(Disclaimer: None of the views here are those of the Wikimedia Foundation.)
I must admit a brief bit of schadenfreude because I predicted that this change would happen on Prop 8 specifically. The only thing that surprises me from those six-year-old articles is the quickness of the sea change around this issue.
It seems the “I-like-Eich” views center around the following arguments:
- This violates Freedumb of Speech/libtards are hypocrites
- Why are liberals such sticklers on this view?
- “the mob got their man”
To the first: As a private citizen, Eich is fully entitled to having bigoted views, but as a business person he must suffer the consequences of any of those views. The instant he made actual donations was the instant his private views became susceptible to public scrutiny. We are, after all, talking about being the CEO of a corporation that is the wholly-owned subsidiary of the richest open-culture, open-source nonprofit organization in the world. A natural consequence is expect customer backlash when those views are offensive to the majority of your customer base in a business that makes clear distinctions between “free as in beer” and “free as in speech.” They voted with their feet and his hiring and resigning was just the free market at work. The first amendment covers government and government didn’t interfere. No rights were harmed in the process of this fiasco.
To the second: I propose the same thought experiment as I have before. If you change Brendan’s view from anti-gay-marriage to anti-miscegenation, you see why people are in hackles. You are free to have this belief right now, and your grandchildren will be free to be shocked at what a bigot you were. The difference between you now and the segregationists then is your beliefs are part of the public record via Twitter and recorded by Google, so you can’t deny you had this view like your grandparents do. Let me bookmark these, and lets visit them in a few decades. Enjoy being on the wrong side of history.
To the third: The defense is that these statements are taken out of context. I call bullshit. Brendan Eich was not up for a lifetime achievement award in software design, in fact he had already been co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at the Mozilla Corporation. He was promoted to be the Chief Executive Officer which is a different position entirely. To cast a mirror on myself: I’m an asshole. As such, that makes me okay as a Director of Engineering at the Wikimedia Foundation, but you’d be smoking something if you thought that would make a good Executive Director here. Political sense and understand consequences to actions is a pre-requisite at that level, and perhaps even at mine. (I don’t know because being an asshole is orthogonal to financially supporting a law to hate on gays.)
Overall, the interesting question is trying to understand how the Mozilla Foundation’s board ended up walking into this fiasco given that Brendan’s views were known before he was appointed as CEO of Mozilla Corporation. I find this incident very revealing.
It tells us that the Mozilla Foundation is in a very bad situation and they are very desperate.
The “bad situation” makes sense because the math is simple. Over 90% of Mozilla’s Foundation’s revenue comes from Mozilla Corporation and the bulk of the latter’s money comes from ad revenue from Google, their #1 competitor (with Chrome) on their #1 product (Firefox browser). Basically, your competitor is paying you to die, and dying you are. Every day, more and more browsing is done on mobile devices where Firefox has zero footprint; every day, as the mobile web grows, Mozilla becomes more and more irrelevant.
(Side note: In 1997, Apple found themselves in a similar situation. They accepted a sour deal from one their long-standing competitor because the gun to their head with the Office monopoly. Microsoft used the deal to force Apple to allow them to parlay a budding new monopoly in the browser space with Explorer. What did Apple do? They introduced Safari to pre-empt an Explorer dependency (which gave us WebKit and Google Chrome). They introduced Keynote and Pages and Numbers to mitigate Office. And, they introduced iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and the iPod (and later the iPhone and the iPad) to eliminate the dependency of their core computer business on office products. And now the situation is reversed.)
The re-appointing of a former co-founder is a clear sign of desperation no matter where this has occurred: Apple, Starbucks, Enron, etc.
If you need a major change in direction, why not hire aggressively outside for leadership that is not entrenched in existing views? This is the corollary to appointing former cofounders: it shows the desperation, but it also shows the triumphalism of institutional inertia. This makes them desperate enough to bring back a bigoted cofounder who might make a change, but not so much that they’d have the institutional willpower to take an actual risk on someone who might really change them. They probably rationalize it as, “only ‘one of us’ understands us to fix the problem (or knows where the skeletons are buried).”
The reason Mozilla is desperate now is, not in spite of, but because of their great financial position. This has kept them from aggressively parlaying it into something more. Take their demands on Apple to be more open. Why is this laughable? The peering story explains why. This sort of hubris requires you be very disconnected from reality—and, $300 million/year buys a lot of disconnection from reality. Remember when this happened on Chrome? Yeah, me neither. Meanwhile Firefox carried their #1 competitor’s water for them on that issue and lost more market share to them. Good job!
My point is that Mozilla made these mistakes not out of greed, but rather because the removal of a key economic decision point (threat of financial death) that can cause an organization to pivot. Instead institutional inertia and liferism replaced good decision making at all levels of the organization, not just the top, and the problem grows to the point where desperation becomes obvious in actions such as these.
That’s a lesson worth learning, especially if you work at the only non-profit Internet organization in the top 10.
To see that and not feel your organization is not susceptible to the same? Now that would show you are disconnected from reality… or insane.
There is a nuance missing in my original article.
It is important to understand that Mozilla’s mission is not to be the #1 browser, but rather to remain relevant. This, they achieved on the desktop with Firefox, but their footprint in mobile is dooming them to irrelevance.
That is what is at stake here.