Back to the Summit: A chat with John Lilly, Mozilla CEO

During the last Mozilla Summit, in past July, I had the chance to talk face to face with many mozillians for the first time.

If anything, I have to say the Mozilla community is a very friendly bunch of people to be with. All of them very compromised with the particular role each one plays in the very large Mozilla ecosystem, resulting in a very inspiring experience knowing that there’s no small role to play as long as you play it well.

By the time the Summit ended, at least one thing resulted pretty clear: Mozilla really is all about the open Internet. Mozillians are Internet users first, and whatever their role is, second. This translates in their appreciation for technology, communications, standards, and innovation, but also their understanding of usability, privacy, security and controlling the software they use.

John Lilly, Mozilla Corporation’s CEO, was one of the first people I saw at the summit, checking out the spaces we would occupy the next day.

A couple of days later, waiting for the final presentation of the day to start, he kindly accepted for a brief chat on Mozilla matters, which I have failed to properly transcribe until today. In large part because it resulted much harder than I first thought due to background noise in the recording, and a severe lack of time the last few months. But here it is, and others should (hopefully) follow shorter.

John was the Mozilla Corporation Chief Operating Officer for the last few years, and in January this year, he took the high responsibility of succeeding Mitchell Baker as the head of the maker of Firefox.

Mozilla Links: How’s it been different for you to be Mozilla Corporation CEO from being the COO in these first months?

Well, the most obvious difference is that I have to do much more work in public. Talking with people outside the company, that kind of thing, much more than before. I always liked to focus on helping people do the best they can and be the best they can be, and that’s not much different than before.

The relationship Mitchell and I have is not that different than it was before January.

So, some ways it is very different, in some others it’s not much.

Here at the summit there’s been a lot of emphasis on the importance for Mozilla of delivering a message. Why is it so important for you, Mitchell, and the Foundation to deliver it?

First of all, the message is: the Internet is better if it’s open and people participate in the creation and evolution of the Internet. That’s the message we’re trying to deal in all ways that we can.

And the reason why it’s important to understand that is that we don’t have a lot of models, there’s not a lot of examples of organizations that have products but also have a distinctive point of view about the advocates for user engagement,  for user involvement.

As a result, people not always understand. They see us through different lenses: they can see as a commercial company, just like Microsoft, Apple or Google. Or they see as a non-profit like the Red Cross.

In the first case, they see us as like we’re trying to assert that our product is best and make people user our product. In the second case there’s no product, and it seems we’re just trying to spread a set of value.

So it’s important to bring some clarity around. We’re tying to make the Internet better, more participatory, with products. I think this helps people better interpret what we’re doing.

Tell us about your role at the Participatory Culture Foundation. Are they considering to delivering other products besides Miro?

Not right now. I’m involved on the board of director. They are very admirable. They are a very small group and are trying to make the video space open. Much like us, trying to make an impact.

Right now they’re super small they’re really trying to make some top grade products. and we’ll see what other products get a little more stable and sustainable. They haven’t quite found a stability and economics formula yet and that’s very important.

Where would you like to see Mozilla a year from now. What do you think are the next logical steps for Mozilla?

First thing is to maintain the momentum we have around our most leveraged asset which is the community and Firefox. Beyond that, we need to get Thunderbird into a position where it’s strong again. We need to get our mobile products into a spot where they’re competitive in the market, and we’re on the way of doing that.

I think after a time of intense focus during last year to ensure we could deliver a strong Firefox 3, we’re looking to broaden again. I think it’s natural for products to go focus and broad, focus and broad. And now we’re going to go a little broader again.

ML: Mozilla has a few other projects and tools in development like Bugzilla and Litmus, some of them are already in use by other projects. Are there plans to productize some of these other projects to make them perhaps easier to deploy and support?

The work we’re trying to productize now beyond Firefox and Thunderbird, is Firefox Mobile (Fennec) and Weave. Beyond that there are no plans right now.

Very late thanks to John for the interview, and Mozilla for hosting this event.

Also, it isn’t coincidence that today precisely started MozCamp ’08, another important Mozilla gathering in Barcelona.

You can follow it live from Mozilla Hispano mashup.

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