Scripting News for 7/2/2006

Movie: Marc Canter & Mike Lehman at Scoble’s BBQ

Niall Kennedy’s mini-summary of “what’s going on at Firefox, from an outsider’s point of view.” 

Scott Beale has a cool EVDO router, so you can have wifi where ever you are.  

Focus on the users 

I was a user, developer and web writer during the Browser Wars and the Java Wars, and I pleaded and begged Microsoft, Netscape and Sun to pay attention to the users, and not focus on each other. But like two parents fighting while the kids are going hungry, they couldn’t be separated, they loved the fight, and in the end they all lost, but none lost more than the community.

There’s no question that Blake Ross is too young to remember this. So are many of the people working at Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, and all the startups that populate the land we used to call Web 2.0 (Mike Arrington, a bellweather, now calls it the New Web, which is fine with me). They don’t remember it, and watching Blake Ross’s presentation, I had the horrible sinking feeling that they (and we) are doomed to repeat it.

In my talk earlier in the day, when asked about IE7’s support for RSS, I confessed that I was now a Firefox user, and as before, with IE7, it was impossible for me to imagine switching. Too painful. Once you make the adjustment to way one browser works, adopting another seems difficult. I guess now that I have one switch under my belt, it would be easier to do it again. But to me, IE7 is the land of malware. Firefox still is relatively pain free (although the popups are starting to appear).

What I hoped to hear from Ross yesterday is something like this. “We understand why you and many others switched to Firefox, and now that you’re users of our product, we hope to keep you as users. We know that malware probably played a role in your decision to switch, so we have put the following systems in place to deal with the problems, as they appear, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all over the world. Further, we know a lot of our users are on the Mac, and there are lots of ways to improve the Firefox experience for Mac users, and here are some of the ideas we have (insert demos of features in the pipeline).”

Instead of demos we got Microsoft-bashing.

Look, you don’t see Steve Jobs doing that. He’s thinking beyond Microsoft. Scott McNealy, the master of Microsoft bashing is retired, replaced with an exec who (surprise) is focused on rebuilding their business by understanding what Sun can do for users. Bill Gates, the great software warrior of the 20th century, is retiring too, replaced by a thoughtful man who’s crafting strategies to (guess what) create value for users and give them what he knows they want (by looking at how they’re adopting competitors’ products). In other words, if Firefox insists on a fight, they might find themselves fighting with no one, and impressing only the people who have hate in their hearts for people they don’t know. Thankfully that’s not a very large group of people, but unfortunatley, for those of us who use their product, that method does not, in any way, address our needs. Which is why I concluded that Firefox would leave us as cold, on our own and unfed, as Microsoft did.

In business you just can’t afford to be picky about who your friends are. If someone uses your product and supports it, even evangelizes it, you really don’t want to blow them off, and certainly not in a public way like Ross did to me. But it’s okay, I have thick skin, been around this block, dissed by the best. But in all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen someone who is scared of a simple user question succeed in this business. At least if Bill Gates didn’t want to answer your question, he smiled, and lied. You came out feeling slimed, that’s for sure, but you couldn’t quite figure out why. :-)

I would be happy to work with the Firefox people. But I will never support product developers talking to users the way Ross talked to us yesterday. I will always speak out against it. Their fight is not ours, and the fight is not even useful to them, it’s all a distraction.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Dave, I agree with your central thesis: why waste time focusing on your competitors when your path to continued success is by focusing on your “users.” However, I think Apple is not a good role model as they’re currently running a massive ad campaign that (granted, in a humorous way to me) slams Microsoft. And while Apple thinks about its users, it doesn’t really engage with its users. (I could go on — as you know, I am an Apple “user,” but not always a fan.) By the way, did Ross discuss Flock? To me, it is the more user-focused browser “threat” to Firefox. However, like you describe, I’m too invested in Firefox to switch.

    Reply

  2. I guess the thing a lot of people forget (myself included), is that as nice as Firefox/Mozilla is, it’s still basically an AOL product.

    Reply

  3. Discussion leaders were invited to Gnomedex to engage the room in a discussion of a specific topic. They were explicitly not invited to shill for or demo products with which they are involved. You know this better than anyone, since the conference format was based on your own BloggerCon.

    My topic was grassroots marketing. Your questions were off topic.

    I’m glad you’re curious about which features and bug fixes will be delivered in the next release of Firefox, and you can find that information in the same place as everyone else: the project’s public bug tracking database [bugzilla.mozilla.org] and planning wikis [wiki.mozilla.org]. The rest of the Gnomedex crowd understood what this conference was about, and they didn’t want to me to squander our 30 minutes reciting information you could just as easily have found on the laptop in front of you.

    I don’t even know how to address complaints about “Microsoft bashing”, because I didn’t partake in that. I did show a video called “Whee” that was submitted by a fan to the Firefox Flicks contest, but in your rush to judgment you seemed to have missed the point I was making: that such videos did not, despite popular belief, help Firefox.

    Your post is a gross mischaracterization of what transpired at Gnomedex and, on a more personal level, of who I am and what drives me.

    Blake
    http://www.blakeross.com

    Reply

  4. Blake – I don’t agree that you did not indulge in Microsoft bashing. You did play a video making fun of IE. Yes, you qualified it by saying that it didnt help increase adoption but clearly the intention of playing the video was to evoke humor pointed at Microsoft. The “correct” and obvious answer to Dave’s question would have been to politely say what you just said in your comment above – that Mozilla cares about its users and Dave can find the roadmap on the wiki. I also remember you making comments that IE might be able to get feature parity with FF in the next version. That also did not have anything to do with grassroots marketing. I enjoyed your session and admire what you have accomplished but yesterday’s situation could have been handled better.

    Reply

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