Building a consumer product

November 7th, 2007

One of the ways in which the Mozilla project has been a pioneer is in building a consumer product with mass adoption. Before Firefox the conventional wisdom was that open source software projects could build server-side and infrastructure technology because the developers were building tools to meet their own needs. It was thought that consumer products — which need to be built for a very different audience — might be outside the competency of an open source software product.

Mozilla has demonstrated that this is not the case. It’s not easy to build good consumer products, that’s for sure, and nothing will make it easy. But Mozilla cracked the consumer barrier and other open source projects are now developing effective consumer software.

Building a consumer product for broad adoption is clearly possible for an open source project, we are doing that with Firefox today. Doing so affects the nature of the project. It’s probably not for everyone. The consumer focus affects many aspects of our efforts, some subtle and some obvious. This affects a big part of the Mozilla project, so I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation about the ways in which the mass consumer focus colors our life.

Here are some of the things that describe daily life in shipping a product with the reach of Firefox; feel free to add more.

  • We live in a competitive space and it’s hard
  • Speed, innovation, elegance and fundamentals (performance, security) are all critical all the time
  • The target audience is *really* different from the developers
  • Cross-platform goals affects our approach
  • Silence, appreciation and criticism are mixed up oddly
  • Adding non-coding activities to open source development is fundamental to success

I’ll post some thoughts on the various topics on the list separately. Or I’ll comment if someone else gets to this first 🙂

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