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21 Oktober 2005

 

Creating sustainable value Posted in Flock by...

Creating sustainable value

Posted in Flock by bart on the October 20th, 2005

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is “what’s the business model for Flock?” 

Here’swhy we think Flock is an exciting business opportunity and how weenvision creating a business that is sustainable over the long term.

Firefoxbroke the IE monopoly in the browser space.  Users once again havemeaningful choice on the web, and web developers and publishers areresponding to that by making their sites work for Firefox users. Users understand the value of the browser in keeping them safe onlineand providing them with a better user experience.  Web developersare able to take advantage of the modern web standards that aresupported in Firefox.  Industry leaders are recognizing the powerof the browser platform.  In sum: the browser is back! 

Inthe ten years since Netscape 1.0 launched, the web has evolvedtremendously, but the user experience of the web browser has remainedlargely unchanged.  Firefox  supports a host of modern webstandards and eliminates many of the online nuisances that havesprouted up over the last decade.  Still, a user migrating fromNetscape 1 to Firefox 1 would feel right at home.  We think there’s room for innovating the web browser user experience,and the open soure, cross-platform, and actively developed Mozillacodebase is the perfect technology platform for such innovation.

Thebusiness case?  Well, Microsoft set the price of the browser to $0quite a while ago.  That proved to be a major hurdle back in theNetscape days, but what’s changed over the past few years is thatonline referral- and search-related business models have matureddramatically and in fact power big chunks of the Internet.  Hugebusinesses (like AOL Search) and thousands of niche online venturesalike are built around Google and Yahoo’s adword programs. These same business models are now providing the financial footing forweb browsers.  Opera’s CEO recently explained that hiscompany was able to release the browser for free thanks to an expandedsearch sponsorship arrangement with Google.  The MozillaFoundation has alluded to search related business arrangements and hascreated a for-profit subsidiary.  These success stories show thateven simple search “distribution” integration points in thebrowser can provide a solid financial footing for browser providers,and do so in a way that enhances the user experience (remember, thesearch box was added to Firefox because users needed a faster way tosearch online).  In sum, we’re quite comfortable that, ifenough users choose our browser, we can keep the lights on here at Flock without violating user’s privacy or compromising the user experience

Butof course over time we want to do better then just keeping the lightson.  We want to build a successful, sustainable business. While there’s certainly money to be made from stripmining users,as proven by the numerous malware providers and established mainstreamcompanies that routinely abuse their customers’ trust, we believethat, over time, the most successfulcompanies will be those that earn their users’ trust and focuspretty obsessively on solving problems for those users.  Best of all, it’s the right thing to do.

Letme give an example: offering users choice at all times is veryimportant to us.  Right now, Flock already works with a wide rangeof blogging platforms (Wordpress, Six Apart and Blogger), but, as ofyet, we don’t offer a choice of social bookmarks providers orphoto sharing services.  Fixing that is a high priority.  Ourgoal is to always offer users a number of choices, and, in addition,allow them to plug in any service that supports a standard, in the sameway that the Firefox and Flock searchboxes and the Flock blog editoralready do. 

Firefox is a perfect case in point thatdemonstrates how you can do well by doing what’s right.  Theproject started off as a skunkworks project by a couple of guys whowanted to build a better browser.  The Firefox crew spent severalyears obsessing about how to build the perfect browser for regularusers.  In the process, they were able to create a bond of trustwith their users.  When a larger group of users started lookingfor a better alternative, their friends pointed them to Firefox. The organization has done well as a result: a year ago, there were adozen employees at the Mozilla Foundation, now there are several timesthat many working for the Mozilla Corporation. 


Sohere’s the plan: we’re going to experiment andinnovate.  We plan to make a ton of mistakes, listen to our users,focus on building the best product that meets our users’needs.  Where there are obvious, proven, opportunities to generaterevenues in ways that respect our users’ privacy and don’thinder the user experience, we will pursue those.  But we firmlybelieve that doing right by our users is the best way to build asustainable, successful company, so expect us to focus pretty much all of our energy on innovating the web browser experience and earning your trust


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Flock, Firefox and open source

Posted in Flock by bart on the October 20th, 2005

Inrecent weeks, several folks have asked why Flock is building a browser,not an extension, and about our relationship to the Mozillacommunity.  Let me try to address some of these questions. 

Some background info
I’vebeen a member of the open source community for about six yearsnow.  Before Flock, I’ve contributed to the GNOME project,Eazel, two Linux companies abroad, OSAF and Mozilla, so I’mfamiliar with how open source works.  I’ve also writtenseveral articles on open source on the desktop.  In sum, I am afirm believer in the power of the open source development model. So it’s always been obvious to me that Flock should leverageexisting open source technologies and contribute most, if not all, ourenhancements back under an open source license.  And I’m notthe only person at Flock who’s familiar with the open source wayof doing things: most of us at Flock have years of experience workingin the open source community.  We’ve been in semi-stealthmode for a while, but starting with our upcoming developer previewrelease, expect us to operate in a very transparent manner.

Forking
Flockis not interested in forking the Mozilla code-base.  I have workedfor the Mozilla project and know first-hand that the project hasattracted some serious hacker talent.  One of the most appealingaspects of building on the Mozilla platform is that we can build on topof a platform that is designed, developed, and maintained by topengineering talent at Mozilla, IBM, Sun, Red Hat, Google and hundredsof community volunteers.  Flock is a small startup, and ourbusiness model is premised on being able to build on top of all thatwork.  In architecting our software, build systems and engineeringprocesses, we have given considerable thought to how our code will beable to evolve alongside the Mozilla code, without forking it.  Weare trying to pay particular attention to this in areas where we aredoing things slightly different from Firefox.  For example, in thearea of bookmarks, we implemented on top of the Firefox bookmarksarchitecture, while integrating social bookmarks. 

Ofcourse, time will tell how successful we are in avoiding unnecessarydivergence between the Flock codebase and the Mozilla code.  Thisultimately depends on the thousands of engineering decisions we willmake in the coming months and years, but also on the level ofcommunication between folks here and the broader Mozillacommunity.  For our part, we are very serious about becomingactive participants in and contributors to the Mozilla community,starting in the very near future.  We are also very open toworking with folks at the Mozilla Foundation, the Mozilla Corporationand elsewhere to minimize the risk of platform divergence and havetaken the first steps to start that conversation.

There areany number of open source and commercial browsers built on top of theMozilla technology base, including Firefox, Seamonkey, Camino,Netscape, Epipheny, Galeon and K-Meleon.  The Mozilla licensingscheme was designed explicitly to encourage people to use the code, andwe’re confident that Flock will prove once again that any numberof browsers can co-exist on top of the Mozilla technology platform.

Why not an extension?
Wetoo love Firefox.  We spent several months investigating (andwriting code) how to deliver what we want to do in the form of aFirefox extension.  In the end, we concluded that we needed torelease our code in the form of a full browser.  We want to beable to offer our users a complete end-to-end user experience,including a single browser download, an update service, technicalsupport…. the works.  Further, we don’t want to breakanyone’s Firefox experience, or have our browser break, due toupdates either way that have not been fully tested propagated.  Inthe short term, that means that fewer people will play with our stuff,but over the long term we believe it’s the right way to go forus.  Of course there will be many people who are perfectly happywith Firefox and are not interested in trying a new browser.  Thegood news for those folks is that there are already hundreds of Firefoxextensions, many of them aimed at integrating social services into thebrowser.
 
So how will you contribute?
Ofcourse we will contribute all our modifications to Mozilla files backto the community.  We plan to release other code to the Mozillacommunity as well.  When new partners join the Mozilla community,they contribute not just code but also new ideas, and new people withfresh perspectives.  We believe those are important benefits toMozilla, the community, and its millions of users.  Because we area small startup that doesn’t have to worry about maintaining andgrowing a user base of tens of millions of users, we have the freedomto experiment and explore interesting new ideas and features that arenot ready or appropriate to be incorporated into Firefox.  We hopethat some of the crazy ideas we develop here at Flock are ultimatelyincorporated into the core Mozilla code base. 

Will Flock be open source?  How will you license your code?
Yes,Flock will be open source.  We may incorporate some proprietarytechnologies into our browser and releases some features under acommercial license, but all of our initial code, and the vast majorityof our code going forward, will be open source.  In fact,we’re just days away from releasing the source code to everythingwe’ve developed so far.

We currently plan to licenseopen source code that’s created by Flock under the GPLlicense.  Modifications to Mozilla files will of course be madeavailable under the MPL license.  We plan to ask that communitycontributors to our code assign copyrights to us, so that we will beable to license code under the MPL/GPL/LGPL triple licensing scheme asappropriate.

What’s taking you so long?  Get the code out already!
Giveus a few more days.  We’ve invited several thousand peopleto play with nightly builds and help us identify and fix the mostembarrassing, egg-all-over-your-face issues so that when we put ourcode out there, the thing won’t wipe out your hard drive. Whilewe’re eager to jump into the open source fray, we also want tomake sure that we don’t make a terrible first impression.


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Screenshots!

Posted in Flock by bart on the October 6th, 2005

Flickr PhotoFlickr PhotoFlickr PhotoFlickr Photo

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