The New York Times features a great article: Death by Smiley Face: When Rivals Disdain Profit, explaining why some players in the media business are dangerous since they don't play for the money, but for some other reason, whether it's the public good or the pleasure to publish. Richard Siklos, the author of this article even mentions Firefox as an example of a trend that also impacts the software industry.

Tim O'Reilly takes the ball further in his purpose-driven media blog post, referencing Frank Hecker's Asymmetric competition article.

The Mozilla project is indeed a purpose-driven entity, per its mission statement, promoting choice and innovation on the Internet. It is led by the Mozilla Foundation, which is a not-for-profit legal entity.

Two things should be remembered at this point:

1 - Being purpose-driven does not mean that money is not necessary

I'm sorry for stating the obvious, but organizations need money to operate. The main difference between a company and a purpose-driven organization is the fact that, for the latter, money is a tool rather than an end, just like Chris Blizzard mentioned about Mozilla making money. we don't make choices that might increase our revenue that would sacrifice user experience, Chris added. This does not mean in any way that money is not needed. Actually, because it's needed, having some cash in the bank is one of the ways to ensure that we won't "sell out". Mitchell Baker (Mozilla Corp.'s CEO) explains this:

We've got a "reserve fund" now which I view as extremely important. Having savings means that people are much more likely to believe us when we say we will turn down revenue if it doesn't benefit the user. We've always said this, and we've meant it. Or to be more personal, I've always said it and meant it. One sounds naïve when one says this, particularly to large commercial enterprises. It helps people comprehend my statements when we have a reserve fund that allows us to operate whether or not we're interested in them.

Why is selling out a real issue? Many of us in the Mozilla project have seen Netscape's market share go South while it tried to monetize every piece of the browser, to the point that many engineers with Netscape called the personal toolbar the whore bar, as it featured links to many uninteresting Web sites, whose sole merit was to sign a check to be there. Mitchell explains this in a less explicit way:

We've seen browsers that appear to have sold off all sorts of features and links to website with an eye to revenue rather than helping people make sense of the web. We won't do that. The people working on the product couldn't stand it and our users would abandon such a product.

2 - Purpose-driven entities everywhere!

The New York Times mentions Craigslist as an example of such organizations. The movement is actually much broader than that. It's also about music, blogs, software, photography, video and everything that may be digitalized. I'll save my thinking for a future post (this one is already too long), but I want to mention a few things that are related to this:

For those of the readers who don't get why people participate to such projects, whether it's a Linux distro, podcasts, CC-licensed pictures on or Firefox, the answer can often summarized in three words: because we can.