Mozilla Foundation Activities

June 27th, 2008

There’s a bit of a discussion underway about what the Mozilla Foundation might do to become an even more effective organization in achieving its mission. Mark Surman and Dave Eaves had some thoughts about this mission in possibly the broadest possible formulation — a social movement for the Open Web (or Open Internet). David Ascher has a nice follow-up, pointing out a few areas beyond the products we shipping today that are in need of serious attention for an Open Internet to be real. Glyn Moody has a piece up at Linux Journal called “How Can we Harness the Firefox Effect” that carries these ideas even further. This is great to see. The open-endedness of this encourages good brainstorming.

I’ve lived deep inside the Mozilla product effort for so long I’m probably a bit less open-ended. At the very highest level we want to make the Internet a universal platform accessible to all, and to promote innovation and choice in Internet activities. Moving one step closer to concreteness, we have the Mozilla Manifesto. The Manifesto sets out some of the characteristics necessary for the Internet to be such a platform. We’re doing a good job through our product and service offerings. The Mozilla Foundation must maintain these, but there’s more to be done.

If the Internet is to be open, universal and truly accessible, there must be ways for individuals to participate in creating this Open Internet. We know that open source is the quintessential model for us. Open source allows us to participate in building products that embody openness and enable innovation and choice.

But not everyone is going to build software products and services.  The question is, how do we take the things that make Mozilla effective and expand that to a broader scope? I’m wary of becoming diffuse and losing our effectiveness. I’m wary of the Mozilla Foundation becoming an organization that does a lot of talking about the Open Internet but doesn’t test our ideas by putting them into practice and by enabling people to do things.

This leads me to think that building the Mozilla Foundation is building concentric circles, with the software development we’re already doing as the innermost circle. The next circle out would be pretty closely related to this, the next circle a little less so. One of these concentric layers may become a boundary — the furthest point we can go and still have cohesion and effectiveness. That’s a fine thing. At that point we’ll know the scope of things we can do as Mozilla.

Figuring out what makes sense as the next couple of layers is a good-sized job itself. It’s important to do this, to identify the concrete opportunities for broadening the Mozilla Foundation. I’ve been immersed in the product questions for so long that it is very refreshing to see new perspectives on this. It’s got my mind spinning off in new directions.

6 comments for “Mozilla Foundation Activities”

  1. 1

    Mark Surman said on June 29th, 2008 at 10:44 am:

    Mitchell: I agree that organizations like Mozilla need to constantly ground the big picture vision in the concrete. At Shuttleworth Foundation, we’ve got a big dream: making South Africa an open knowledge society. However, this is only interesting because we’re doing very specific things, like creating free, collaboratively produced textbooks, that test and model this big dream in the real world. Without this, it’s all hot air.

    Of course, it’s not always clear which concrete things to work on until we stumble upon them, especially when you are trying to something like engage the Next Million Mozillians. I like your concentric circles idea as a way to do this process of idea stumbling (yes, of course it’s more systematic than that) close to home. For Mozilla, I can see how this would surface ideas that build concretely on existing talents while still moving beyond just software products. And also help figure out the outer boundaries over time.

    A question: do you just start with the next circle out from the core (spreading the Seneca open source developer education model to more places)? Or do you jump a little further out from the start (inviting the millions of Mozillians to post online about how they’ve put the Manifesto into action in their lives)? Or do you find a couple of simple, concrete ways to play close to home and further out simultaneously?

    Obviously, closer to home means its more likely that the idea will be a fit … and further out means your more likely to see genuinely new ideas and new people coming to the table. It seems both are desirable.

  2. 2

    Mitchell Baker said on June 29th, 2008 at 2:49 pm:


    I like your idea of the funnel, along with the concentric circles. I think at this point we may want to encourage lots of ideasvery broadly, , as you discussed. But the things that work through the funnel to become Mozilla Foundation activities should be in a concentric circle very close to something that’s already working.

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