Archive for February 6th, 2008

Two Weeks of Talking

February 6th, 2008

The last couple of weeks have been highly unusual in the number of people I’ve met and new people I’ve talked with about Mozilla, technology and hybrid organizations trying to achieve socially-oriented missions.

I spent the last ten days of January in Switzerland, first at the gathering of the Schwab Social Entrepreneurs and then at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. I attended these events last year as well, and wrote a brief post about the entrepreneurs and the annual meeting. Mozilla attends the WEF Annual Meeting as a Technology Pioneer. We attend the Social Entrepreneurs event as an invited guest; Mozilla is not a Schwab Social Entrepreneur.

Social Entrepreneurs Summit

This year the Social Entrepreneurs event was quite different from last year. At the request of the social entrepreneurs, the large sessions where people came to speak to the social entrepreneurs were eliminated. The days were spent in a series of discussion groups. The intent was to get the people who are doing things together to learn from each other, and to stop thinking that outside experts were more valuable that the practicioners.

I noticed that the discussions were also different than last year. There is a growing group of entrepreneurs that have found some way to use the market to promote their missions. This includes the Fair Trade groups — coffee, chocolate, handicrafts, the Rubicon folks in the San Francisco bay area, who are known for their bakery and landscape services, but whose goal is to provide jobs and eliminate poverty, to the Homeless World Cup, to the financing and provision of solar energy sources in rural India. A set of the discussions focused on how to build an operation at scale; how to develop depth in leadership so that the organization is bigger than the founder, how to ensure the mission remains paramount as the activities grow, and so on. These are all issues we think about at Mozilla. Mozilla is still a bit out of the mainstream as we are rooted in the ultra-modern technology world. Nevertheless, it is exciting to find a group of people solving a set of organizational topics that are so closely related to our own. The discussion groups were able to touch on these topics, not to delve in depth. Even two or three days is not enough time for in-depth solutions. So there is a constant feeling of starting to gain traction and then needing to stop. I see that as a mark of success though, indicating that good ideas have come out and there is far more to be done.

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

The Social Entrepreneurs event is in Zurich and ends on a Tuesday afternoon. From there one gets on a train to the mountain town of Davos. The WEF Annual Meeting starts Tuesday evening and goes through Sunday. It’s an utterly exhausting week. The official events go from 8 or 9 am until 10pm. Then the unofficial events start, and go on into the morning.

Mozilla was invited last year and this year as a Technology Pioneer program, which identifies organizations “that develop and apply the most innovative and transformational technologies in the fields of information technology, renewable energy and biotechnology / health.”

We are a bit unusual as a Tech Pioneer though because we are so well known and our impact is so large. We’re not exactly like either the Social Entrepreneurs or the Tech Pioneers, although we are closely related to each.

The main impressions I had this year include:

  • Mozilla Firefox is simply taken for granted as part of the Internet. There was barely any discussion of who we are, why we matter. Last year almost everyone recognized Mozilla Firefox, but there was still a sense of surprise about our place in the world. There was no surprise this time. Of course, this is Europe, where Firefox market share reaches 30 and 40% on a country by country level so this is not surprising.
  • Many people don’t know we’re a public benefit organization, but have high attachment to the product.
  • The general theme for this year’s Annual Meeting was Innovation in Collaboration. Mozilla has a lot to say here, we are among the very innovation forces here.
  • The Mobile Web is exploding. Last year there were discussions of things like “the Connected Life.” This year the discussions were more focused on mobile connections, and what that means.
  • Global Climate Change is a given at the Annual Meeting, the tenor of the discussion is still quite different from that I hear in the United States.
  • The concern that the sub-prime mortgage and general credit woes in the United States will lead to a world-wide recession were palpable.

One of the main activities at Davos is meeting new people. It’s constant — at the coffee table, on the stairs, through introductions, at the events, on the shuttle from the convention center to the hotels, at the lunch and dinner discussions. The event is amazingly successful at getting people to open up, have varied discussions and share ideas. It’s valuable for Mozilla to have a presence and be represented as this sort of event.

Mozilla Work Week

I got back from Switzerland just in time for the Work Week in California, when a bunch of Mozilla folks had come to town for a chance to work face to face. Behind though I was, I took the opportunity to talk with a bunch of people I normally don’t see face to face. I spent a couple hours in the morning opening the door for out-of-town folks who don’t have a card key to get in. It seemed the best way to meet people — it’s pretty hard to let someone in the door and pretend we know each other. I met some of the people who’ve joined Mozilla recently, plus some people who have been active for quite a while but whom I had never met.

Work week was also the freeze for Firefox 3 Beta 3, which was very exciting. Both because a bunch of work is coming to fruition and showing up in the code. And also because this freeze was a demonstration of how far we can come on our automated testing tools and infrastructure. This is an area — like automated builds — where we’re seeing significant progress after years on waiting and wanting. The Mozilla project is so big it’s hard to keep an eye on everything that’s happening. But wherever one looks, it’s exciting.

It was great to attend the WEF and Social Entrepreneurs events. It’s also great to be back in the heart of Mozilla work. Talking and meeting people is fascinating. But doing things — building the Internet we want to see — is even better.

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