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Is Firefox missing the point in its response to Google Chrome?

[This post originally appeared on Techdirt.]

Seth Godin thinks Firefox is missing the point by launching new features in response to Google Chrome. He says the problem now is that “when your friends switch to Firefox, your life doesn’t get better.” Firefox needs to provide people with an incentive to spread it, so that the more people use it, the better it gets for users (think of a social networking site — you have a better experience if more of your friends join). He suggests new communication and collaboration features that only work if you have Firefox.

I think he’s missing the point.

He ignores the Firefox community. The life of a Firefox user does improve as the user base grows. A more vibrant community means better add-ons, bug fixes, security patches, phishing reports, translations/dictionaries, etc. — all members benefit. Mozilla is already providing the sort of incentive he describes. Sure, there may be ways to improve, but I don’t think they’re missing the point.

Plus, “only for Firefox users” isn’t the Mozilla approach. Mozilla wants to improve the web for everyone — not just Firefox users. Mozilla thinks your browser should be like your phone or your car; it shouldn’t matter if your friends or co-workers are using the same product. You don’t need to consider which phone carrier your friend uses before making a call, or which car your co-worker has before providing directions; you shouldn’t have to think about what browser someone uses before communicating with them online. People don’t need special browser-specific features in order to communicate browser-to-browser, that’s what web services (or add-ons) are for. Those kinds of features would make life on the web more difficult for everyone if they were Firefox specific, and if they weren’t, Google could just implement them in Chrome.

The community is one thing Firefox has that Chrome can’t copy overnight.

If you read some responses to Chrome from people at Mozilla, it doesn’t seem like they’re missing the point. Competition in the browser market is validation of Mozilla’s mission for Firefox, and Mozilla plans to compete by continuing to innovate and to involve the community. Seth Godin makes a great observation about giving people an incentive to spread your product — “people will recommend something if adoption improves their lives” — but he doesn’t mention the ways in which Mozilla has already taken that to heart. How do you think Firefox became popular in the first place?

[Read the comments on Techdirt.]

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