01 February 2006

Spreading Spread Firefox

Most computer users by now have heard of the Firefox browser. This is hardly surprising given the extraordinary rate at which it is still being downloaded and diffused around the world well over a year since its formal launch.

Given that there have now been nearly 150 million downloads (converting that into a meaningful number of users is probably impossible), it is only natural that people think of Firefox as an incredibly successful free browser. It is that, certainly, but it is also much more.

After all, the open source community has shown time and again it can write great code: Linux, Apache, The GIMP, OpenOffice.org - choose your own favourite. But Firefox has done something else - something that has never been done before by a free software project.

It has translated the secret of open source's power - a huge, distributed and connected development team - into the sphere of marketing. The Spread Firefox site has mobilised tens of thousands of users - not as beta testers, as has been the custom previously, but as a guerrilla marketing force.

Most famously, that force was mobilised to pay for the double-page ad in The New York Times. Through the aggregation of many relatively small donations it was able to take out some high-price advertising. In other words, the approach scales.

But the real achievement of Spread Firefox is much subtler, and more diffuse. The tens - hundreds? - of thousands of active Firefox supporters are Microsoft's worst nightmare: a completely invisible - because distributed - team of product evangelists that it can never hope to pin down, let alone match.

This is such an important step beyond the traditional open source process that it is tragic not more has been done with it. For example, although there is a Spread OpenOffice.org, it is only now that a Spread KDE site has been created; both seem in their early stages. But where are all the others? Where are Spread Linux, Spread Thunderbird, Spread GIMP, Spread Audacity and the rest?

All these programs have enthusiastic users who could be directly mobilised across the Internet to spread the word about how good these applications are. Relying on old-fashioned, uncoordinated word-of-mouth is simply to throw away everything that has been learned from Spread Firefox - and to discard one of the strongest trumps in the free software hand.


Anonymous said...

As dcparris said on www.lxer.com, maybe you should contact Linux4Austin at www.lobby4linux.com who is running a Linux radio ad campaign.

Glyn Moody said...

As I wrote over on lxer.com:

Linux4Austin is a great initiative and I wish them every success. It's also a good example of the kind of thing I would envisage a larger "Spread Linux" project would foster. The only problem - except it's not so much a bug as a feature - is that it's a local initiative.

What I was suggesting is that all the main free software projects need some kind of umbrella site like Spread Firefox that can coordinate such activity for the maximum benefit. It can also channel funds from around the world, not to mention the skills of its members.

As I wrote in my main posting, Spread Firefox is important because it has done something that Microsoft could never do: marshal the enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of users around the world. If Microsoft wished to, it could completely drown out the message of Linux4Austin through some judicious spending of its not inconsiderable marketing budgets. That's why the open source community needs to take projects like Linux4Austin to the next level.

Anonymous said...

I believe Helios from lobby4linux.com is actually doing this and recording all his actions and setting up a radio how-to kit so that others can use the stuff he did to do the same thing in their own neck of the woods...

He's setting up the framework for others to follow....

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the comment.

That will certainly be valuable, but I still feel we need something bigger - a Spread Linux, say.

Anonymous said...

This is helios. Look...this Linux4Austin thing is in it's infancy. Do you think we can go national? I like the way you think, but I will need help with the promo's and press releases. What say you and I talk and see what we can come up with glyn...

It is not out of the realm of possiblility...however the funding will be a nightmare. The money is there, the entity to control it is not, and we are taling hundreds of thouseands of dollars. This has got to be transparent, up-front and scaleable...if not, we catch one in the chops