The Next Million Mozillians

June 18, 2008 § 30 Comments

Last week, David Eaves blogged about the potential for Mozilla to energize — and maybe even lead — a mass movement for the open web. My response: hear! hear! More thinking, experimenting, conversing, inventing, definitionizing, evangelizing, politicking, standard-making and party-throwing in the name of the open web is very much needed. And Mozilla is certainly well situated to stir this pot.

What would it take to stir the pot? Probably a re-imagined and re-invigorated Mozilla Foundation.

Currently, the Foundation acts as steward for Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Messaging,which are owned by the Foundation but run with their own leadership and resources (I like this model). It supports a handful of other Mozilla software projects. And it gives out a small number of grants related to open source and web accessibility. All of these things contribute to the open web, some (stewarding Firefox!) in a massive way. The Foundation should keep doing these things.

Yet, there is still space for the Foundation to be thinking bigger. Looking for the next risky, audacious, disruptive ideas that will make the open web more useful and more fun. Strengthening not only the technical building blocks of the open web (software and standards), but also the social ones (community and business models)? And, getting ordinary people excited about the open web and why it matters? Which is where this idea of a movement comes in.

If Mozilla stepped into the movement building game, it would clearly have a head start: 170 million people who use Firefox and a killer track record building community.

However, there is also a critical piece missing: the ability to help large numbers (millions?) of people make the shift from being a consumer to being contributor. Not contributors to Mozilla Project code. Or even to documentation or marketing. Rather, imagine 170 million contributors to the project of making the open web stronger, better understood and more resilient. This would be very cool movement indeed.

This week’s Downlod Firefox campaign demonstrated that, at least on the company side, Mozilla has the horsepower and respect to galvanize large numbers of people. Over 8 million people downloaded Firefox 3 in a day. In some ways more impressively, 1.6 million pledged to do so in advance. These pledgers care about Mozilla, and want to chip in to making the web more open.This problem is, beyond downloading, there is very little for ordinary, not-so-techie folks to chip in on.

Mozilla Foundation could change this. It could invite people en masse to help define what we mean by the open web (really, we need to work on this). It could encourage them make videos, mashup pictures and write blog postings that explain the importance of the open web to my grandmother (or my kids). And, over time, it could give people — geek and non-geek alike – the scaffolding and encouragement they need to invent new pieces of the open web that have not yet been imagined. Pieces that use openness and participation to make the web better for work / music / life / love / play / the-stuff-that-matters. Imagined this way, the Foundation has the chance to create the next million actively contributing Mozillians. I think it should take that chance.

Which isn’t to suggest that Mozilla should drop its driven focus on great, community-built tech products. Not at all. Firefox and other Mozilla products are critical to keeping the web open. However, one can imagine the Foundation as movement yin to the Corporation’s awesome product yang. Parts of a whole.

As somebody whose job at Shuttleworth is to make the world better using open source tactics, thinking through this version of the Mozilla Foundation fascinates me. I’ve shared this fascination with a few Mozillians, asking: if the Foundation were in the movement building business, what would it look like? Where are the geek (and not just Firefox) and non-geek (and not just marketing) sweet spots for the next million contributors? I have to admit, I don’t know myself. I have vague hunches (above) and a desire to dig deeper. I’m hoping the Mozillians I am talking to have ideas to share. And maybe you do to. If so, I’d love to hear them. I promise to post again to pull together any good ideas that emerge.

§ 30 Responses to The Next Million Mozillians

  • Mitchell Baker says:


    I think finding ways for people to make the shift from being a consumer to being a creator is one of most important things we do. People may not always choose to create — consumption can be nice — but expecting that they can and having a critical mass of people who *do* make this shift is a fundamental aspect of embedding the open “meme” deep into the Internet.

    We’re doing a lot at Mozilla already. But it is still mostly product specific. Finding new ways that aren’t as directly tied to our products — but are built with Mozilla DNA — would be a great role for the Foundation.


  • Mark:

    Nice post. I think one way to begin would be to start making a list of the kinds of things that regular Mozilla users who are *not* programmers do on a regular basis that would be improved by an approach inspired by free software and open-source principles.

    Once you’ve got that list, you could think about either making some browser plug-in tools that would abet those things. Less literally, you could also start thinking about ywas that the foundation could make its expertise and resources available to people engaged in projects that value openness.

    As a quick example, as someone working in a classroom setting, I spend a lot of time thinking about economies of knowledge. In the university, that always involves citation. The Zotero project is a free-plug-in for Firefox that builds a citation database that rivals very expensive, professional tools like EndNote in power.

    Other professionals have similar kinds of information management needs that transcend mashups and home movies. If Mozilla threw its weight behind a few initiatives to identify and address such needs, it would go a long way toward incorporating non-programmers into a movement that felt that it had a real stake in the open.

  • David Crow says:

    We talk about business development, I’m wondering if this is the role of community development. Or more specifically economic community development modeled after Economic Development Corporations (see Build an ecosystem of funders, areas where Mozilla products would best serve as a platform, competitive analysis, and relationships to inspire people to build and participate. It’s not a perfect model but it’s a model.

    Looking at seeding an ecosystem or product like Mail and Communications Initative. What are the other areas of focus that are enabled by the open web? Documentation or is this the realm of Wikipedia? Who are the funders? Who are the government agencies? Who are the supporters?

    Plus there is then a need to figure out what is Mozilla DNA? Is it a set of community practices? Is it a set of community management techniques or a philosophy? Is it development practice?

  • Mark,

    Interesting ideas. I particularly liked the description of the Foundation as movement yin to the Corporation’s awesome product yang. The Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Messaging are very ably stewarding Firefox and Thunderbird, so there is an opportunity here for the Foundation to look beyond shipping and promoting those products.

    I think Mitchell Baker’s recent trip to a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation[1] to talk about openness, participation and distributed decision-making and the Foundation’s recent grant to support accessibility work at the United Nations’ Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs[2] provide the outlines for what a bigger movement could look like. Promoting the open web by working with organizations outside of the tech world that are focused on social issues seems like a straight-forward extension of what Mozilla has already been doing.

    Another thing that may fit in with this topic came up recently as part of the Download Day effort. David Eaves’ post comparing the Download Day map with the map of integrated vs non-integrated countries[3] was fascinating. Should the Foundation be doing something to bring the idea of an open web to the countries that didn’t (or couldn’t) take part in Download Day?



  • Frank Hecker says:

    Some good ideas above. Here’s another idea (whether it’s good or not I leave to others to judge): Re your thought about “invit[ing] people en masse” and the 170M Firefox users, we have all the people who pledged for the download campaign and (IIRC) they all provided their email addresses. If the terms of that were such as to make it appropriate for us to send those people at least one email [1], why not send the pledgees a message and ask them what they’d like to see Mozilla do (if anything) other than shipping Firefox and other products?

    Ask people to name one thing that’s important to them in terms of the open web, what they’d like the Mozilla Foundation to do about it, and what (if anything) they could do and would do themselves to help the cause . Let them answer free form, so they’re not restricted to a canned set of options, and use alternate means of expression like you mentioned (videos, blog postings, tweets, whatever), as long as they’re tagged in some way so we can recognize and retrieve them. We could also ask people if they’d like to help sort through all the submissions, summarize and categorize them, translate them into English, and so on. This would give especially enthusiastic Firefox users something additional to do beyond just putting something into the “suggestion box”.

    If even 1-2% of people responded to such an appeal with useful suggestions, that would still amount to thousands of people providing their personal thoughts, and possibly hundreds of people who were willing to contribute their time in some form as volunteers.

    [1] If we don’t want to spam people, why not build the same sort of appeal into the welcome screen that users get after upgrading to a new version of Firefox? That would reach almost all 170M users.

  • Mozilla is the quintessential example of how Open Source WORKS ! When the browser-beaten Netscape lost the war with Internet Explorer in the ’90s, all seemed lost. After the source code was set free, the world-wide community stepped up and began to build what has become the worlds best web browser, and the most shining example of Open Source. This resurrection was made possible thanks to the vision of the project leaders, the effective mechanisms for collaboration, and the strength of the OSS license.

    Now the Mozilla Foundation has an opportunity to use the success popularity and infrastructure of Firefox, to enable other projects, with similar goals, to reach a global audience. How about sponsoring the development of a plug-in (working title: FreeFox) that turned Firefox from a general purpose browser into a dedicated tool facilitating the discovery, development, documentation and dissemination of Open; utilities for feedback and code contribution, viral marketing, and discovery of OSS license abuses. Imagine a Firefox mode that was fixated on the open web, and made it easy for regular folks to join in, commenting, contributing, communicating to others what is Open, blazing new trails and leaving a map-of-open in its wake, for others to follow.

    Thanks Mark, for your pioneering spirit and your willingness to wade into uncharted waters. This fledgling freedom movement needs leaders (like you) who are intimate with the-way-things-are, and still unafraid to re-invent the future. There is no better place to start the next wave of the revolution, than the Mozilla Foundation.

    David J Patrick
    CEO and Janitor,

  • Mark Surman says:

    Some amazing clues on the ‘what MoFo could do’ in these and in related posts. Keep them coming. I will summarize next week.

    In the meantime, I see two related question emerging:

    1) what does Mozilla DNA look like (big picture vision + super practical solution to a real problem bundled together?)?


    2) how do we tap the collective intelligence of all those committed downloaders to brainstorm opportunities for the next million Mozillians (Frank may be on the right track, especially if you added some Manifesto-riffing in there)?

    Useful questions for a follow up round of posts. More thoughts after I’m back from camping with the kids.

  • AndrewRens says:

    One idea is to team up with people who created the Omnigator, and create a system for creating open topic maps, which will enable a new kind of navigation of the Internt, logical searches, knowledge maps. The system could enable anyone to map knowledge, and for those maps to be publicly available (and available to a variety of applications), and for those topic maps to be meshed

  • Nice conversation evolving. The DNA is a key question for me and whether it relates to advancing the open web or advancing the open web for an overarching purpose. I keep being struck by the importance and influence of open and the web in the evolution of our civilization. A quote from Michael Edwards’ “Just Another Emperor” captured it for me yesterday: “more radical innovations in ownership and production that change the basis on which markets currently work”(

    To me this is much more than open web being cool or good and recognizes it as major reconfiguring force in our society. As things continue to remix at an increasing rate we can only benefit from keeping and deepening ‘open’ in the web and other parts of our society. In fact it is critical. To then leverage the millions of open Mozillians into opening up the frontiers of the evolution of our civilization would be unprecedented. And to apply the foundation to the work of making all this happen would be profound.

    How it might happen – I have no idea – but I do think the DNA question is the right one to start with and one that can only be found ‘right’ by those at the core of MoFo.

  • Mike Gifford says:

    Definitions, like ‘open web’ need to be developed and agreed to. Habits and social norms, like posting bug reports, need to change. It will all take time, but it is a great point to get folks to start thinking about it. Certainly Firefox 3 is more than just software. However, people still see it as a tool much more than a process. Thanks for starting this thread.

  • Danny O'Brien says:

    A couple of crazy ideas: we’ve given people an open web browser; but how could we give them an open web *server*? (and I don’t mean Apache, I mean a server that they can easily control and share from their own machine, and is as easily accessible by their friends as any other central server would be). What challenges would that involve? Would it be easier coming from an organization that can innovate “at both ends” of the connection? Note that this would not take Mozilla out too much on a limb — the Bonjour folk at Apple, it seems to me, are looking at the same issues, both on the local network and WAN.

    Second: a tool that has clearly been disruptive and powerful in the world of coding and development has been the rise of distributed version control systems. Is there something in that that might be of use to more than just the developer world? Distributed, shared data, developed across groups, sporadically synchronised, but never centrally owned?

  • James Napolitano says:

    I particularly like how you put educators as a kind of contributor. I think there is hug untapped potential in this area. Right now, there are free educational materials scattered throughout the web. Imagine if there was a site like Wikipedia, but where users could create lecture notes, slides, exercises, diagrams, interactive computer programs, videos of their lessons, etc., all categorized by subject area and tagged according to grade level. There could be various articles on the same subject but aimed at different grade levels, with increasing level of detail and difficulty at the higher levels, in contrast to Wikipedia where everything is geared towards experts. There could even be different lessons for students with different learning styles (e.g. those who learn abstractly vs. those who learn by doing vs. those who learn visually, or a qualitative concept-orient approach vs. a formal quantitative approach). A site like this could both improve educational quality and save tons of time and money currently spent on constantly re-creating educational materials from scratch.

    Interested students could even contribute content too. And those that are stuck with a bad teacher could just go to the site and learn the material from content created by a pro.

    There could be a way to rate each item/article, a some translation system so the site could be used globally, and some kind of module/subject ownership to keep the content well organized and clean.

    I know there are already some open educational sites around, but I haven’t seen any like what I am describing here (mostly they are just lists of links to scattered, static content). There are also some sites collecting open textbooks, but it’s hard for an educator to contribute a whole textbook, and hard for users to contribute back. It would be easier to have a site structured around “one concept, one article/lesson” (kind of like how is done). One article can link to related articles even in different fields, so, for example, an interested student reading about geometry could read how it is used in computer graphics, astronomy, etc., or how a student reading about centripetal force in physics could learn that’s why the Earth bulges at its equator and how you could create artificial gravity in an rotating space station. The result would be a huge, interconnected “knowledge tree”.

    Anything like this would make a superb Mozilla Foundation project/grant.

  • Two quick points:-

    1. You might want to also consider the link between potential for
    co-production and application features/UI. Tim Berners-Lee conceived the
    browser as a tool for consuming and producing the Internet – very few
    modern day browsers come close to that – also thanks to proprietary
    standards and format. We need to study the link between empowering
    technologies (or generative) and community behaviour.

    2. One sweet spot half way between geek and non-geek is L10N. Is
    Mozilla doing enough to simplify community L10N for Open Content and

  • I don’t want to be offering the only possibly contrary opinion here, but here it goes.

    Many people focus on trying to build a massive coalition of people towards a common goal. My experience has been, however, than the whole is pretty much always far smaller than the sum of the parts. The more we try to bring everyone together on a common goal, the more we find that we don’t all have a common goal. On the other hand, if each of us works on the components we have in common — even if our greater motivations diverge — we can all get more done together.

    I really like the idea of there being a foundation for a software project that focuses on that software project. The foundation model is better than having a single corporation be the lead of a given project.

    I find this dynamic all the time in the policy work I do. The people who oppose Bill C-61, for instance, cross all the different political and other labels we have. It can’t be seen as a left-wing or right-wing thing, as it is both. It can’t be seen as a creator, business, user, consumer or citizen thing as it is all of the above — and so are the proponents from across all these labels.

    The groups who try to build coalitions that bring too many groups together, the more they end up coming up with positions that a growing number of their own members disagree with and are coming out and opposing (IE: see the Creators Copyright Coalition as an obvious example).

    I’m all for the proponents of C-61 building coalitions to the point of their own extinction. I just hope we won’t make the same types of mistakes.

  • Grace Armstrong says:

    Great post — there’s a lot to think about here. Personally, I’m a fan of any kind of practical tool that can put the openness of the web front and center while continuing to chip away at the printing-press-era idea that published content is somehow “finished.” (I like the Universal Edit Button — — as a small-scale example.) I don’t want to sound old, but I’m serious when I say we can learn a lot from teenagers here. People who have grown up with the internet use it intuitively for content creation, remixing, mashups, and multidirectional communication. What would it take to make that kind of dynamism standard for everyone? Once we have that, what would it take for people to make the leap from caring about dynamic content to caring about the platform that lets it all happen?

    Mozilla is in a great position to help people make the jump from user to contributor, but I agree there’s some more thinking that needs to be done both on defining what the “open web” means and figuring out how best to support it. I’m looking forward to seeing where the discussion goes and hearing your follow-up thoughts.

  • Mitchell Baker says:


    on your question re Mozilla DNA, I would add that our DNA to date includes *doing* as an important aspect.

  • Mark Surman says:

    The doing part totally makes sense. Vision + doing + concrete results. I wonder if *enabling others to do* also fits in here? It seems that Firefox and Thunderbird extensions plus the core Mozilla platform are it least in part about giving others tools to do the doing. How core is this enabling bit to Mozilla DNA?

  • John Gilmore says:

    One way to make more collaborators is to enable multi-lingual discussions and collaboration. This not only vastly increases the potential pool of people interested in (your niche interest), but also provides an active role for multilingual people in that niche.

    The theory is that everyone can converse in their native language, AND that multilingual people who are lurking will translate others’ comments. Software would keep track of where each comment originated and what all of its translations are. Thus if you’re a French speaker, you won’t see parts of the conversation that have been made in English (or they’ll be greyed out) until a bilingual Eng/Fr speaker bothers to translate them to French.

    This does not involve ANY machine translation. All translation is done by humans. It gives multilingual people (of which there are billions) a way to “give back” to their community of interest, even if they personally have nothing to say at the moment. Turning lurkers into contributors,
    broadening the reach of the discussion, AND making it easy for people to interact with people who are not of their culture. What’s not to like?

    [My initial vision was of a Wiki whose pages are translated like this. You could do the same on much shorter chunks of text in an IM application. You could do similarly for an email discussion, or a blog (with or without reader comments). It might even be doable for audio chat environments.]

  • Gerv says:

    The Open Web means content in open formats, transported over open protocols. There’s not too much of a threat to the “open protocols” bit at the moment (although social networking sites are trying to supplant POP/IMAP/SMTP with their own proprietary message delivery stuff – better anti-spam is needed). But there’s much more threat in the “open formats” space.

    The formats used for web content will be open formats if we can find ways to persuade authors to choose the open formats over the closed ones. We do that in two ways: by making them as capable or more capable than the closed formats, and by making authoring for them as easy or easier.

    As capable or more capable: keep working with other browser vendors and standards bodies to keep the open standards moving forward as fast as possible. How about we hire a roomful of people whose sole job it is to make IE support open standards using an easily-installed auto-updating add-on? Can we get Flash-like ubiquity for the “IE Standards Pack”? Hire Dean Edwards.

    As easy or easier: we’ve been mostly absent from the “content creation tool” space for some time now. Is it time for a revitalised Composer, which not only authors HTML but also SVG, or even perhaps which pulls together content of all sorts (video, audio, images, text…) into a single web page, and which knows how to upload it to a set of free hosting sites? That would be a major new project, admittedly. But isn’t a tool like this needed if the next million people are to author as well as view?

    (Incidentally, all this is one reason why the idea of free software and the fate of the open web are tied together. If a significant minority of the world believes in free software, they won’t want to install proprietary plugins and addons, and closed formats will have less reach than open ones, and so people won’t author using them.)

  • Melissa Hagemann says:


    Loads of fun stuff to think about here. To start, I’d follow-up on Mitchell’s ideas around the need to encourage folks to become creators instead of merely consumers. One area which offers a huge opportunity for this is open education. The collaborative creation of open educational resources is a key strategy of the blossoming open ed movement which would be greatly strengthened by collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation.


  • I agree with the general direction of the thread towards the notion that encouraging people to “do” should be the next step. I also agree that this “doing” should not necessarily be understood as a coordinated activity, but rather can be enabled and encouraged in a distributed fashion which is then amenable to interesting applications and analyses that draw out emergent, synthetic ideas and properties. For example, in the open education space, I think it will be more productive for Mozilla to encourage creative mash-ups of existing (or to-be-created) extensions (such as Zotero, Clip tools, web metrics, tag clouds, etc) which enable distributed open educational resources to acquire the types of attributes (think metadata) that will produce, in effect, a global open educational commons. The fact that the resources are scattered throughout the web doesn’t matter if the essential qualities by which they are aggregated and understood are open and ubiquitously applied. In essence, Mozilla is in a good place to encourage people to consider their everyday browses to be useful *acts*, valuable in and of themselves, to the extent that people choose to share their insights along the way.


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