I recently Googled “Open Source Marketing” to see what it would turn up and found that the recent movement by Mozilla to get contributors to help sponsor a Firefox ad in the New York Times was getting some odd coverage. Specifically, one Steve Rubel recently published an online article called “Open Source Marketing is the Future – Pass It On” that seemed to overestimate this event and cast it as the future of marketing. Others have linked to Mr. Rubel’s article as though its content provided some insight to what open source marketing is. It demands some analysis.
Jumping to the conclusion that all marketing is heading this way is about as a gross an assumption as one can make. While it is groundbreaking that people would be willing to contribute money freely in order to help propagate the otherwise free Mozilla Firefox browser, this event was not actually for Firefox. You may not see this approach work but a couple more times.
The basis of this movement is people’s deep set ire with Microsoft. Were Microsoft not such an overwhelming victor in the browser wars of the late 90’s, and such a dominatingly successful company (financially), and–let’s just say it–were they not such bastards about in trouncing their competitors, and after so doing, allowing their product quality to slowly deteriorate, funding the Firefox ad would not have happened. (Firefox itself might not have happened!) What the Firefox community marketing movement really shows is that Microsoft has inspired so much spite that the public will actually pay to promote an alternate browser to Internet Explorer.
[I’ll also take a moment here to point out that Microsoft argued in the media and in court that the Netscape lawsuits were restricting their rights to freely innovate and provide value to consumers. In shameless irony, Microsoft is now floating implied patent infringement threats against users of OpenOffice, as covered by the intrepid Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch.]
This community marketing efforts is likely a temporary phenomenon. Open source software (OSS) has a building momentum that is starting to turn the table on dominant market vendors. Microsoft will remain a giant for decades, but OSS will bring in alternatives. Eventually the OSS movement will have a correcting effect on Microsoft’s way of business and they will cease being perceived as so villainous. (Yes, that’s hard to envision, but give it time.)
Ultimately, Mr. Rubel’s article makes the mistake of confusing the open source software movement with being the “not the Microsoft evil empire” software movement. As a thought experiment, imagine Linux in a world without Microsoft. Would it be relevant? Would it continue to exist? My guess is that it would on both accounts, but it would be very different.
Sung a little differently: nothing helps a group hang together like a viscerally-hated common enemy. In absence of such an enemy, will the funding for things like the New York Times Firefox advertisement still be there?
That begs the question: How will OSS products be marketed once they are no longer the anti-Microsoft (or anti-whatever) option and have become more standard fare? I should think that communities will play a role, but not in such Hollywood big screen ways as the NYT-Firefox event anecdotally suggests.
On a related note, I found the remarks of Todd Sattersten interesting. He makes the point that the NYT-Firefox event was really a community funding drive rather than open source marketing, and then goes into what some attributes of “open source marketing” would be. Mr. Sattersten’s approach to the subject would make the subject of my blog more appropriately called “Marketing Open Source” rather than “Open Source Marketing.”
Filed under: Advocacy