. This is rather abstract though. What is a “web service”? The term is used a lot in the industry, but even there people mean different things. And for the general consumer who isn’t particularly interested in technology “web services” is probably incomprehensible.

But people understand search. It’s the perfect example of a web service that consumers use constantly and that helps define the Internet experience. Search is also a great example of how browsers can make web services (here, search) more accessible and more useful. Modern browsers do this through the Search Box. The Search Box is a feature that people love. I’ve personally had people tell me they do far more searches on, for example, eBay because it’s included in the Firefox Search Box drop down menu. And so search has become a great example of browser software improving the Internet experience through better access to services.

Search is one of the very few areas of functionality to which Firefox devotes precious screen “real estate.” I wonder if there will be other functions that rise to this level of centrality, or if search is the only one. I also wonder if and how the browser interface will change as search functionality becomes richer. The Search Box functionality in Mozilla Firefox already differs from that in many other pieces of software because it provides the users with choice and flexibility. Mozilla Firefox ships with a set of search engines already available — Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Creative Commons. The user can choose any of these search engines as the “active” search engine, meaning the search engine that will be used when a search is initiated. Once a search engine is selected as active, it is designed to remain the active search engine until the user changes it. In addition, the user can add additional search engines easily. (Just use the Search Box drop-down menu and select “Add Engines.”) Providing this kind of flexibility with a simple user interface is quite a challenge and I keep wondering what will come next.

Search is also an area of great innovation. There’s a bunch of very smart people thinking about the different directions that could be taken to improve search and to tie search functionality to other applications. The established search providers are tying new ideas all the time; a set of start-up companies are trying to commercialize new ideas. The increasing integration between search and maps is extraordinarily helpful; I’m sure there are many other examples on the horizon.

Search is also an aspect of the web that generates revenues and the search relationships related to Firefox generate funds for the Mozilla Foundation’s operations. These funds can play an important role in supporting our efforts. Raising funds at all is new to the Mozilla project. Before the Mozilla Foundation was formed funds were provided by the companies who employed participants and often funded other expenses associated with the project. Since the Foundation was formed we’ve raised funds through a number of sources, including charitable contributions from individuals and participation by companies interested in Mozilla technology. With the Firefox launch we started raising funds via a product offering.

There’s no doubt we need funds for the project to have the best chance of achieving its purpose — promoting openness and choice on the client side of the Internet. Funds allow us to employ a core set of people and do the myriad of other things a project of our scope needs to stay at its most vital.

So revenue from our search relationships is encouraging. It’s not as gratifying as the individual charitable contributions. Having people care enough about our efforts to voluntarily send donations is an extraordinary thing. I look at the names and addresses of contributors as I sign the thank you notes and this imparts a very tangible and gratifying sense of how much people appreciate what we’re doing. Revenue from search relationships doesn’t provide the same sense of directly touching people’s lives. But it brings diversity in funding sources and it may well provide a significant ongoing source of funds.

This revenue isn’t perfect however. Like so many arrangements with commercial entities, the terms of our search relationships are governed by confidentiality obligations and we are not able to say very much about them. It turns out that marketing and business data remains sensitive even for companies that have grown comfortable with developing in the open. Even before the Mozilla Foundation existed companies would want to talk with staff about marketing, business plans and product information but would not share that information publicly. So we have a fair amount of experience with handling marketing and other sensitive information while maintaining the absolute requirement of open development in compliance with our policies. It’s new to have that confidential information include a financial component and I am working to find ways to make more and more information available over time. For now we are living within classic confidentiality constraints regarding these agreements, while maintaining the absolute requirement of open development.

On the other hand, we’re learning about what’s involved in integrating the browser with services the Mozilla project did not create, we’re doing so in a way that users love, we’re exploring how to work with commercial entities, and we expect the revenue from this to make a significant difference to the project. So as much as I sometimes want to think about other things, search is on my mind these days.

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