Mozilla & Google: Knowing the Facts and Irresponsible Reporting

There are few things I hate more than irresponsible “journalism”, especially the sensationalist type that is done for the sole purpose of generating page views and clicks. Of late, I've been seeing it more and more with the most recent coming from eWeek writer Joe Wilcox. Now, I was about to jump into the fray because quite honestly, I thought this was just a poorly done piece but as I perused the mostly Mozilla-supportive comments, I spied Mozilla's Asa Dotzler's comment which does an amazing job of PROPERLY summarizing Mozilla's arrangement with Google and others. Following is his comment in its entirety:


Rather than sensationalizing, maybe you try to, you know, inform your audience.

“But Mozilla's dirty little public secret has been its dependence on Google search revenue.”

Mozilla isn't dependent on Google search revenue. Mozilla is, (and it's a bit concerning, but not terribly so,) dependent on the search advertising marketplace that most of the web is dependent upon.

Any search provider would, (and others besides Google do,) pay for traffic that Firefox generates for them. Google is the lion's share of Mozilla's revenue not because they pay more to Mozilla for searches than the other providers, but because there are a whole lot more searches to pay for.

That's because Google is the default. If, for example, Yahoo was the default, it would be the lion's share of Mozilla's revenue.

It's not about Google and it never has been. It's about search advertising and the fact that _any_ search provider is not just willing, but thrilled to pay reasonable prices for for _any_ search traffic they can get.

I know this can be a bit confusing, but it's not rocket science and as you're paid to learn about things and help explain them to others, I'd expect a little more from you. Because, for whatever reason, you've failed to explain this honestly to your readers, let me take a crack at it.

A lot of your readers have blogs so I'll explain it on those terms. It's quite a good analog, actually.

If you have a blog and you run Google AdSense, Google pays you for the traffic you send them. That makes you “dangerously dependent on Google's money” but there's nothing to stop you from moving to Microsoft's or Yahoo's or some other ad platform. So you're not really dependent on Google so much as you're dependent on the basic text or banner advertising marketplace.

Now, you might decided to diversify because you want your readers to see more than one kind of ad or because different ad platforms offer different features so you add, say, BlogAds ads to your blog. But, you keep Google at the top banner spot because it's the most relevant content to must of your users and it's not all Flash-y and probably won't tick them off as much. Now you've got most of your ad click revenue coming from that Google banner at the top but you've got some other clicks on the BlogAds banner in the sidebar below the fold.

Now you've got diversity, but you're still dependent on the same basic marketplace.

You could rotate the ad providers, putting AdSense below the fold and BlogAds up in that top spot and you can bet your revenue proportions would change but you're basically still in the same place, dependent on advertising.

That's basically the Mozilla situation. Mozilla provides a variety of search services, driving traffic to a variety of search providers and deriving revenue from those transactions. Google is the search service at the top of the page (the default) and Yahoo and Ebay and Amazon and others are tucked under fold (alternative services listed in the search menu.)

“This open-source success story is as much about commercial financial support as community participation. Firefox fails, I predict for the future, lest Mozilla gets more donors or turns the browser back over to the open-source community.”

Look, Mozilla makes a few products, Firefox chief among them. Volunteer coders contributing to Firefox out-number Mozilla employed coders contributing to Firefox by 10 to 1. Open source participation is critical to making and distributing Firefox.

Volunteers contribute about 40% of the code (a number that's stayed consistent over the last five years, even as full-time Mozilla employed coders have grown from just three to over 100.) Volunteers localize Firefox into 65 languages, and non-English (the languages created almost exclusively by volunteers) account for more than half of Firefox usage today. Surveys we've conducted say that 80% of Firefox users learned about it by word of mouth, and so volunteers make up a huge piece of the Mozilla project's marketing and outreach.

Firefox simply would not happen without the amazing community of volunteer contributors. It's never been possible to ship Firefox without this community effort. Neither has it ever been possible or ever been the case that a community minus Mozilla's full-time staff could ship and support Firefox. We all work together to make it happen. Take either away and it probably doesn't happen at all.

I think, based on your characterization of things in this article, that you're either misinformed, uninformed, or simply confused about how the Mozilla project operates and how money and employment play a role.

While I'm disappointed that you've opted for a sensationalist and wildly misleading approach to this story, I'd be happy to help you better understand if you're interested.

As always, I can be reached at

– A

If Joe Wilcox does read my post, please man, take Asa up on his offer so you can actually understand how Mozilla works. I think it's only fair to your readers that they get the facts.