Posts Tagged with “revenue”

Coming 10 July 06: More on the grants and donations program

June 6th, 2006

In late March I wrote a bit about a grants and donations program I’d like to get started. Since then I’ve received some great comments about some of the issues this raises, some suggestions and seen some press comments. Even more important, we’ve come across someone we think is the right person to help us make progress. He’s someone with a proven commitment to the thoughtful use of funds to improve community and community leaders as well as background in business matters, which is important and designing and implementing programs related to money. He’s just graduating from business school, is taking a month off and will start working on this program on July 10. So this is a note to say that we haven’t forgotten about this, we’re making progress and expect more in a month.

Until then I want to emphasize that the goal of any program we test is not to turn our community into employees. The goal of such a program is to learn if and how we can use some of the Firefox revenue to support and strengthen the activities of the Mozilla community beyond those people employed by the Foundation and Mozilla Corporation.

A number of the comments I received refer to the dangers of doing anything with money. They express the concern that any programs involving money run the risk of contaminating our community, or of turning it into a mercenary group interested only in money. I understand the risks. I also believe there are risks in ignoring money. Firefox generates revenue now, that’s a fact. So we need to deal with money. (And we have the privilege of being able to employ people to work full time on Mozilla, which I believe is necessary for a project of our size and scope. Not all open source projects believe this however, and some are wary of employees or almost any activity that requires the distribution of funds.)

We use all other resources to strengthen our community. Key contributors devote time to paying attention to others, to helping others, to getting help from others. We redesign our planning, development and marketing processes to make them easier for others to particulate and to build on what we do. We evaluate our technology to make it increasingly useful for others to build things. We distribute authority and leadership. We value reviewing patches written by others, sometimes above having experts code themselves.

The idea of using money to help strengthen our community is new. Having revenues is new for most open source projects and so there isn’t a lot of experience in how to use it wisely to build community. It’s possible the doubters are correct, and the best thing to do is use it all for employees, expenses, bandwidth, infrastructure and a savings account. I hope this is not the case and we can strengthen the commitment and effectiveness of the Mozilla contributors and the reach of the Mozilla project through small applications of funds to the right places.

It feels to me that we should try. Our DNA is to distribute all sorts of things that conventional wisdom says (or said) can’t be done: distributing code without charge, distributing the development of that code, distributing authority over that code, distributing outreach programs (think Spread Firefox and the localization communities), distributing motivations, expertise and leadership. I’d like to see if we can develop some programs to distribute funds where appropriate.

We’ll turn to this in detail in mid-July.

Mozilla Corporation, part 1

March 13th, 2006

As part of talking about organization, goals, etc. it might be helpful for me to lay out where I think things stand today. To the extent other people agree we’ve got something written down. To the extent others have corrections, changes and disagreements we can identify those and start discussions. I’ll start with the Corporation.

1. Mozilla Corporation Employees. The Mozilla Corporation has about 40 people working for it now. That’s about 40 “FTEs” or” full-time equivalents.” Some people work part time. Most of those employees are in the United States or Canada. That’s partly because of the history of people working on the project from before the Foundation/Corporation were formed. It’s also in part because it is difficult to hire people without having a legal organization in the country in which they live. It’s hard for the Mozilla Corporation to hire people in Europe of Asia without having either a series of branch offices or forming subsidiaries. We are able to engage people as contractors in some cases, and try to do this when the work involved fits with the legal definition of “contractor” applicable to us and the potential contractor. One of the things on our list of things to do is to try to figure out how to improve this. I’m distressed at the idea of forming more legal organizations. But the difficulties in not able to hire people outside the US and Canada is a bigger problem. More legal organizations is annoying but living with the limits on hiring is something that has to change.

The largest number of Mozilla Corporation employees in a single place are in Mountain View, California. The next largest concentration is in and around Toronto. Others are spread out, often one person to a locale.

2. Mozilla Corporation Revenues. The Mozilla Corporation pays its employees from the revenues we receive from our product. We are very fortunate in that the search feature in Firefox is both appreciated by our users and generates revenue in the tens of millions of dollars. People sometimes ask if there are other features from which we could make money. The short answer is: We don’t know. Perhaps search is the only feature that will both benefit users and generate this kind of revenue. We’ve seen browsers that appear to have sold off all sorts of features and links to website with an eye to revenue rather than helping people make sense of the web. We won’t do that. The people working on the product couldn’t stand it and our users would abandon such a product.

I sometimes hear people refer to Firefox’s “Google bar.” I understand this but it’s not quite accurate. The Search Box has Google as default in many languages, but always has options for the consumer to choose. I think it’s a *big deal* that both Google and Yahoo are next to each other in the same product so that consumers can choose. (The UI for this is tough, I agree about that.) And Yahoo is the default search for Japanese, Chinese and Korean. So if you are using Firefox in those languages the “Google bar” wouldn’t make sense.

We’ve been using the money generated from the search providers exclusively to build the capabilities of the Mozilla project. We’ve hired people. We’ve built a much more robust infrastructure. (This may not sound like a big deal, but the server load of what we’re doing with update and extensions is significant.) We’ve got a “reserve fund” now which I view as extremely important. Having savings means that people are much more likely to believe us when we say we will turn down revenue if it doesn’t benefit the user. We’ve always said this, and we’ve meant it. Or to be more personal, I’ve always said it and meant it. One sounds na├»ve when one says this, particularly to large commercial enterprises. It helps people comprehend my statements when we have a reserve fund that allows us to operate whether or not we’re interested in them.

In the near future the Corporation will be looking at how to disperse some of the funds generated outside of our corporate structure (and here I mean outside both the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation). I’ve been told by some people that this is risky and that the thought of money distorts the community. I’m sure all that is possible. But we do have money in the project now and some of it should get spent on a project-wide basis unrelated to employment. I’m hoping we can do this in a way that reflects our community organization and distributed authority. I’m not sure what the mechanism is yet but I know it needs to happen.

3. More Topics. Now that I’ve started, there’s a lot more to say. Topics that are on “the tip of my tongue” include: the health of the community, the relationship between the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation; long-term goals of the Mozilla project; developing a more open communications style in non-code topics; how do coordination and “management” fit in; what roles has the Mozilla Corporation been hiring for and why. But in the spirit of writing more informal, *digestible* posts I’ll stop here now and put those thoughts in separate posts.

Guidelines for commercial relationships

May 5th, 2005

A while back I wrote a bit about search. One of the comments to that post was a suggestion / request that it would be helpful if the “Mozilla Foundation published some sort of guidelines about the processes they go through when considering and entering into these relationships.” Rather than wait until we have a full set of guidelines I think I’ll just plunge in with the first and most obvious and then keep adding.

The first and most basic guideline concerns the source code development itself: The Mozilla Foundation does not enter into agreements that try to affect what goes into our shared source repository.

The source code is a community resource. A relationship between the Mozilla Foundation and another organization cannot try to control the source tree for the benefit of that relationship. The source code is developed by a set of people far broader than the Mozilla Foundation. The Mozilla project has a long history of distributing authority to module owners, reviewers and other respected people. The job of the Mozilla Foundation is to provide coordination, guidance and leadership to these groups to produce the best possible shared resource.

The Mozilla Foundation does make decisions about the branded versions that the Mozilla Foundation distributes and might enter into agreements regarding the branded version. We would do this sparingly with a focus on user experience and user choice, but we might make some agreements about our branded versions. Future posts and resulting discussions will work through the guidelines for how we think, and should think, about this.

But the basic principle is that any such agreement do *not* bleed over into the unbranded source repository. What goes into the source tree is a community-based decision. I’ve had a number of conversations with various businesses interested in Mozilla technology, the Mozilla project and how the Mozilla Foundation operates. One thing comes through loud and clear: the Mozilla community generates respect. People often don’t understand the details of how we operate, or how leadership and distributed authority work in practice. But they do understand that the Mozilla community is greater than the Mozilla Foundation, and that working with this community is critical.

This is a big change from when I started having these discussions years ago (before the Mozilla Foundation). It reflects the growing awareness of our development methodology, and the respect for what the Mozilla project has accomplished.

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.

Firefox 1.0 Now Available

November 8th, 2004

Firefox represents something new for us — a release that is squarely aimed at the end-user. A great browser where power features don’t get in the way of the general user. It’s sleek, innovative, accessible to mere mortals and also packs enough punch for the most sophisticated power user. If you’ve been waiting to try Firefox or to recommend it to others until it has the official stamp of approval, now’s the time.

This release also marks a new era in our international focus. I’m not sure one can imagine how much work is involved in the localization effort until one has tried it. In addition, our localization teams are all volunteers. That’s right, volunteers. People volunteer in order to have Firefox available in the language they care about. This involves not only the actual localization, but reviewing and verifying all aspects of the localizations, waiting for our build cycles to complete, working at odd times to hook up with everyone else and helping the Mozilla Foundation figure out how best to manage such a massive task. And of course, all this needs to be done on a very tight timeframe. I am regularly astonished by the outpouring of support for the Mozilla project, and the localization effort is a perfect example.

In addition to improved localization, Firefox 1.0 also has integrated search capabilities, both in the Search Box and in the startpage. We know that search is a critically important feature of the web, and we’ve worked to make Firefox’s search functionality as useful as possible. Firefox ships with a set of search plug-ins, allowing the user to select the search engine which works best for his or her needs. In addition, one can choose to add a broad range of additional search engines quite simply.

In keeping with our emphasis on the end-user, we have redesigned the Firefox startpage. We wanted a startpage that reflected the Mozilla project and provided a good access point to the web. Given the importance of search, we decided to add search functionality to the start page itself. Google has long been recognized as a leader in search experience and so we chose Google.

We provide access to search services from a range of sources including Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and others you can see in Firefox. We expect to see some funds come to the Foundation as a result of our integrated search. We’ll use any funds that result to help support the Mozilla Foundation’s non-profit operations. When finances are involved questions often arise about their influence on an organization and we’ll spend some time talking about this as we go forward.

For now, I want to express my admiration for the vitality and commitment of the Mozilla community. The Firefox 1.0 release builds on the work of hundreds of programmers and QA contributors and thousands of participants. It also highlights the efforts of new groups of participants, including:

  • the Visual Identity team — a new group of volunteers that has brought great polish to Firefox, our new mail client Thunderbird, and our website;
  • Spread Firefox — the admins who spearhead community marketing campaigns, and the thousands using their creative energy to let others know about Firefox;
  • Mozilla Europe and Mozilla Japan — our international affiliates who assist with all manner of activities for users outside of the United States;
  • an increasing number of people employed to work on Mozilla technology, some within the Mozilla Foundation and many funded by other entities; and
  • the millions of people who have downloaded the Firefox preview releases.

The breadth and depth and innovation of the Mozilla community continues to bring unprecedented results. Mozilla Firefox is a great browser, and a testament to the thousands of people who have contributed their energies to bring innovation, creativity and choice to the web.

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