Mozilla puzzle pieces (or, what is MoFo?)

January 21, 2009 § 8 Comments

If you’ve been following my blog for the last six months, you’ll know that I’ve wrestled a great deal with a very basic question: who and what is the Mozilla Foundation?


The answer to this question should be simple, I know. But, being new to the world of Mozilla, it isn’t. And, it’s pretty central to figuring out what the Foundation team should be working on, and how we can be helping Mozilla as a whole. Which is what I think about most of the time.

The good news: some bits of the ‘who and what’ question have become clearer — especially when I look at Mozilla as a whole. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

  1. There is just one Mozilla. All of Mozilla has the same mission: to guard the open nature of the internet. When I talk about Mozilla these days, I’m referring less and less to Mozilla Foundation. I talk much more about this big idea that is Mozilla’s mission and the global community of people that is making it real. It feels like that’s the right way to tell the world about Mozilla.
  2. The Mozilla Project is bigger than the sum of its organizational parts. There are lots of organizational bits within Mozilla. Mozilla Foundation. Mozilla Corporation. Mozilla Messaging. Regional affiliate organizations around the world. Individual community projects and sites. While it’s more an idea than an organization, the Mozilla Project is the thing that contains all this. Figuring out the role of Mozilla Foundation happens inside this context.
  3. We need to be in this for the long haul. Recently, I’ve heard John Lilly asking what it means to be a champion of the open web for the next 50 to 100 years. I think Mozilla’s mission will be relevant for at least this long. In a funny way, recognizing this makes thinking about the work of the Foundation easier.

I wonder if these things sound right to people who have been around Mozilla for a while? I suspect one response will be ‘there is nothing surprising here’. And, indeed, all this fits with what I knew about Mozilla before getting involved. The difference now is that these ideas have become visceral — they are in my belly and they are guiding how I think, talk and act. Which I suspect is good.

Still, I struggle with day-to-day questions about the role of the Foundation. In December I tried to tackle this by drawing a map of the bigger organizational bits within the Mozilla universe. This is different than Mitchell’s Mozilla Tree, which does a great job of describing how and why things work. My map was more a collection of puzzle pieces, and is really aimed at helping me find my way. It looked something like this:


While this is really just a sketch, there is one thing this map has already helped me with: understanding that there are at least two functional roles for the Mozilla Foundation.

The first role is driving Mozilla’s mission forward with programs that build on and move beyond Mozilla’s existing products. Up to this point, we’ve been talking about things like education, research and movement building. But these could be almost anything. The main point is that the Foundation needs to catalyze concrete actions that a) guard the open nature of the internet by b) leveraging and reaching beyond the good work Mozilla is already doing by building technologies that underpin the open web. I knew this was a role when I started out, and this is where the team and I have been spending most of our time.

The second role is ‘Foundation as support system‘, particularly at the Mozilla Project vision, policy and process level. This isn’t about unilaterally setting policy, vision, etc. It’s about making sure that this stuff happens, and supporting Mitchell in her Chief Lizard Wrangler role, the Foundation board and module owners in general. Part of this is looking after process issues. But it might also include fleshing out ideas, researching their implications, or helping to write up proposals. In some cases Foundation staff may also have primary responsibility for particular policies, as Frank does with CA review. I knew about this aspect of Foundation work from the beginning, but I’m finding it tougher to get my head around what it means in terms of people, resources and structures. It may be that we need particular people and roles that we don’t yet have. This is something our team will be actively thinking on once some program experiments are up and running. We’ll need help.

It is also worth explaining why I’ve pulled out Mozilla Labs as it’s own item on the map. It is not its own legal entity. Yet, I think it stands apart as idea and way of working that can serve all of Mozilla. When I was first blogging about Mozilla, I talked about the need for some sort of radar that could catalyze thousands of ideas about making the open web better, gradually surfacing the best, most scalable amongst them. In many ways, this is what Labs is doing. And, if we have a 50 year mission, all of Mozilla needs to be looking over the horizon in this way. Maybe that’s by working with Labs, or just by thinking differently. Whatever, I think it’s something we need to do more.

As noted above, I’ve done this mostly to help my own thinking. That said, I am very much interested in getting reactions to this. What is missing? What story isn’t being told? How would you tell this story? If you really have a different angle on this, what would your map of the Mozilla universe look like? I’d love to see other people’s maps.

§ 8 Responses to Mozilla puzzle pieces (or, what is MoFo?)

  • Zak Greant says:

    It’s taken some time for the “One Mozilla” view to emerge and while it doesn’t seem controversial, I think that each participant will have a different views of what this means. It would be interesting (and perhaps counterproductive) to tease out what these views are.

    Also, I like the idea of taking a 50 year view. This lens on our issues should force us to think more clearly about the difference between means, ends and intermediate steps.

  • Mark Finkle says:

    It’s worth mentioning, so I will. Many people might consider the Mozilla Platform to be missing from your diagram. It’s a common component to the Web, Messaging and Labs. It’s also highly leveraged by the Mozilla Community.

  • In your map, it’s hard to see all the things you linked in the “bigger than its parts” point above. Not sure where/how to place affiliates and community projects there, but I feel they might deserve to be easier to find in an overview map.
    On the other hand, I’m probably seeing this same project and community from a slightly different viewpoint, being centered in the community project space – and your “home” is always the most important point one tends to look for in a map.😉

  • I also feel like there’s another story here. This post is mostly about structure and how we’re built. But there’s another part to this, and that’s how we got to where we are. I’m not sure if that’s part of the story you’re trying to tell or not, but it seems like understanding some of that will help people understand how we got to the structure that we have today. To many it seems confusing and overly complicated, but each decision along the way to get here made sense at the time. (And still make sense, thinking about it again.)

    Not really my own map, but thinking about it in terms of time instead of space.

  • Zak Greant says:

    So, either of you gents want to hack up the map?🙂

  • Tristan says:

    @Zak: good point. I see Firefox as a mean and/or an intermediate step. It *is* controversial for many. Or at least non-obvious. It’s something that has popped-up during the 2010 goals discussions, while many people thought that Mozilla’s goal was to make Firefox. Of course, Firefox is essential, but it’s not a goal per se. It’s not an end. And it’s really easy for people to miss this point.

    @Kayro: yes, and most people tend to expect home to be the center of the map. Look at world maps in Europe and in America! In Europe, Alaska is on the left hand side of the map, and no continent is cut in 2. In America, “US” is at the center, while “THEM” is around😉

  • […] recently. In addition to the January update mentioned earlier, he has posted three other articles: Mozilla puzzle pieces (or, what is MoFo?), Mozilla Foundation program ideas for 2009, and Mozilla Education, a scribble. All of these posts […]

  • John Gilmore says:

    The reason for most of the structure is that MoCo is making about $100M/year from search revenue from Google — from that littlle search box in the corner that makes Google the default. As a nonprofit foundation, it could not make so much “unrelated business income”, so they formed the corporation to make the money, and the corp is wholly-owned by the nonprofit. Somehow this aspect isn’t something that gets talked about very much to the public — indeed there are still “donation pages” encouraging Joe the Plumber to send his hard-earned $10 to Mozilla, when they’re rolling in more cash than they can use. See and “Does the Mozilla Foundation need my donation?” at, which totally hide this whole issue.

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