4 Ways Mozilla Could Pivot

Written by Jordan H.

Countless articles have been written about Mozilla, the organizaiton that’s part community effort, part corporate machine, and part Internet patriot, but 100% in trouble. Members of the free Internet fanbase agree that Mozilla has done a great deal to leave the Internet open and free, but their current business model is in danger of collapsing.

Instead of writing another “Oh, no, what are we going to do?” article, I’ve decided to brainstorm some ideas Mozilla could capitalize on to pivot and save itself from extinction. I’ve come up with 4 solutions that I believe could help Mozilla come back from the darkness and continue to spread the message of freedom and innovation.


Mozilla’s In Trouble

I remember the days in high school (shortly after my exposure to the open source world) I discovered Mozilla’s Firefox web browser. Back in those days it was the only browser with tabs. Internet Explorer did catch on a few years later (and a few years after that Chrome took the stage) but I felt pretty cool switching between tabs, especially since my school’s computers didn’t restrict Portable Apps from being executed.

And Mozilla has done a good job maintaining their mission of being open and transparent and respecting the privacy of their users. Even when GDPR went into effect, most companies were scrambling to make sure their practices were up to par so as not be slapped with the fines, but Mozilla seemed to not be phased by it at all–mainly because they stood by the spirit of the GDPR since their inception.

However, lately Mozilla has been faltering. It’s old news that Firefox has dropped below Chrome (the browser owned by Google) and Edge (the browser owned by Microsoft), but they’ve also let most of their staff go.

And remember: Mozilla’s a company. They have other products besides Firefox (which is more of a service than a product, anyway).

In order for Mozilla to get back in the game and stay ahead of the competition, it must do what other businesses do when they’re in trouble: pivot. I’m sorry to say, but no one is going to financially rescue Mozilla. Or if they do, it will be devastating for Mozilla’s autonomy.

Aren’t They Trying Different Things?

Some people point out that Mozilla is already trying to pivot. It was big news when they announced they were launching their own VPN service–rather, Incorporating the Mullvan VPN into the browser.

I admit. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint. VPNs are becoming more popular as a means to protect one’s privacy. Why not spin up our own VPN? That’s too expensive. Alright, maybe we can take a less-popular VPN and give it a boost in exposure.

Which I think will be the problem. I think this benefits Mullvan more than it benefits Mozilla. Maybe they’re planning on forking off from this, but in my opinion Mozilla needs to do something daring and risky in order to survive.

My Suggestions For Pivoting

1 - Open A Privacy-Conscious Tech Store

Believe it or not, I think there is a market for technology stores. Amazon sells meh-chendise, while other stores like Tiger Direct and Fry’s are becoming more focused on consumer electronics. Hobbyists and home technology entrepreneurs are forced to buy from wholesale marketplaces or purchase off-the-shelf solutions for all their needs.

So here’s what I’m picturing: a privacy-aware e-commerce site that sells products and services that are very privacy-friendly. Picture NextCloud subscriptions, VPN subscriptions (yes, to Mullvan as well), routers with OpenWRT pre-installed, or computers with Firefox as the default browser.

The only downside here is that Mozilla will be playing catchup more than anything else. But the upside is that if people value privacy, they’ll check on mozillastore.com before amazon.com.

2 - Host Paid Internet 3.0 Conferences

Mozilla has long touted they are on the frontier of the Intenet. But their actions have not matched their words. They have aligned themselves with a libertarian dream of a free and open Internet; most of the group dreams of an Internet that isn’t controlled by a single corporation. The most Mozilla has done is stand in the back and clap their hands hoping others would join along.

There are discussions of a new design of the World Wide Web, a reimagining of the framework Tim Berners-Lee laid out in in the 80’s that has since been hijacked (sorry, Tim, we tried).

Great minds are trying to design this future. If Mozilla saw this as their opportunity to own the future, they would take full advantage of trying to bring people together to discuss what this would look like. Can’t you imagine the news headlines? “Mozilla Leading the Way to the Web 3.0; Twitter, Facebook Scared.”

Increased revenue, neck-breaking headlines, an opportunity to lead. What’s not to like?

3 - Act as a Privacy Consultant/Contractor

This may not be the most earth-shattering pivot, but what do most software companies do these days? Hire out their knowledge to others. It would at least give them some time to float above water to act on an even riskier pivot.

4 - Create a commercial browser

I say “Mozilla,” you say…

I’m guessing you yelled, “Firefox!” their flagship product. Firefox is an incredible piece of software that uses its own web engine (Gecko) that still remains ACID-compliant, even while most other browsers adopt Google’s engine (Chromium) and slap their own flavor on top of it. Firefox, from the ground up, is independently owned by Mozilla.

They need to capitalize on this by providing a paid version of Firefox, along with their free one.

This may seem counter-intuitive. Firefox is free! Why make it commercial?

Have you ever heard of RedHat? They’re open source. But they are a paid service. You have to pay for a license to install their software.

What about Nginx? If you’re running a server and not using Apache or Microsoft, you’re most likely using Nginx. They have a community edition as well as a paid edition.

Same with Docker. If you’re installing Docker on your own system you most likely read “Installing Docker (Community Edition).”

What does the paid version provide? Well, that depends on the model. Usually it means that the proprietary fork of the product is worked on by the staff of that company, while it leaves the free version to be worked on by volunteers, so the theory goes that the paid version is of better quality than the volunteer version.

I think this could be Mozilla’s best chance at pivoting.

I, like most users, do have issues with Firefox. Firefox is mostly developed by volunteers, so unless bug is a security flaw or causes a fatal crash, it will seldom be worked on. And who has time to fix it themselves?

The reason Chrome and Edge have succeeded even though they’re free is because they’re not free. You’re giving up your own private data to be sold in order to fund development. Firefox (at its core, at least) is truly free, which is also their Achilles Heel.

My suggestion is for Mozilla to provide 2 versions of Firefox–one open source (for community development) and one paid (for expert-level support and better quality). Don’t do anything creepy with the paid version (although I can’t imagine Mozilla would) and people would pay for it. Heck, I’d pay for something like that!

Mozilla Must Pivot

The Internet is in danger of being lost. Some might argue it already is lost. Perhaps so. But Mozilla has been a staunch advocate for a free and open Internet.

I’m not against Mozilla. In fact, I am 100% behind what they do. But the fact of the matter is most people don’t want to be inconvenienced by increased privacy, even if that inconvenience means spending 3 minutes to install Firefox over Edge on their desktop.

So Mozilla needs to move beyond, “We believe in a free and open internet.” Yes, we get that. Everyone wants that utopia.

But what is Mozilla going to do to better people’s lives? That’s where the value is. That’s what people will pay for. That’s how Mozilla will survive.

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