The recent layoffs in August of more than 250 Mozilla employees, a quarter of its workforce, left the company shaking and the community worried about the future of the Firefox maker.
The entire Servo team (A new browser engine in development since 2012), many developers working on MDN (Mozilla’s web development documentation portal) beside people working on various aspects of the company were laid off.
Yet, instead of being transparent on why these layoffs happened and based on what criteria, and what will be the new company’s strategy to increase its current 4% browser marketshare instead of losing it, we get a new initiative from Mozilla called “Unfck The Internet” (Yes, that’s the official name they chose), which as they say, aims to “stop companies like Facebook and YouTube from contributing to the disastrous spread of misinformation and political manipulation”.
But this isn’t just a one-time off initiative from Mozilla. Over the past few years Mozilla has been throwing tons of money and resources on similar social issues and projects of the Internet rather than developing their own main product, which is why they were here in the first place: Firefox.
As a background story one should know that there are two entities here: Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation. The corporation is the one developing Firefox (And hence collects money from search agreements, other services… etc) while the Foundation is the only one receiving donations, hence there’s no direct way of donating to Firefox development. But the Corporation also funds the Foundation. The donations you do to Mozilla Foundation are never used to develop Firefox, but rather, to projects that promote the Mozilla Manifesto.
This situation leaves the scene complex in terms of who to blame; Firefox browser (Controlled by the Corp) is the one generating the profit, but the profit goes to fund the Foundation as well. Yet, people get laid off because there’s no money, despite the “fellowships & awards” category at Mozilla’s blog showing an at least +$10 million spending (With help of other funds) on these social activities and other web projects just in the last two months.
In addition to these tremendous donations for these social issues, Mozilla’s chair was found to be getting a delicious $2.4 millions per year (Due to the CEO and chair roles together). The salary went up by 400% from 2010 despite the browser’s market share declining by 85% up to 2018. The 2019 and 2020 data are still not released yet to see how much they are affected.
What’s ironic is that in the blog post on laying off the 250 employees, Mozilla’s chair cited “economical difficulty due to Covid-19” as the main reason for the layoffs. But Mozilla’s chair response to a possible paycut to her own salary was that “it was too much” for her handle:
What’s more ironic is that last May, Mozilla was “helping others” through Covid-19 and distributed $150,000 on 3 open source projects related to Covid-19 fighting efforts. But looks like it forgot to help itself.
This type of spending isn’t news; The Mozilla Foundation donated $539,000 for various open source projects in 2017:
- $194,000 to Ushahidi; An open source crowd-funding platform for victims of governments political abuse.
- $100,000 to RiseUp, a set of toolkits for activities in dictatorship countries.
- $50,000 to Phaser, an open source HTML5 game engine.
- $70,000 for mod_md, an Apache module which speaks ACME.
And one can’t also forget Mozilla’s $25 million acquisition of Pocket in 2017, a read-later service, just to include it by default inside Firefox.
All of this mismanaged spending comes in hard times where the browser is facing huge challenges and is almost ceasing to exist; Just 0.47% marketshare on the phones and less than 8.20% on the desktop. And the userbase keeps declining each day as more users report non-working websites, bugs and performance issues under Firefox, just like in IE and NetScape days.
Maybe Mozilla actually needs to hire more people to make Firefox better so that users may switch back to it, instead of firing a quarter of its workforce. Perhaps serious attention to the issues Firefox users are suffering from is more important than an AI-powered monitoring tool for political misinformation.
Google currently controls 95% of the web due to its Blink engine in Chromium, and hence has no issue in forcing its own standards and initiatives without thinking of other browsers. Google plans – for example – to introduce what’s known as Web Bundles, breaking all privacy efforts and ad-blocking capabilities in the last two decades. But if Mozilla is ever to compete, then it needs to fix all of this mess.
It could be helpful for Mozilla to:
- Find a direct way where people can directly donate to Firefox development.
- Invest more in services related directly to the web browser. Their Firefox VPN is a good start because an average user is expected to trust the Firefox browser maker way more than things like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, regardless of the actual features or pricing, but more services need to come forth in this direction.
- Detach the Mozilla Foundation spending from the Corp, so that the money coming from the browser stays in the browser, instead of going to some mickey-mouse festival somewhere.
But with the current situation and where things are going, it looks like Mozilla’s executives are “milking” the cow before finally giving up on it to slaughter. What’s better than filling a warm pocket with cash of a dying corp?
Perhaps it would be more beneficial for Mozilla to unfck itself from its current situation before trying to unfck US elections, misinformation online or YouTube recommendations algorithm.
Otherwise, your favorite Firefox browser is sadly expected to die soon.