The challenge of mozilla’s magnetism

Mozilla is unique. The project gets more media, more publicity and more buzz than virtually any other open source project. It is, in much of the public’s mind, the poster child for open source and the open internet. More critically, this isn’t some interesting observation, why this is the case, and what it means, is profound implications for the success of Mozilla, the open web and the future of the internet.

I would argue that Mozilla’s uniqueness is not a result of being the most successful open source project. (I’m sure there is much heated debate over which is the most successful, largest, most complex, most important, etc… open source community/project). The fact is, it’s irrelevant.

moz-head-bigMozilla matters because Firefox is a consumer product. And not just any consumer product, it is THE consumer product that allows people to interact with the world wide web, the most consumer oriented part of the internet. Thus, while Apache, Linux, Sendmail and the million of other open source projects matter (a great deal!) the simple fact is, Mozilla is the brand that represents both the potential of open source and the importance of an open internet. This matters because it means a) Firefox and Mozilla are the catalysts in creating social awareness among millions of consumers about the importance of the open internet and b) as a result, Mozilla will likely be the first port of call of these newly awakened activists who wish to find ways to contribute.

This, of course, is both a blessing and a curse.

One the one hand it often seems that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has an opinion about Mozilla (and boy am I guilty of this). I’m not inside Mozilla but I can imagine the constant barrage of “helpful” ideas or suggestions or worse, outright complaints or threats, must feel exhausting. The banging on the gates never ends and engaging in it could distract the community from its important work.

On the other hand… how great that an increasing number of people have this energy and passion for Mozilla and, by extension, the open internet. Many of those banging at the gate – and a good many more who are simply too intimidated or too unsure to even do that – are primed and ready to be among the next million mozillians. The banging (or loitering) is a symptom of a desire to contribute – indeed it may be the only outlet they know of or have.

The real question is – how do we engage these people?

Should Mozilla do more to shape and lead the social movement around the open web? As David Ascher also notes, the opportunity of broadening Mozilla’s tent by absorbing these newly minted activists into streams of activities and helping channel their energy and enthusiasm is an exciting prospect. But I’m not sure the answer is a definite yes. As Mitchell Baker – in part – points out, the risk of diluting Mozilla’s mission or its culture is a serious one.

However, the social movement around the open web is going to keep attracting supporters. Again, because Mozilla is one of the leading catalyst in creating this social awareness these supporters are going to show up at it’s doorstep first. Regardless of the choice (absorb or not absorb) to successfully support the movement I’d argue that at the very minimum Mozilla needs a plan to a) greet these newcomers and make them feel welcome; and b) some capacity to point them in the direction of a variety of institutions, organizations, projects and activities, where they can channel their energy. The more people the movement can engage – or to reframe – the more communities of action with can create within our broader community of interest, the more likely we will be successful in acheiving an open internet.

14 thoughts on “The challenge of mozilla’s magnetism

  1. Pingback: Mitchell’s Blog » Blog Archive » Mozilla’s Magnetism

  2. Pingback: Supporting The Mozilla Community « davidwboswell

  3. Jeremy Vernon

    Here are some counterpoints (link salad follows):

    If Mozilla had “more buzz” or “more publicity” than other open source projects it would at least beat Linux.

    If Mozilla were synonymous with open source one would expect to see similar visibility statistics:

    Not even close.

    Mozilla is certainly not the highest profile open web project out there:



    Nota bene:
    for fun:

    For (funny) perspective (Tycho Brahe is either a webcomic character or a Dutch astronomer):

    For thought:

  4. Jeremy Vernon

    Here are some counterpoints (link salad follows): Mozilla had “more buzz” or “more publicity” than other open source projects it would at least beat Linux.If Mozilla were synonymous with open source one would expect to see similar visibility statistics:…Not even close.Mozilla is certainly not the highest profile open web project out there:…Also:…and:…versus:…or…Nota bene:…for fun:…For (funny) perspective (Tycho Brahe is either a webcomic character or a Dutch astronomer):…For thought:

  5. Pingback: commonspace

  6. commonspace

    A few concrete things Mozilla Foundation might do…Looking back over dozens of online and over-beer conversations, it’s clear the Mozilla Foundation can play an important role in the world. This role is not to oversee or second guess the people producing Firefox, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, XUL and other …

  7. Pingback: A few concrete things Mozilla Foundation might do « commonspace

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  9. Pocker

    Mozilla Firefox is by far the best of all the different browsers. It is strong because of it's ever growing community and the good working team they have. All the addons and all of the good features makes it simply the best. Microsoft with Explorer is trailing and won't win the race by copying it.

  10. shopping

    I agree with the add-ons that there are for firefox IE doesn't even come close to firefox. Speed , security are other issues which i think are better addressed in firefox.

  11. Jeremy

    Very interesting post. In fact, I believe that this post runs in close parallel to the theory of competition versus cooperation that is becoming very visible in most cultures. The premise is that competition only works up until the point of ultimate equality, upon which point cooperation – open sharing and cultivation – must take over for existence. I believe that Firefox and Mozilla are the parallel to this in the manifestation online – the overall move to a open web or cooperation.


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