What needs to happen before you open your eyes?

As already happened in the past on this blog, this is a guest post from my friend Iacopo Benesperi (iacchi), a long-standing member of the Italian Mozilla community. I agree with him that we’re living hard times, what’s happening inside our (small) community is probably happening elsewhere. And if it’s not clear, this post is here because we still care about Mozilla and its future ;-)

This last has been a hard year for the Mozilla world, in many ways. What is left of this year, among other things, is a very tense situation; a feeling of estrangement in many people, a sour taste in the mouth.
It’s not hard to notice it: you can see it in a good bye letter due to a resignation; you can see it in more and more posts on the planet; you can see it in mail exchanges or chats with other community members; you can see it in long time community members leaving because they don’t believe anymore in what Mozilla is doing; you can see it in all the blog posts of lovers of the free (as in freedom) Web who, because of this reason, care about Mozilla; you can see it in the comments of normal, non-techie users on your national forum, people that choosed Mozilla not necessarily because it’s better, but because it’s different; you can see it in the words of an extension writer, saying that he’ll stop updating his extensions because it’s become impossible for him to keep the pace; you can see it almost everywhere. Everything you need to do to notice it is to open your eyes and start paying attention on what’s around you.

In this last year Mozilla has lost many people but many, many more are the ones who are just an inch away from leaving; people who stay because they care so much about Mozilla and the Manifesto, who think that they can still fight to push everything back on the right path, on what they believe is the right path.
I won’t say here what’s wrong and what should be done, it’s all written already. What I will say here is that if you keep going this way, when (not if) all the people mentioned above will leave Mozilla, or stop believing in it, you may even be able to keep working somehow; but from that moment on, every success (what you consider as a success, anyway) you’ll get, if you will get some, will be a Mozilla Company success, the Mozilla Project being dead already. You’ll may even be able to win the browser war in the future, going on this way, but you’ll have lost your soul in the process.

36 thoughts on “What needs to happen before you open your eyes?

  1. Thank you. I feel this more and more through all of Mozilla, and unfortunately, very few of the Mozilla community are willing to approach the issue, and hardly any of the upper management of Mozilla will change.

  2. Hi,
    Iacopo and Francesco, indeed most of the contributors I know share these feelings and concerns, and I do too.
    I’m currently waiting for the denouement that will happen after all these threads and blog post to decide what will be my future in contributing the Mozilla Project.

    Regards

    Cédric

  3. There are tons of people offering criticism, most of it self-contradictory. So it wouls really help if you said what _you_ think the issues are.

  4. Speaking from my point of view, the new life cycle is great for Mozilla because new features can be released at a faster pace, too bad we forgot two key elements:

      *users: people are confused and often pissed, everyday I see new people subscribing to our support forum and asking why an extension is not working after the update (don’t forget that the update to 4 -> 5 was proposed as a minor update, no questions asked)
      *add-on developers: again, extensions are the key of Firefox’s success. Most of developers create their add-ons for free in their spare time, some of them don’t even host their work on AMO. Do you think that these people can keep up with a 6 weeks release cycle? I don’t. And unfortunately, listening to some of these developers, the new Add-on SDK is not ready for some of them, for some other it will probably never be, and porting is a complex operation.

      Add to this bad communication cases like the Director of Firefox writing “who cares about enterprises?” (not literally his words, but that’s what I got from it), or unclear messages about Firefox 4 EOL and you have the picture.

      And to answer Benoit, that’s not a problem of Corporation vs Foundation, it’s a problem about “Why are we going this way?”.

  5. Francesco, is there something I can do to help having a better collaboration with the Italian community?
    I am not involved in community building in Italy but if it can help, I can spend some time with your community trying to solve the issues you might have with Mozilla (I actually created myself an account on mozillaitalia forums 2 weeks ago :) )

  6. Francesco, is there something I can do to help having a better collaboration with the Italian community?

    Hi Pascal,
    thanks a lot but unfortunately I don’t think there’s something you (or I) can do at this moment.

    We had a long talk with Mary Colvig, pike and chofmann lately, and from my point of view I’m more than happy with the way things are between Mozilla and the Italian community. The problem is that several people are unhappy with the decisions made in the project at other (higher) levels, so much that they’re leaving Mozilla completely or stepping down from their roles.

    Our community is going to face a heavy restructure, personally I decided that I have invested too much time in this project to simply let it go, so I’ll stick around and fight ;-)

    A the same time, reading Cedric’s message and knowing how much he’s doing for Mozilla, I’m afraid that other communities are going through the same struggle.

    P.S. this would be a good moment to gather a good number of Mozillians in the same place and talk, too bad I don’t see any plan for MozCamps in the (near) future.

  7. I have to agree with Boris here. While there is a bunch of things that I dislike about Mozilla lately it is hard to tell which ones you mean. There has always been much criticism but I still consider most of the points pure non-sense.

  8. Heh, not sure why I haven’t seen your reply before posting. Yes, the new release cycle is a massive change and I am also unsure whether I am happy with it. The whole “enterprise debate” is only one aspect of it and having these issues discussed definitely is a good thing – what makes it bad are Asa’s responses to valid concerns. I don’t think that Asa represents Mozilla here but it would certainly help if some other Mozilla official voiced a more differentiated opinion. Mozilla’s communication with the community hasn’t been running well lately…

  9. > I won’t say here what’s wrong and what should be done, it’s all written already

    Oh oh :) That one was easy ^^

  10. I don’t think that Asa represents Mozilla here but it would certainly help if some other Mozilla official voiced a more differentiated opinion.

    His role is “Director of Firefox”, somehow I expect him to speak as a Mozilla representative on these matters.

    P.S. being on a shared hosting with other sites, this WordPress is heavily cached, sometimes the cache system (and its garbage collector) doesn’t work as expected :-(

  11. Ok, ok… I skipped the what’s wrong part to keep the post short and to focus on the message I did want to give.
    If you give me some time (I have an exam at university tomorrow, and I have to study for that, too) I’ll collect all of the quotes and the blog posts I’m referring to, and I’ll be glad to report them here.

    Right now I can answer to Pascal (even if Francesco replied already): it’s not a problem of communications between Mozilla and the Italian community we’re talking about, we’re quite happy with it actually; it’s a problem of communications between Mozilla and the Mozilla community, between Mozilla and (ok, this is a bit exaggerated) the rest of the free Web world on views.

  12. @flod: Yes, I would expect that too – but that’s not what I’ve seen from Asa so far. He often makes provocative statements, ones that are in no way representative of Mozilla as a whole.

  13. Hi flod and iacchi. I think you are right in many ways. I contribute to Mozilla project for 8-9 years and I’m not happy with current situation. What Asa said to “enterprise customers” was really really bad. As you said he is “Director of Firefox” and maybe such words are good for his blog but not as “oficial statement” from his possition (I know it was comment but say it to journalists). No official statement.

    We can talk about many issues but what will be a result? Listen anyone? That’s a question. Maybe we will see some blogposts from Mitchell or from other person but I’m not sure about results.

  14. I maintain that rapid releases are good. Rapid major releases on the other hand serve no purpose. If there’s a drive to make sure there’s a release whether major or minor every three months, I see no issue of that, especially if that in itself solves the discontent in regards to EOLs occurring too soon. Looking at the various branches, it’s looking more and more like what will be the next trunk build (8) should’ve been Firefox 5.

  15. It’s the usual trend of the over-techologized ages. Perhaps the people at Mozilla have not woken up yet, but the sole reason of Firefox’s (declining) succes is its exclusive add-on extensibility. Noone is using is for its speed, or for its great interface, because it doesn’t score in these departments. Corporations are looking at each other constantly, way more than their userbase. Firefox UI changes since v3.x were not that great as all those nerdy graphs and painting made us believe, they were the result of number writing and arrow drawing geeks who lost track with reality. Which progress do you make security wise if yo take away nearly all security features ? Where’s the “report a fishing site” button gone ? Why know what site this hoovered link will take me to ? It was all ripped away in a paranoid way to copy-paste the competition, sneakily brought back in some clumsy, lame and ugly form as soon as they saw their base shrink further and further. What did the “breathtaking new features” bring us ? GDI acceleration which is completely broken, Javascript enhancements that makes the browser choke, Panorama which looks like a 16 lines basic-code written thing, pretty useless in all sense of the word, widely used fuctions like seeing your recently closed tabs buries some 5 levels deep under some misformed “new” button. And last but not least the crumbling down of their add-ons creator countage, the sole reason why FF is still alive in the first place.

  16. For what it’s worth, I and many other Mozilla developers disagree strongly with Asa’s comments and “I don’t care at all about corporate users” attitude.

    This shouldn’t be too surprising, since he’s always been … loud.

  17. > His role is “Director of Firefox”

    No, that’s Johnathan Nightingale, last I checked (or rather, he’s the Director of Firefox Engineering). Maybe that’s the issue here? People just misunderstanding Asa’s role in this situation, combined with his usual approach to commenting not being contradicted by anything official (yet)?

    And _definitely_ what roc said.

  18. @flod
    Interesting. For what it’s worth, Asa isn’t the only person in that position, and the others don’t necessarily agree with him.

  19. Grr, I wanted to put a statement here that I hoped sounded uplifting but that funny blog system told me “spam detected” and prohibited it. :(

    Short version: I heard of nobody losing belief in Mozilla and I’m concerned about the message standing out there because Asa’s talk is taken as official and not his personal opinion, which it actually is.

  20. @Robert
    Sorry for the spam problem, I don’t find anything in Akismet’s queue. I disabled the anti-bot plugin, maybe you can try again ;-)

    I heard of nobody losing belief in Mozilla

    I’m happy for you, but on a “test group” of over 15 people: one already left, one is almost out and I can’t find a single person happy with the situation. Is just something in the Italian air? ;-)

  21. (I am a Mozilla employee, but of course I speak only for myself.)

    people are confused and often pissed, everyday I see new people subscribing to our support forum and asking why an extension is not working after the update

    I totally agree that frequent updates which break some add-ons are a huge problem for a lot of users, and we need to find much better ways to solve or mitigate this problem.

    (don’t forget that the update to 4 -> 5 was proposed as a minor update, no questions asked)

    This isn’t 100% true, since Firefox will ask before updating if the update disables any add-ons. But the update prompt contains scary (and correct) security warnings, so users may still feel they do not have any choice.

    Most of developers create their add-ons for free in their spare time, some of them don’t even host their work on AMO. Do you think that these people can keep up with a 6 weeks release cycle?

    For extensions hosted on AMO which are updated automatically, it seems that maintaining add-ons is easier now than it was before the rapid release cycle.

    For add-ons not hosted on AMO, I agree that it might be more difficult. I know the add-on team is working on providing automated tools for those developers too. Personally I’ve already had a much easier time updating my own add-ons (in my spare time) through the first rapid release cycle than I did from 3.6 to 4.0, or even within the long 4.0 beta cycle.

    Anyway, I want to assure you that everyone I’ve talked to who works on Mozilla does recognize that the new release process causes problems for users and developers, and that we need to work to solve those problems. I also think that the benefits of predictable, incremental releases will outweigh the problems and the cost of solving them.

  22. @flod:
    Sorry, I lost the whole entry I wrote in that message, and I don’t really like to write all this up again, I wrote other replies on other places as well anyhow. Perhaps it didn’t like this word I used in a phrase with “pissed off”… ;-)

    On that other thing, maybe it’s the Italian air or maybe it’s the Southern Europe spirit that makes people heated up fast enough to not look at it with bit of more distance. I know it’s summer, but cool down a bit, see what comes in terms of official statements, and don’t go anywhere based on rushing emotions.
    I know that what Asa said is his opinion but no official line, esp. not in the way it got blown up by the tech press. There’s a long way from “not really a focus” to “don’t use Firefox”. I think we can do things to make our new process better digestible for larger deployments, and we should take a look or two on that, but we should not change the fast release process itself.
    In the end, we need this process that makes us have higher quality and stability and less “large boom”. And I’m sure, once it has sunk in and we smoothed its edges, it will actually fit those people better than the old “change the world with every release” model.

  23. You wanted this comment, here you are then.

    First of all let me say that this blog post was not about what’s wrong about me in this period, it was about what this “wrong” is causing inside the Mozilla community and the free Web in general; it was about shouting this thing out loud and shake everybody before it’s too late. The only fact that you asked me to give my opinions on what’s wrong according to me, so you can show me in your opinion how wrong I am, is a clear demonstration (to me) that I possibly failed in my aim, and that you’re still (and maybe will ever be) deaf about this. There’s a maxim in Italy which says “There’s no worse deaf than the one who doesn’t want to hear”.

    Anyway, you wanted a list from me, so here you are. Before I start, let me say that altough this post landed in the middle of a discussion about Firefox & enterprises (argument which has monopolized much of the comments here, too), that subject is not the thing which made me write my post and in my opinion is quite a marginal problem right now. Ok, let’s start with quotations and link:

    This is two months old but still interesting.

    This has nothing to do with Mozilla directly and is a bit conservative, but is still a must-read article.

    This I don’t agree with him but I’m definitely with him about the UI.

    This, i totally agree with him. Let me just quote a sentence here, it will come later, too: “Google does it. So what? Last time I checked, the Mozilla Manifesto was about openness, freedom of choice and innovation, not competition with WebKit.”

    This is another thing that I totally agree with, and fall just in the quote above.

    This is a translation from here (just FYI, the author is him):
    As an extension developer, I totally agree with you.
    The new development strategy will have as a cartain consequence the “death” of many extensions, I’ll have to abandon many of them myself and – obviously – I’m really sad about trashing all the work I’ve done on them in the past.
    Moreover, users will be pushed further more to disable the compatibility check, with the consequence to find themselves with extensions only half-working and with increasing side-problems.
    It’s a suicide from Mozilla, which seems to be completely blinded by the “Chrome syndrome”.

    I’ll translate only two other posts, because honestly is really time-consuming to do it:

    One of the Firefox strength is represented by users and developers, especially the latters.
    Now, if a new developer would like to try to do something for Firefox, why should he bother doing it if he has to redo a big part of it every 3-4 month because of incompatibilities with new versions?
    And more: as sopron said, there are major extensions (the most used) and minor ones, nobody can deny this.
    The majors one will always be ok, if their developer’s patience will last.
    But many of the minor ones will die IMO, as is already happening since some months.
    This is a pity, too, since an extension considered as minor nowadays may have a big success in the future, and become a strenghtening factor.
    As already said in the past, it’s not always true that change means do better, and this is more true with the union of change and run: a disaster, imho.

    I think that a very wrong path has been taken.
    Firefox is not Chrome, and it shouldn’t try to become it.
    For many the Firefox installation is a starting point to have a personal browser.
    As klades said there’ll be a run to disable the compatibility check, with the result that often the user will think that Firefox doesn’t work.
    Alert the user before the update (later is pointless!) that he will loose some extensions?
    The user himself will have to check every 6 weeks what he’ll loose and decide to upgrade or not?
    It’s meaningless if the new browser is 100 times faster and secure if I can’t do anymore what I was used to do in the past.
    Some users (stubborn? expert? more skilled?) may end up with a pletora of Firefox versions installed. On my PC for example there’s Firefox 3.6, 4, 5.
    In the past years a new version was a good reason for a party, nowadays in the best cases is a bothering thing.
    If I’m not wrong, Google is Firefox’s major sponsor. Good, let’s put two download links in the Firefox download page: one for Chrome with its monthly updates and one for Firefox which go on its way, which go back on its way.

    This is from another thread:

    Actually this flight of brains from Mozilla leaves me perplexed, it looks to me that it coincides with the latest choices as the rapid release cycle, which points to “silent” updates à la Chrome; the attention towards social networks which can be read in the roadmap; the willing to mimic Chrome in the UI – surely these are not the real reasons, but surely many are leaving at the same time of these new Firefox developments.

    I may continue, but I’ll stop here. These are just some bits from Italian users, but I’ve been told (I don’t read that forum) that you can find many in MozillaZine, too.

    Until now I’ve talked about the Firefox development only but, even if it’s an important responsible for the situation we have now, it’s not the only one. From now on, I’ll use my on words.

    One of the things that make many mozillians said (me for sure) is for example this focus on Firefox and Firefox only, leaving all the rest behind (Thunderbird, Calendar, and so on). Just to make an example I (but I think others, and I’ll assume this for the next sentences) have always seen the creation of Mozilla Messaging as an attempt to push Thunderbird away from the beloved child Firefox (this may not be the reason, but it’s what it looked like to many). I still have to figure out if the merging of MoMo with the Labs is a step on the right direction or not. One thing is sure: I was horrified back in time when I read people saying that Thunderbird should have tried to find its own ways to have revenues, to raise money, if it wanted to stay alive. Since when anything in Mozilla is about money? I know that we don’t live in a perfect world and that money is important to stay alive, but since we have it, who cares from where it comes (Firefox, to be precise)? It should be used to help everyone in the family. I know that this story is old, but it’s just to show that this situation did not start 2 months ago.

    The other point is the growing feeling that Mozilla is becoming lesser and lesser a community driven project and more and more a “corporate” (ok, it’s not the right word probably, but I don’t know English so well) project helped by community work. What I’m feeling since some time is that the community is lesser and lesser involved in the development choices of the Mozilla products and more and more decisions are just announced from the top to the people. I remember the firsts MozCamps where we were deciding things all togethers, sharing ideas, doubts and feelings. Lately what happens in MozCamps is a little work, a lot of blah blah and many time spent to show “cool, new demos” like a kind of internal marketing, as if we need it. And lately means at least one year ago to me: I don’t track everything that happens in the Mozilla ecosystem so I don’t know if this is a worldwide thing, but at least in Europe the last meeting to which some were invited was the MozCamp in Whistler and if we’ll have a MozCamp in fall, it still means that we’ll have spent up to almost a year and a half without a single chance to meet and talk together face to face. This means something to me.
    This feeling of Mozilla becoming a black box is given lately by announcements, too. Just to make an example, as flod mentioned above, I’ve discovered just today that Thunderbird has a new “big boss” in the person on Jean-Baptiste Piacentino from a casual post of Bonjour Mozilla, and I still don’t have a clue of what is exactly his role, who’s he replacing and why, what happened to his predecessor. Do you think this is a way of having news?
    One last thing: you always talk about Mozilla communities and their importance in general, but you don’t ever explicitly point to them, not even in their own country. Just to make an example (I’m taking this just because is the latest in order of time) last month an important magazine (Wired Italia) interviewed Mitchell about Mozilla and I believe that it wouldn’t have been too hard to say, while talking about the community, something like “for example here in Italy we have the Mozilla Italia guys and they’re doing a great work”. I undestand that this is not talking about Mozilla in general, and it may be a bit egoistic from my side, but I assure that little things like this do wonders for a volunteer’s morale, and help us letting people know that they have someone in Italy, who speak their language, to refer to if they need it. Not that this is the first time that we say these things: in the last years we pointed this out many times and everytime everyone was agreeing with us: nothing have ever changed anyway.

    I may add other things, but it’s getting late and I’m getting tired. This comments itself is 4-5 longer than the initial post, so I hope that it’s enough for who asked my personal PoV.

  24. It’s difficult to add a comment to this post when I think not all people may have enough context to read beyond the lines, which as you said, may transcend as shared feelings.

    From my own experiences in other communities, I can say that they are a big deal and complex stuff. And, if we consider Mozilla, that’s even tougher, when it is such a huge community and also a present paradigm of an open-source corporate model. Of course, this necessarily imposes certain restrictions, and challenges, at many different levels, from communication to governance.

    We should not forget where Mozilla headquarters are based, Silicon Valley, an enlightening location, but also an extremely competitive scene. As Mozilla must strive to attract the brightest minds, it must stand against very strong environmental pressures to renounce to its own principles or prefer some shortcuts.

    If I look back, one thing I regret is not having been more openly, explicitly and constructively critical long time before. I think that the recent flame-up about release cycles and LTS is potentially a healthy symptom, and this should be repeated in many more circumstances.

    IMHO, as community members, our responsibility should be to lead our concerns in the sounder way the better and the responsibility of Mozilla Corporation, as an entity to make certain things happen, is not taming those concerns that may emerge, but directing them to a successful outcome.

  25. All this resonates quite strongly within me. It is all not quite new, i.e. it predates in my case the fast release cycle turmoils and/or the EOL statement – been involved in previous discussions, leading to Florence visit for instance.

    Interesting factoid: Manifesto is mentioned twice only in this thread, in both cases by Iacopo (now’s the third time). Maybe it is self-evident/no-need-to-mention stuff. And maybe mentioning it smacks of a church layman bringing up 10 commandments – “Huh!? We’re just discussing the sunday mass timetables…”

    Check my blog “mozilla from a localizers point of view” – http://tinyurl.com/5t6bcx2 to see how it feels out there … somewhere away from Mountainview CA.

    Regards all

    Vito

  26. If I look back, one thing I regret is not having been more openly, explicitly and constructively critical long time before.

    Here, I must say you’re right. We’ve been silent for too long, and things evolved too much before we said something. In the future, we’ll have to express our opinions much earlier.

  27. Iacchi, unfortunately I’m falling quite a lot behind on my work and so can’t read all comments and links in your lengthy post, but what I’m feeling there is a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. You’re right in that we need to improve communications in the project – please voice your fears about strategy in the mozilla.dev.planning newsgroup as early as possible when such things come up, letting it pile up as much as it seems to have here is very bad. And not having a MozCamp Europe for so long is of course not helpful.

    Note that I think most fears about the new release process will turn out to be unwarranted, but we need to deal with those feelings in the community.
    For the process, the Mozilla mission of promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the web (from which the Manifesto stems from) requires us to deliver an open product with innovative opportunities for our users faster and more efficient than any competitor. We have lost market share over the last year and if we don’t change and try to improve on that, we will lose the influence we have on making the web more open, which we need to avoid, and that’s what’s driving us most to do those changes. If there is some fear behind that, it’s the fear of losing the battle for an open web.

  28. To follow up on Gen’s comment, I confirm that a Mozilla Camp Europe is planned to happen later this year, most probably in October or November.

    The words “Mozilla Camp” were mentioned several times in the comments above. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that had we had a MCE late last year, or earlier this year (as we had initially planned, see http://somethin-else.org/index.php?post/2010/11/29/FOSDEM-2011) many, if not most, of the frustrations, anxieties and doubts expressed in this blog would not be as deep or would have been answered by now. I’m certainly not saying that everything would have been rosy and everyone would be blissful agreement on everything (we need healthy disagreement and debate!), but you would have had at least have much more clarity on why Mozilla is on the path it is on and have been able to voice/share/debate your opinions and concerns in person with the broader community, and ultimately feel more committed and invested than ever in the project.

    That is the power of Mozilla Camps, to help bring Mozillians together in person, as one community, to share, discuss, debate and prepare for what’s next.

    It was a mistake not to organise one sooner but a cocktail of many different factors made it extremely difficult to make a decision on the timing of the MCE. Things are moving so fast, and the faster they move, and the higher the risk of making a mistake. As the pace increases, we’re going to fail more quickly, but we’ll also learn from these mistakes more quickly, and make the necessary corrections to continue our march forward. The mozilla mission matters more than ever, and as long as we stick to our ideals and stay true to our mission, we’re on the right track.

    I’ll be making an announcement soon about the next Mozilla Camp Europe, so stay tuned for that :)

  29. That is the power of Mozilla Camps, to help bring Mozillians together in person, as one community, to share, discuss, debate and prepare for what’s next.

    Amen :-)

    Thanks a lot William.