Posts Tagged with “search”

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.

Firefox Search Plugin for Creative Commons

June 3rd, 2005

I was talking with some of the folks at Creative Commons recently — Creative Commons is housed in the same building as the Open Source Applications Foundation which I visit periodically and so we get a chance to compare notes now and then.

Firefox 1.x ships with a Creative Commons search plugin. The CC folks noted that they’ve received a few phone calls from people who must have inadvertently activated the drop-down menu and selected Creative Commons as their active search engine. There are undoubtedly many people who do this intentionally, as I do when I’m looking for a photo I can use for some purpose. But these folks must have done so inadvertently because they called Creative Commons to complain. And not gently – the messages were angry, along the lines of: “You’ve hijacked my computer.” “You’ve taken away Google and put yourself in their place.” “I can’t believe that an organization like Creative Commons would behave in this manner.”

Of course, Creative Commons hasn’t done anything of the sort; the plugin sits in the list of available search engines and becomes active only when selected. And by using the drop down box and selecting the preferred search engine the angry user can return to the search engine he or she likes best. Some people apologize when this is explained, others remain angry.

The anger is not new — people call the Mozilla Foundation and scream at us for not providing free support to go with the free product. What strikes me is not that people are angry. What strikes me is the number of people who feel their computer is out of control and that things are happening that they don’t understand and don’t trust, and the enormous level of pent-up frustration that surrounds many people trying to find their way on the web.

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.

Skip past the sidebar