Google, Mozilla, Adobe… & Twitter!

It is extremely important to acknowledge that Mozilla gets almost 90% of it’s revenue from Google search support. This power dynamic effectively hands control of Mozilla over gives a lot of leverage to Google and positions Firefox as a potential Google proxy. I can’t help but think that Chrome may be little more than a dev sandbox and a foil to distract attention from the concerted effort between both parties to rewrite the web in their favor.

Perhaps more importantly to Adobe, the assumed competition between Chrome & Firefox obfuscates the very real & present strategy to get web video out of Flash and to further de-legitimize Flash and all “closed” 3rd party plugins against the rising value of HTML5. Both Google and Mozilla (Googlezilla!) are working to build canvas support into all browsers and to enhance the HTML5 spec to support rich media rendering. Likewise, the communications and positioning coming from both continue to stress the value of the “open web”, “interoperability”, and the danger of closed, 3rd-party plugins (ie Flash). Adobe will still claim a reasonable chunk of the rich web but if HTML5 (or whatever subset implementation Googlezilla gets into Firefox, IE, & Safari) allows easy rendering of HD video to any screen, they can say goodbye to Flash as a video solution.

Meanwhile, Google itself may find unexpected competition from an unlikely challenger. Erick Shonfeld at TechCrunch has posted a brilliant insight into the deep value of Twitter… and what it may mean for Google. It’s kinda mind-blowing to think that a hot-topic upstart like Twitter could pose a threat to the Googleplex, but Shonfeld nails it with his article, Mining the Thought Stream:

What if you could peer into the thoughts of millions of people..? And what if all of these thoughts were immediately available in a database that could be mined easily to tell you what people both individually and in aggregate are thinking right now..? Well, then you’d have a different kind of search engine altogether. A real-time search engine.

…In fact, the crude beginnings of this “now” search engine already exists. It is called Twitter…

He continues to note that search engines like Google capture people’s intent (what they are looking for), while Twitter captures their thoughts, and feelings, and what they’re doing. This is a new type of search model more closely joined to the real-time global mind. It’s much closer to people than Google search can get. Twitter is clearly already tremendously disruptive, even without any revenues. Imagine building search and analytics on top of it….

And yeah, everybody wants to know what Twitter’s business model is. Keep in mind that Twitter’s #1, Evan Williams, sold his earlier company, Blogger, to Google so he’s already got that channel open. If the model is to sell to Google and turn the world’s most successful web search engine into the world’s most powerful human thought & behavior probe, then yeah, you wanna keep that under wraps. Twitter will stay the same but Google search will suddenly get *a lot* smarter. If, on the other hand, Twitter seeks to challenge Google in search and analytics, then, oh damn you wanna play those cards as close to your chest as you can possibly keep them.


  1. Asa Dotzler

    “It is extremely important to acknowledge that Mozilla gets almost 90% of it’s revenue from Google search support. This power dynamic effectively hands control of Mozilla over to Google and positions Firefox as a Google proxy.”

    Um. No. You’re dead wrong. Google pays Mozilla for traffic that Mozilla sends to Google. Google has similar arrangements with Safari, Opera, and millions of websites that participate in the AdSense program.

    Saying that Google has control of Mozilla because Google pays for Mozilla traffic is as silly as saying that Google has control over the millions of websites and blogs that show Google ads.

    You’re free to imagine relationships that don’t exist but it’s also just wrong, a disservice to your readers and to Mozilla and Google, to state your imagined world as if it was a fact.

    – Asa

  2. admin

    Well, perhaps we’re both simplifying things here (I will amend my post – changes in italics). The fact that Mozilla currently relies on them for revenues in such a large way gives Google a lot of leverage. Google could pull their search bar and people would still send plenty of traffic their way from FF, but they certainly gain search hits from the Mozilla partnership.

    I may have over-stated the extent of “control” but there is a lot of cross-pollination between the two that merits attention. Google has a different relationship with Mozilla than it does with Safari & IE.

    [I’ve been reading a lot of geopolitics lately so I can’t help but consider such strategies…]

  3. Asa Dotzler

    Google has zero influence over Mozilla product decisions. Zero. It’s that simple. None. Zero.

    And what makes you think that Google can break its contract and just stop paying Mozilla? They’re above the law now? No. They’re not. Mozilla and Google have a contract where Mozilla sends traffic to Google with its product and Google pays Mozilla for that traffic.

    This is probably not much different than the kind of contract that Google has with all the other browser vendors except that we’re not “exclusive” like Safari and we offer users several built in search choices where Safari offers only Google and no way to change it.

    Google has zero leverage over Mozilla products. None. No matter how much you’d like to believe otherwise, Mozilla does not prioritize revenue that way. Mozilla would not sacrifice its mission by giving up its mission.

    Mozilla is a public benefit organization and advancing the Mozilla mission to promote choice and innovation on the Internet through software is the priority, not revenue.

    As for “cross-pollination” I sure as heck hope there’s cross-pollination between all of the browser vendors. We all work together on advancing the state of the Web.

    Canvas is a perfect example. Apple pioneered it in Safari. Then Apple engineers and Mozilla engineers worked together to get it up and running in Firefox and to work out the kinds of bugs and compatibility problems that you don’t see until you have two independent implementations. Then Opera added support bringing a third implementation online and more specification refinement. Then the WHATWG canvas spec, having been vetted and adjusted by the input of several browser makers, solidified.

    Now Google and others picking up WebKit from Apple have a nice canvas implementation.

    Cross-pollination is how the Web was invented and how it’s going to be moving forward. That you think it “merits attention” as if it was some danger, is pretty illuminating and kind of scary.

  4. admin

    Asa, I appreciate your feedback. I don’t get a lot of discussion around here.

    Yes, Google has a standing contract. I was being facetious, not suggesting they could break it at any time.

    By “cross-pollination” I was referring to employee movement, not cooperative development of web standards. As you note, there is and should be cooperation in the latter case.

    I suggest there may be differing motivations between Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Foundation. I do, however, respect the core mission statement.

    I work neither at Google nor Mozilla so I can only speculate based on what I read and hear. I see that you’re the Director of Community Development for the Mozilla Corp so I totally understand that you wish to defend the autonomy and mission of your Co.

    I maintain that Google & Mozilla have a special relationship that can, at times, encourage people like me to speculate about possible motivations and strategy.

    FWIW, I’ve been a FF user since it was made available and do quite enjoy the product. :)

  5. Asa Dotzler

    Sorry for getting into a confrontational tone. I’m just really bothered when I wildly incorrect information about Mozilla being stated as fact.

    You’re in luck though. You’ve got right here in your forums a founding member of both the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation and a leader in the group that pre-dated both of those going back to 1998. That means that you can ask questions rather than speculate :-)

    As for cross-pollination, sorry for jumping to conclusions on what you meant. Yes, Google ended up with three or four Mozilla developers. But Mozilla ended up with several engineers from Microsoft and Adobe and Apple. Apple ended up with one of the original Firefox lead engineers.

    Just like the specifications circulate, and the technology and even the code itself circulate around the industry, so do the people with browser expertise. I think that’s also a fine thing. It’s especially nice that most of these people are still good friends and collaborate regularly.

    Your suggestion that there are different motivations between the Mozilla Corporation and the Mozilla Foundation is just flat out false. There are different activities (where the corporation might be focused on developing a product, the foundation might be focused on advocacy, education, etc.) but the motivations are identical. The Mozilla Foundation is the sole stockholder/stakeholder/owner of the Mozilla Corporation and the Mozilla Foundation created the Mozilla Corporation with the exact same mandate to drive the Mozilla mission forward. They are really more like two departments in a single company, both working on the same projects but with differing specific responsibilities.

    Also, I’m not just the Director of Community Development at the Mozilla Corporation (a title I don’t even use, I actually go by “Storyteller and Spokesmodel”) I’m a community coordinator for the broader Mozilla project and my responsibilities pre-date the existence of the Mozilla Corporation by more than half a decade.

    I think you wildly over-estimate the relationship between Google and Mozilla. We have a great business relationship with them and we share some similar (but far from identical) visions for the future of the Web that is open and participatory.

    It’s unfortunate that there’s so much confusion about the relationship between the Mozilla Foundation and Corporation (not to mention Mozilla Europe, Mozilla Japan, and Mozilla China which are distinct entities too,) and between Mozilla and Google.

    We can and should do better clearing up confusion about the handful of Mozilla organizations, which mostly exist as distinct entities so that we can do the right thing by local tax and employment laws and to hopefully better cater to local audiences.

    Unfortunately, even though we’re transparent about 99% of what we do, it’s the nature of contracts that other businesses aren’t as excited about that transparency an that makes it difficult to explain some business relationships as well as we’d like to be able to. It’s just a fact of doing any business in the world today that most second parties demand complete privacy about contract terms and whatnot. If that were not the case, I think there would be a lot less confusion about the relationship between Mozilla and Google.

    And thanks for using Firefox and for the positive feedback. Do let me know if I can explain anything better. I’ve been working on this project for a decade and I think I can answer most questions anyone might have.

  6. admin

    Asa, thanks again for your forthcoming participation in this conversation. I appreciate you taking the time to help clarify Mozilla’s role in advancing the web.

    My disclosure is that I’m a former Adobe employee and still have many friends there. So I’m very interested in the fate of Flash – hence my curiosity/uncertainty around the Google-Mozilla relationship and the general posturing against the Flash runtime.

    Likewise, I retain some skepticism about “open source” with respect to the actual operational expenses of bringing products to market, as well as the need for developers to draw income. Mozilla may be able to pay its bills on Ad revenues but how does the average open source contributor ever see any financial return for their work? Conversely, what is the incentive for Flash to give away the Player code and what are the guarantees that the quality of the standard won’t diminish in the hands of a million developers? Open Source seems like a powerful ideal that will inevitably face challenges from the financial realities of the world. In a totally open web, where does the IP live? Will all monetized opportunities move to services and away from dev/desi platforms?

    I personally really respect what Mozilla has done – especially your commitment to open standards and private ownership (if you go public, you pretty much say goodbye to any altruistic mission). My suggestion that a Corp is differently motivated than a Foundation rests on the fundamental fact that Corps are for-profit. The Foundation may be the sole stockholder but the Corp still pays its bills mostly thanks to Google. How would you respond to Erick Shonfeld’s assertion that Mozilla “is pretending to be a non-profit foundation when everyone knows it is a charitable arm of Google”? Obviously, this is pretty inflammatory but it’s a very public statement (TechCrunch) and it’s point is clearly a sore spot for you and Mozilla.

    Back to Adobe, so far you’ve said nothing to address my assertion regarding opposition to Flash. Is Mozilla working with Adobe to make Flash more open than it already is? Or does it inherently regard Flash as contrary to the Mozilla Manifesto? Clearly both Google and Mozilla have a lot of power in the browser space. Will you work to support all major contributors to the web experience, or will Flash end up as a sacrificial lamb in the path towards the Open Web? (Forgive me for making such binary propositions but I think these can lead to the middle path, as it were.)

    Frankly, I’ve got nothing bad to say about Google or Mozilla. I’m just curious about patterns I perceive in their behavior and how it may affect my friends at Adobe. I’m still not sure exactly what the Adobe strategy is either but we’re all in such a transitional time in the Digital Age that there are inevitably more questions and guesses than there are clearly-defined paths forward.

    Thanks again!

  7. Asa Dotzler

    I’ll try to take them in order :-)

    re: skepticism about open source.
    I’m sympathetic to skepticism about open source. It’s working quite well for Mozilla and has been for more than a decade (can you name another organization that’s taken serious market share from a 95% monopoly Microsoft product?) but I certainly don’t think it’s for every one or every project.
    When it comes to compensation, I think it depends heavily on whether the project is “interesting” in the right ways. Looking at Firefox, we see and have seen for years that about 40% of the code comes from people not paid by Mozilla. That 40% represents a lot more people than are paid by Mozilla which means somewhat smaller individual contributions but it also means interest, passion, education, expertise in a really wide range of areas. To match the diversity of expertise we get from people not in Mozilla’s employment, we’d probably have to quadrupal our employee numbers.
    Why do these thousand or so volunteer contribute significant amounts of time to something for which they’re not collecting a paycheck? Lots of reasons. Some are in it for the intellectual thrill of solving really difficult problems. Some are using it formally or informally as a part of their educational program. Others are in it for the social and community aspects. Others want to be able to say “I helped make that thing that’s improving the lives of 200 million people around the world.” Some want to see Firefox running on their computer architecture or in their local language. I know several that spent significant time working on Mozilla for their resume or to try to eventually get a full-time gig out of it. Some believe deeply in the value of open source or in the importance of bringing software to a larger and more diverse audience. There really are as many reasons as there are people participating.
    Mozilla and Firefox are “interesting” in enough ways to attract some of the most talented people in the world. Even the people being paid to work on our projects have other opportunities that pay better, offer big stock options or the possibility of other big pay-offs with IPOs and sales. Mozilla will never go public and so there is no “big pay-off” yet we are competitive with Google and Apple and Adobe and Microsoft in attracting great talent because we’re different and we’re “interesting” to people who care about more than just a paycheck.
    As for Flash, I really don’t know whether or not it makes sense for Adobe to do with regards to open source. I think it really depends on how much Adobe is willing to invest beyond the code. A successful open source community doesn’t happen simply by slapping an open source license on some code. Will quality go down? If you don’t have the right leadership and the right processes around code review and testing, maybe it would go down. At Mozilla our quality is getting consistently stronger because we put the right process and tools in place and our code module owners and peers (these are the lead developers and gatekeepers) have a serious commitment to quality and to the long-term health of the code base.

    re: “Will all monetized opportunities move to services and away from dev/desi platforms?”
    The platforms that I want to succeed are platforms that work like the Web itself works. But I don’t think that there’s any end in sight for new platforms on the Web or for people to make lots of money building new platforms on the Web. Nor do I think all of those platforms will be or must be licensed under open source terms. Just look at the CMS products available today, the myriad of JavaScript toolkits, the social networking platforms, the federated login platforms, the payment platforms. Some of them are open source and some are not. Some make lots of money and some make no money. The important thing to me, as I envision the future of the Web, is that they all interoperate as first-class citizens. Most plug-in content doesn’t and can’t because of the very design of browser plug-ins. Plug-ins, by design, don’t interact well with the Web. They’re sort of bolted onto it. They don’t participate in the DOM well. They’re not easily indexed. They fail the “view-source” test. The security model is a mess. And they often fail to support the wide range of hardware and software people use to go online.

    re: fundamental fact that Corps are for-profit
    That’s really not al all accurate. I’m way over-simplifying for time’s sake, but I think we can both agree that an in-depth review isn’t worth it here. I assure you that I do know what I’m talking about from my experiences being deeply involved with both of the structures under which Mozilla operates.
    There are basically two kinds of corporations in the US that matter for this discussion. There are taxable corporations and tax-exempt corporations. Tax-exempt corporations are not required to pay taxes on certain kinds of revenue because the government believes that they provide a good or service that benefits the public, or have some other charitable purpose. Tax-exempt corporations cannot issue shares of stock.
    Taxable corporations are every other kind of corporation and they pay taxes on most types of revenue and they *may” issue shares of stock.
    There is absolutely nothing that a privately held corporation must do except to please its owners. You may be confusing “taxable corporation” with “publicly traded corporation”. The operators of a publicly traded corporation have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, as represented through an elected board of directors, and usually with the goal of maximizing profits. Not doing so could lead to shareholder lawsuits or the election of new board members. The whole point of deciding to become publicly traded is to raise capital by selling shares of stock and the only incentive for people to buy your shares of stock is to promise them a return on that investment.
    But the Mozilla Corporation is not publicly traded, or traded at all. The Mozilla Corpotation is wholly owned by the Mozilla Foundation. There are plenty of other private and taxable corporations that do not operate with profit as a motive. Many would either not qualify for tax-exempt status or do not want to participate in the requirements for a tax-exempt corporation. In the case of the Mozilla Corporation (a taxable corporation,) it is solely owned by the Mozilla Foundation (a tax-exempt corporation) and is only responsible to its board of directors which are appointed by the board of the Mozilla Foundation. There is absolutely nothing in the law which requires that the Mozilla Corporation be “for-profit.”

    re: paying the bills
    Mozilla pays its bills by generating revenue through search. Most of that money comes from Google because Google is the default search service in the majority of Firefox distributions. Google is the default because Mozilla believes that Google is the best search service for its users (and Google has been the default going back to when Mozilla first implemented search in the browser almost a decade ago – long long long before there was a Firefox or a Mozilla Foundation or Corporation and well before anyone imagined there was any revenue that could be made from browser search.)
    We re-evaluate our default services routinely and have not signed any long-term contracts that would prevent us changing the defaults if a better service for Mozilla users emerges. If Google should cease to be the best search service for our users, we won’t renew with them and we’ll replace them with the better service. We’ve already done this in other parts of the world where our users told us that a local service, like Yandex in Russia, was preferred.
    Another way to put it is that anyone, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Yandex, anyone, will pay for search traffic Mozilla sends them. We provide our users with defaults that we think are the most useful for them and whatever those defaults, we’ll still be generating search revenue.

    re: Erick Shonfeld
    I respond by saying “whatever.” He’s just wrong. I’m happy to try to explain when people are a little bit off, but he’s just so far off in his premise that it’s not even worth bothering further. I generally try not to attribute motives to someone behind their back, where they can’t answer them, so I’ll leave off why I think he’s writing that kind of article :-)

    re: “opposition to Flash”
    I don’t think it’s so much opposition to Flash as support for alternatives to Flash which are more like the Web than Flash. Canvas, which was invented at Apple, by the way, not Mozilla or Google, is a good example. Canvas was created to be interoperable with the Web. It’s scriptable using the Web’s primary scripting language. It’s a part of the DOM like an image is a part of the DOM. It’s a public specification so that all browser vendors can implement compatible versions. It’s fundamentally like the Web. And it’s not really about being “open source” Opera implements canvas and they’re anything but open source. I’m hopeful that IE9 will implement canvas and it’s certainly not open source.

    re: “Is Mozilla working with Adobe to make Flash more open than it already is?”
    Mozilla has worked with Adobe to make significant improvements to the NPAPI, the API for browser plug-ins used by Firefox, Safari, and Opera (and now Chrome). Mozilla has also worked with Adobe to track down and fix security and stability bugs in the Flash Player. Mozilla’s also worked closely with Adobe on the Tamarin scripting engine that back-ends Adobe’s ActionScript and future versions of Mozilla’s JavaScript. I believe there has also been a lot of cooperation in terms of helping Adobe understand Mozilla’s open source licensing. There’s definitely lots of co-operation between Mozilla and Adobe.
    But I don’t think that Flash is going to be implemented wholesale in any Web browser. My guess (this is a total guess, mind you) is that Adobe probably wouldn’t be willing to give up control of future of Flash that would be necessary to rationalize Flash to the rest of the Web (by “Web” I mean “features Web browsers support”). There may also be patent issues that prevent parts of Flash from ever being implemented as Web standards. I do know that there’s been serious work between Adobe and Mozilla to try to make both ActionScript and JavaScript get along as part of ECMAScript 262 rev4, so maybe I’m wrong about the rest of Flash.

    re: “Will you work to support all major contributors to the web experience, or will Flash end up as a sacrificial lamb in the path towards the Open Web?”
    For some subset of “work to support” that certainly includes trying to make the browser and plug-ins play better together. Just a couple months ago, for example, we discovered that Firefox’s “private browsing” mode wasn’t as private as we thought. While it could clean up its own cookies, it wasn’t able to clean up cookies set in the Flash Player. We got a bug on file and a discussion going with the Flash Player folks. The plan now is that Mozilla’s going to implement an API to let Flash know when it’s entering and leaving that “private mode” so that the Flash Player team can add a feature to clear its private data at the appropriate time.
    So, as long as there is Flash content out there and our users are experiencing it as part of the Web, we’re definitely going to work to “support” it. But I believe there are better alternatives for vector graphics and animations and for adding audio and video to web pages and we’re going to work hard to make those the better solution.

    Yikes. Look at the time. I guess you get “draft quality” This probably isn’t terribly readable but I don’t have any more time today to refine or otherwise clean it up. Hope you find it informative. Happy to come back and add or refine if you have questions.

  8. Jr

    Who cares about the conspiratorial Google Owns the World Argument – I want to hear more about Twitter as a running ticker of the world’s collective mind, feelings, and actions.

    Many financial and accounting industry folks are concerned about the privacy concerns; information is voluntarily and readily offered. Things one normally wouldn’t say pop out as part of the streaming consciousness of it all.

    And the smart firms are adopting early. Most are just afraid to embrace it.

    Google does somehow own the world and we all seem to be okay with it…

  9. Pingback: Un minuto mas! » Blog Archive » Twitter y su efecto

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