Mozilla’s Herman on Ads, Nonprofit, and Firefox’s Mission

firefox-picHe announced with a bang that his organization is making a dramatic U-turn by adopting ads on Firefox: Darren Herman, Mozilla’s vice president of Content Services, spoke to ClickZ to clarify a few points we were left wondering about.

The official announcement was made live at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) annual leadership conference in Palm Springs, California, but Mozilla’s blog post gave a few more clues. For instance, it explained how the revenues generated by the ads, which the organization refers to as “sponsored content,” will finance Mozilla. It also provided elements of clarification on the process of the system testing and subsequent roll-out. For background on the announcement and to better understand the following discussion, we invite you to read ClickZ‘s piece on Mozilla (finally) embracing ads.

ClickZ (CZ): Can you elaborate more on the declared nonprofit mission of Firefox and the fact that the ads – “sponsored content” – will be providing support to Mozilla’s overarching mission?

Darren Herman (DH): Mozilla remains proudly nonprofit and that allows us to focus on solutions like these, which we believe will help create the Internet that users need. The revenue we derive from sponsored content will be re-invested to continue making products, empowering communities, teaching skills, and shaping environments that help build the Internet the world needs.

CZ: Is Mozilla going to shift to a new model? How?

DH: Historically, Mozilla has had one dominant model for generating revenue to sustain our mission. We are looking to diversify our revenue, thus, create different models that help us be more impactful with our mission. Yesterday we outlined to staff and the advertising industry a new approach to the first-time experience for Firefox users. At this stage we are only planning to roll this out to first-time users; we will assess feedback from users before deciding whether to extend it to others.

CZ: What is the feedback so far about the User Personalization (UP) initiative?

DH: In December we released the first of several UP Research Studies to a sample of Mozilla’s Test Pilot audience. This first study will give us insight into how well Firefox can match interests on the client using browsing history. Users who opt in to participate are giving us valuable insights into which algorithms perform best and good initial signals that we are moving in the right direction. If you’d like to join the nearly 5,000 people already in the study, you can install the add-on directly from AMO [the site dedicated to Add-ons for MOzilla].

Some Decoding:

  • Food for thought: One of the consequences of carrying ads is third-party tracking. Mozilla declined to comment further on Herman’s statement during the IAB conference that the nonprofit organization will be partnering with the likes of Apple and Google to figure out how to deal with third-party tracking. 
  • Another outcome is revenues. It is likely that the introduction of ads will shift the organization’s revenue model, as the vast majority of its current income is generated by its search activity alone, a stream that needs diversifying if Mozilla intends to stay in the game. The organization declined to provide details on the actual revenue potential that the tiles represent for Mozilla. Reports quoted an unnamed spokesperson as saying that Mozilla expects “100 billion tile impressions in the U.S. alone each year.”
  • Last but not least, Herman was appointed to his current position only last December and has a solid track record as a start-up founder himself and an ad agency leader. There was a lot to bet that he would be pushing the enveloppe big time for Mozilla. We definitely see this bold move on the part of Mozilla as just the beginning of the changes Herman will be implementing with and for the organization as far as ads and revenue streams are concerned. 

Conclusion: Keep your eyes on this man and on Mozilla. 

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