Firefox Turns 500 Million

Remember when Firefox was the little browser that could? Mozilla's Firefox just celebrated its 500 millionth download. A look at what the future holds for the orange fox with Mozilla's Community Development Director.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Do you remember the day that you noticed your friend or co-worker's Internet browser didn't quite look like yours? It had a blue and orange logo, and some tabs across the top, and it was just ever so slightly different?

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

I really do remember this. Because I felt like someone - there had been a memo sent out, like, everybody changed all of the sudden, and I didn't get the memo and, as usual, felt like I was totally behind the curve.

STEWART: Well, you know, a lot of people may have felt the same way the first time they saw Mozilla's Firefox browser. Now, if you had the same situation as Rachel did where you sort of felt alone, or maybe you just went and downloaded it because everybody else was doing it, you're not alone. The little browser that could was just downloaded for its 500 millionth time last week. How did it come this far and what does the future hold for that iridescent orange fox? Asa Dotzler is Mozilla's director of community development. He's been working on the Mozilla project since the beginning. Hi, Asa.

Mr. ASA DOTZLER (Director of Community Development, Mozilla): Hi, Alison. Thanks for having me on.

STEWART: So what did it feel like when you found out that you'd hit 500 million? That your little baby had all grown up?

Mr. DOTZLER: Yeah, it's certainly progressing. We have a vibrant community of people all over the world who have been following this, and our - our volunteer open-source community. So each one of these milestones, when we hit 25 million and 50 million and then 100 million and now 500 million, there have been, you know, a handful of people who have, you know, who have said, hey, we need to so something to celebrate this, to celebrate all of the work that the tens of thousands of volunteers have put in across the globe to make this happen. And that's where this idea of the FreeRice.com donation came in.

STEWART: Yeah, explain this to people. I've given a couple of grain of rice as a result of this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOTZLER: Yeah, well, FreeRice.com is a charity site where you play this kind of cool little vocabulary game. And while you're playing that game, some advertising shows, and that funds the fight against world hunger. And so as you play this game where you're recognizing synonyms, you're actually donating money through the U.N.'s World Food program to fight poverty.

STEWART: So in celebration of this milestone for you, you folks are paying it forward and helping out somebody else. But I want to back up all the way, because - could you explain the relationship between the Mozilla project and Firefox? I know that sounds like a really basic question, but I'm not sure everybody understands it.

Mr. DOTZLER: No, it's a great question, actually. Mozilla is the organization. We're an open-source, public-benefit, non-profit that organizes volunteers all over the world to improve the Internet for everyone. And one of the ways we do that - as a matter of fact, the primary way we're doing that right now - is through this Web browser called Firefox. So the Mozilla organization and community builds this Web browser for about 20 percent of the world using it right now.

STEWART: And was it marketed? Did you folks decide to try to - did Mozilla decide to roll it out in a way, getting it to certain people, the people they call the influencers? Or was this just basically organic word-of-mouth?

Mr. DOTZLER: It's a combination of things, really. We had a small but growing user base for this open-source project, the people who are participating in it. This is the people who are writing the code to make Firefox, who are testing it on a daily basis and giving all kinds of great feedback, and who started to tell their friends and family about it. And so when we launched Firefox in 2004, the end of 2004, we had a sort of seed community of influencers and early adopters, who had actually been participating in making Firefox. And those people started to spread the word.

We put together a small Web site called SpreadFirefox to give them some tools to do this word-of-mouth marketing, and from there it just took off.

STEWART: Now, there's a relationship somewhere between Firefox, Mozilla and Google, right?

Mr. DOTZLER: Well, when we were thinking about how to improve the Web browser experience, one of the things we noticed was that people were using the Web differently than they were in the '90s. No longer were people sort of surfing and clicking from link to link, but they were searching for the information they wanted. And so we decided early on that we were going to integrate search as a key feature of the browser itself. Rather than typing in the Web site address and going to Google and doing your search, why not just type the search right into the browser?

And so when we added this feature, we added a half-a-dozen different search services to the feature, but you have to have a default. And so in 2002 or 2003, we polled our community, and we said, hey, what search service should be the default service? And they all said, hey, Google's the best, so we made Google the default search.

And then as we were getting ready to launch Firefox 1, something wonderful happened. We met with Google, and they said you're sending a lot of traffic our way. We would like to enter into a financial relationship with you guys. And that led to the revenue that supports much of the Firefox project today.

STEWART: That's a good friend to have.

Mr. DOTZLER: Yeah, it certainly is. And it's worked out great because it was a case of the revenue coming not as a result of us seeking some business relationship or compromising the user experience or the features in the product, but by doing the right thing and giving people a feature that they wanted to use that helped them get online and get things done. And so it was, you know, it was after the decision was made to create this improved experience that the revenue came. So it couldn't happen any better than that.

STEWART: And if you had to boil it down to the one thing that makes Firefox unique, why you think it has been so successful and why people have chosen to tell other people about it, what would that be?

Mr. DOTZLER: I think the thing that really sets us apart is the global community of people who are making this happen. It allows for a number of things. First, it means that Firefox is available in 50 languages. When we ship a new version, on day one, 50 different languages are available. You look at the competition on day one, it's one language, and some months later you get a couple of more. And this is only possible because we have people all over the world who are volunteering to translate Firefox into these many languages.

At Mozilla, we focus primarily on the English language, and our volunteers are responsible for those other 49 languages.

In addition to that, this community of people are really enthusiastic about the Internet and making it better, so the innovation that comes from the tens of thousands of people all over the globe have allowed Firefox to iterate faster than the competition, to put new and useful features into the product in a way that's just really not possible at a sort of standard organization, even if you've got a team of hundreds. We've got a team of literally tens of thousands, and I think that really makes the difference for Firefox.

STEWART: It comes down to community, and you're the director of community development, Asa Dotzler from Mozilla. Thanks for explaining it to us, Asa.

Mr. DOTZLER: Yeah, thanks for having me.

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