Posted on January 4, 2016
Schrödinger’s Firefox OS
Disclaimer: This is not a pure and objective blog post . I will be sharing thoughts and opinions of my own regarding Firefox OS which do not represent Mozilla’s views necessarily, neither those of other organizations I’m affiliated with. This is tied in with my related blog post about Mozlando – Mozilla’s end of the year Work Week in 2015.
Last month, I attended Mozlando, Mozilla’s bi-annual Work Week event in Orlando, Florida. Among a lot of news and exciting projects, one specific news was hard to digest:
As you might have (in)famously heard:
Well, according to the media at least. Of course things are not so simple like in Hollywood to smash a clickbaity headline on a biased article, so let’s turn the clocks back a bit.
The opening plenary session at Mozlando was quite absurd. We were greeted by adorable Foxy plushies waiting for us on our seats, and just an hour later, Ari Jaaksi, responsible for Connected Devices at Mozilla announced on stage that Mozilla would stop pushing Firefox OS devices and close all deals with partners. Firefox OS would serve as the base for Connected Devices at Mozilla, aka Web of Things / Internet of Things.
“What?! What does that mean? Can you be a bit more specific? Are we abandoning Firefox OS? What will happen with all the functional teams working on Firefox OS? “
Questions like these started circulating all around Mozlando. Meanwhile, Ari has been sharing several tweets, with the hope to answer some questions, but as it seems, many more were raised.
Confusion was spreading like wildfire and it was only a matter of time until media outlets would pick up the story… which of course didn’t last long. TechCrunch covered the story in less than 2 hours after Ari came on stage. ArsTechnica followed with a more hardcore headline. GSMArena even went that far to call Firefox OS “officially” dead. It was so bad even Mozilla’s ex Firefox OS evangelist, Christian Heilmann was already discussing the Firefox OS post-mortem.
It was a PR disaster, internally and externally. We ended the first day of Mozlando without answers to our questions. It diminished our excitement of being at Disney World, solely due to the fact we went to bed with a big question mark over our head.
We received an answer the next day by reading the Mozilla blog. Well, at least we hoped so, because one could hardly call the blog post helpful explanation wise:
Everything is connected around us. This revolution has already started and it will be bigger than previous technology revolutions, including the mobile smartphone revolution. Internet of Things, as many call it today, will fundamentally affect all of us.
We will prototype this future starting right now using technologies developed as part of the Firefox OS project to give us a kick start.
We will make space for this exploration by stopping our work to build and ship smartphones through carrier partners.
We will explore and prototype new use cases in the world of connected devices as an open source project with a clear focus on the user benefit and experience.
We will focus on products and technologies that allow people to access and manage their world of connected devices, helping to ensure people are empowered, safe and independent.
We are excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. We believe that the Web can be the right platform for this future of connected devices and we can’t wait to share more with everyone soon.
we, we, we, we, we. How can Mozilla talk about “we” when “we” don’t even know what’s going on?
What does “ensure people are empowered, safe and independent” mean? What does “exploration” mean? Clearly, “we” have no clue where “we” are going, which is not necessarily a bad thing, seeing that the world of Internet of Things is so blurry. But why weren’t “we” informed of this process? Obviously Mozilla is doing great efforts to involve contributors more in Firefox OS, especially with the Firefox OS Community Hub and the Foxfooding campaign. But of course no one mentions them here.
See, I have no intentions to get nitpicky here, but as a Firefox OS contributor I find it heavily discouraging to see a project being cancelled just like that and not even receiving a “Thank you“.
Seriously, thousands of contributors have been working tirelessly on Firefox OS in the past 3 years, yet the blog post fails to simply include a small Thank You note? A lot of us are not paid to do what we are doing. The least we can ask for our contribution is a little bit of appreciation. I know Mozilla knows better than that, but at times we need to remind each other that we are on the same boat. We kind of forget that sometimes.
EDIT: To clarify, the Participation team reached out to all contributors and thanked them via a blog post / mailing list. However, this happened 2 days after the initial blog post in separate channels. In these moments, it was very clear that we were not sure what we were doing, as Participation was trying to fix things when the damage was already done.
For example, what happened with the Marketplace team was neither a testimonial of communication alignment at Mozilla. Marketplace reviewers were part of their team meetings at Mozlando and suddenly all of them were cancelled after the announcement. It was only said that the Marketplace will be discontinued.
Questions asked were left unanswered because no one knew any details. Until this very day, the Marketplace team has no clue of how & why’s. While this might be a problem specifically for the Marketplace team, the root of the problem impacts all of us, and that is, in this case, lack of communication.
A much better solution would be to wait until whole Mozilla gets on the same page and then spread out a single message. Fighting the symptoms has not much impact when the root of the problem is somewhere else.
Having said that, I deeply appreciate the Participation’s team efforts to contain the situation. If it wouldn’t be for our functional teams communicating with us, the morale would be much lower.
Externally, the pressure all Mozillians had from their friends, contacts and similar was tremendous. Everyone was asking about the situation yet the statements we received were confusing and unclear. TechCrunch wrote about the Firefox OS news 2 hours after the opening plenary session at Mozlando, yet our answer to such articles came in only 1 day later, which did not answer any questions anyway.
Was Public Relations involved here at all? I hate to be the one that complains, but we at Mozilla do so many great things, it seems absurd to me we allow to turn such small communication mistakes into PR disasters.
After a lot of asking around many of us were able to get a rough view on the situation:
- Firefox OS is not dead.
- Mozilla will stop offering phones through carriers (the partnership with Panasonic will continue)
- we will shift focus on the Internet of Things with Firefox OS.
- the Firefox Marketplace will be discontinued in the coming months to remove decentralization barriers.
I really really hope that Participation is going to address issues like these, as these show how much we lack community inclusiveness sometimes. It’s kind of ironic this happens at a point where we are pushing so much for Participation as it is obvious that some parts of Mozilla don’t understand Participation yet. Clearly this is the root of the problem here.
Of course I’m not going to stand by the side and wait for things to change. I am continuing to commit time and effort to Participation at Mozilla so we can fix such issues in the future. In the meanwhile, let’s reflect a bit about our actions.
Sometimes it seems to me that we at Mozilla feel uncomfortable talking about our past failures. We need to work on this.
EDIT: Thanks for facilitating this discussion. This post was not at all intended to point fingers at others, rather than spark a discussion. I will be following up with a proposal on how we can prevent such scenarios in the future.