Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mozilla/Google, or Pooff Goes The Magic Dragon


When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. - 1 Corinthians 13, verse 11

When Netscape, who first brought the Internet to the masses, found itself battling Microsoft, we rallied around a godzilla-looking mascot called Mozilla, and around the fact that an open Internet would be much better than the one Microsoft would have thrust upon users if they won the Internet platform battle. We had a great exit (who could complain about $4.2B), but despite Microsoft being convicted by the DOJ, there was no fixing the irreparable harm their illegal leveraging of the Windows monopoly did to the growth of Netscape and of choice in accessing the Internet.

After AOL killed what it had acquired, the fuzzy mascot became Mozilla.org, which took the open source Netscape Navigator code and built upon it. The massive amount of work from hundreds of Mozilla.org members resulted in Firefox, a browser that finally rivaled IE in sustained market share, and more importantly, introduced tons of valuable features that forced first Microsoft, and then Apple & Google to innovate in their own browsers.

Fast forward to today, though, and a different Internet monopoly now exists - Google Search - a toll booth advertisers must go through each and every day to get to over 80% of the world's Internet users. Mozilla, a non-profit whose core principles include consumer choice, transparent community-based processes and a balance between commercial interests and public benefit, has greatly facilitated Google acquiring monopoly status, first by making Google the default search in Firefox as Firefox grew share, and now by renewing that relationship for three more years even as Microsoft's monopolistic threat has been replaced by Google itself.

Were I to have faith in Mozilla's leadership, I would now launch into why Google, and not Microsoft, is the new bogey whose monopoly control we & they must work to limit. Dozens of my blog posts have already detailed how Google is very effectively turning the screws on the online advertising ecosystem now that it's a monopoly. But just as the boy stopped playing with his dragon when he grew up, so we Internet builders must stop believing Mozilla's leaders adhere to their stated principles.

The Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation (an ex-Netscape lawyer) was quoted once saying "The average consumer does not know the difference between browser, Internet and search box." You're right, Mitchell Baker, yet Mozilla's own justification for renewing the deal despite Google's dominance ultimately rests on continued consumer choice, which effectively does not exist. Consumers are as non-technical as you say, and we in the industry know that 'default setting', practically speaking, means 'forever'.

The Mozilla Corporation is headed by a board comprised of a lawyer who's paid $500,000/year (~85% of which comes from Google) and three industry veterans who are primarily investors in Internet companies. It becomes clear to me now that Mozilla's board is very likely corrupted (knowingly or unknowingly) by the money Google gives them, and by the power being on the board of Mozilla gives them. Time, then, for Mozilla.org members and Firefox users who do really care about the principles to make their voices heard and demand a change at the top. Unless, that is, you want a future in which one company sits between all humans, and all knowledge.

To my fellow ex-Netscaper Mitchell Baker, to former Efficient Frontier CEO Ellen Siminoff, to Greylock VCs John Lilly and Reid Hoffman, I say this: the browser wars continue, but the Nestcape/Microsoft war is over. Google is the new Microsoft if you care to look closely enough, and by your actions you are the new Vichy government helping them and yourselves consolidate power. You are riding the magic dragon into the ground, but I'm confident that ultimately a startup will come along that will disrupt, and probably one not foreseen or funded by you.

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