What is the Mozilla DNA?

2 minute read

In my last post I referred to the Mozilla DNA, a term I picked up from Mitchell and used in the course of discussing what role(s) the Mozilla Foundation might take on in future. However I’m not sure Mitchell (or anyone else for that matter) has ever precisely defined what the Mozilla DNA actually consists of, so before going on I thought I’d write down my own personal opinions on the matter.

By analogy with biology, the Mozilla DNA is what makes Mozilla unique, differentiates the project and its various embodiments (the Mozilla Foundation, the Mozilla Corporation, Mozilla Messaging, and so on) from other initiatives, and equips it to potentially take on various tasks (more or less successfully, as the case may be). This DNA includes (among other things) the type of project Mozilla has been and is, the types of activities it has traditionally engaged in, the types of people (i.e., in terms of skills, motivations, values, etc.) that have traditionally engaged in those activities, and the mechanisms by which the people and activities have been coordinated.

More specifically, I think the following are key elements of Mozilla DNA:

  • an emphasis on doing things as opposed to (just) talking about them (implementation vs. advocacy)

  • a focus on individual users and on creating products and related services that touch those users directly, as opposed to providing infrastructure (plumbing) for use by others to create those products and services

  • a reliance on decentralized collaborative development within a meritocratic structure, with lots of opportunities for people to progress from casual users to core contributors to both technical and non-technical activities

  • a commitment to openness and the public good (as embodied in the Mozilla Manifesto), including adherence to the general principles underlying open source and free software licensing

  • the employment of a mixture of noncommercial and commercial strategies and organizational structures, accompanied by a surrounding ecosystem of both noncommercial and commercial ventures

  • an ambition to operate on a worldwide basis and touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people

  • a reliance on organic growth fueled primarily by grass-roots adoption by individual users

  • the vision and resources to operate on a long time horizon (10 years or longer)

In my opinion any potential new activities for the Mozilla Foundation and the project as a whole must be consistent with as many of these elements as possible, and many candidate activities can be rejected due to their mismatch with Mozilla DNA. For those activities that are a match, some might represent straightforward extensions of current activities (e.g., developing more software products), while others might be new and different kinds of activities that can leverage existing project capabilities (e.g., supporting participatory development of non-software content).

I’ll come to the question of the match between potential Mozilla activities and Mozilla DNA in a future post. In the meantime I welcome any additions or correction to the above list.