The Art Of Battling Giants / Mozilla Summit Reflection

David Clarke

On the way back from the Mozilla Summit 2013, I spent the time to read Malcolm Gladwells new book. David and Goliath, underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants, and I was immediately struck by the similarity between Mozilla and the story of the underdog.

The history of the browser has been one of constant change and innovation.  Mozilla has been a company that has been the underdog, so much so that I don’t believe that anyone would have bet on the success of the Mozilla project at the very beginning (except it’s core actors). But 10+ years later the project is still going strong, albeit with new challenges, and new Goliaths to tackle in the industry.

The core issue that I feel we struggle with is in communicating our tremendous core value to our users, and similarly delivering a product that our community feel is a great world class / stable product for them to use.

Throughout the course of Mozilla Summit 2013  a question came up throughout the conference was as to why the state of the web so little resembles the web that we as users want.  The question came up several times throughout the conference..

What is the type of web that users need ?

Is there a message or thought that will be appreciated, digested, and acted upon to make the end user more cognizant of the lack of choice.  If users can understand that we are just in a more cleverly designed box than the Aol / Compuserve / Prodigy would they care ?

Each app ecosystem has it’s own gotchas, license agreements and restrictions which limit the inclusion and fraternity to which the web was designed.  I remember our first experiments building web pages in high school.  Changing font sizes, the blink tag, tables and the like.  We all got to put up and manage our home page.  A system that allowed for play, and learning for all, and was free.

If a student in school wants to make an iOS app you have to:

  1. Have a copy of Xcode (ergo a Mac OSX computer)
  2. Apply for a developer license ($99 / year)
  3. Have an iphone / ipad.

For students that don’t have access to such a technology stack this must be an insurmountable hurdle.  If the web is not relevant to students, and their only point of entry is via their phones / tablets. What does this mean for internet literacy in general.  Are we turning people away from the internet by not having a cheap / fun alternative, which allows people to experiment, build experiences and play.

Can Mozilla find itself in a nuanced position which will allow all users to play, and learn.  Or will we live in a world where users don’t get that fundamental education.  How will Mozilla do battle against it’s new Goliath?

Malcolm Gladwell notes that in a competition between a smaller adversary and a larger, if the smaller adversary takes a conventional approach to the confrontation the odds are the smaller adversary will loose, but in the situation where the smaller adversary takes an unconventional approach the probability will be that the smaller adversary will win.

By having the advantage of agility, a scrappy attitude and the will to change the internet, “users” could find themselves again in a winning position, where they are once again able to play and learn in an environment that is built for that very purpose…