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Mozilla's top exec defends in-Firefox ads, revenue search

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 17, 2014
The chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit that funds the development of Firefox, is defending the decision to pursue in-browser ads, saying that it's important to generate revenue.

Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla's vice president of business and legal affairs, also weighed in, using a separate blog Thursday to explain why Mozilla is looking for other sources of revenue.

"Revenue diversification isn't a requirement because our search partnerships are strong and provide value to our users, to our partners and to Mozilla," Dixon-Thayer said. "Diversification is a choice for us, but just as diversity is central to a healthy Web, revenue diversity is central to a healthy project."

Mozilla actually has little diversity in its revenue stream: 88% of its 2012 revenue, the last year for which the organization has released financial information, stemmed from an agreement with Google that requires Mozilla to use Google's search engine as the default for most Firefox users.

Mozilla was paid approximately $274 million by Google in 2012, a year when the former recorded total income of $311 million.

The Google-Mozilla deal was last renewed in December 2011, when a new three-year contract was signed.

Although Dixon-Thayer argued that Mozilla's search partnerships "are strong," Mozilla's attempt to diversify revenue may indicate that the non-profit believes there's a chance that the Google deal will not be renewed this year, or that if it is, the approximately $300 million it provides annually will be reduced.

According to Web analytics company Net Applications, Firefox accounted for 18% of the world's desktop browser user share in January, down from 22% in late 2011 when it last dealt with Google. Firefox has virtually no user share of the mobile browser market.

In replies to comments appended to her blog post, Baker noted that creating Firefox OS, its browser-based mobile operating system, was "extremely expensive," and admitted that the organization had done a poor job in originally presenting the Directory Tiles concept to its user community.

But some of those who left comments for Baker were unconvinced that inserting ads into Firefox, even in the limited way Mozilla proposed, is a good idea. "You're perhaps entering onto a slippery slope where eventually 'monetization' will be the primary goal in deciding elements of the browser's design rather than user experience," warned Dan Tobias.

Others suggested that that the feature be strictly opt-in, or at the least easily disabled.

Mozilla is one of the smallest organizations that creates and maintains a browser. Of the five major developers — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera Software — only the last had less revenue in 2012 — $216 million — than Mozilla.


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