relevance, your honour?

The search engine business is a tough one. People are generally pretty bad at knowing how to phrase queries to give them what they want, to say nothing of dealing with spelling mistakes and synonyms and stemming, and you have to do all that work basically instantaneously. The relevance of search results might be the only thing more important than performance in determining if users will stick with your particular product, or make the trivial switch to another one.

So I was pretty surprised to discover how, er, idiosyncratic the search results were on Live Search for what I — perhaps naively — think of as a pretty straightforward query.

When searching for “Firefox”, the user might want to find the home page for the product, or a description of the history of the project, or maybe even a review of the software. Both Yahoo and Google give you some mix of that, with what seem to me to be pretty reasonable orderings of results.

The Live Search results are a little more difficult for me to understand, since they have the Silverlight developer FAQ as the first result, then an article about cross-site scripting, then an article about ASP.NET, and then the Wikipedia page about Firefox. You have to go to the 8th entry to get the product’s home page, well below the fold on my machine at least. I’ve saved off the results, in case you disbelieve me, or for some reason can’t reproduce them yourself.

Maybe Live Search users really are a different breed, if that’s what they would be most likely to want when searching for Firefox; a ballsy market-differentiation move by Microsoft, if so.

(Canadians don’t call their judges “Your Honour”, and Americans don’t spell honour that way, so the title of this post is a somewhat impossible reference, but I figure you’ll let that slide.)

talk to me, baby

Start your week by telling us what you think!

You have before you two quick opportunities to help Mozilla improve its documentation and show people how great the web is. Let them not pass you by, for regret will linger long after the hangover from Sunday’s partying has left you.

Opportunity the first: help Deb collect great examples of the power of the open web, by linking your favourite web stuff in her blog post. Bonus points for stuff that doesn’t require extra plugins, points may not be redeemable in your jurisdiction, no purchase necessary.

Opportunity the second: tell Sheppy which of the hundreds of documents on MDC you think are the most important, over in his blog post.

not that I was counting or anything

Last Wednesday morning, we were informed that a bug in Quicktime could be used to send untrusted code to a part of Firefox that didn’t expect it. Today, Firefox has been released for your updating pleasure. Seven Six-and-a-quarter days, by my math, including two and a half days of baking on the update-beta channel after our dedicated QA team signed off. Just sayin’.

(While I’m sayin’, though: hats — I will need some parallel haberdashery for this — off to the QA and release-driver folk, and especially to the build team who saw their hard work on automation really pay off huge for us, and for our many, many millions of users.)

Update: a toast!

oh snapdragon

I’m late to this particular announcement, as I didn’t really have useful internet during the critical period last week, but that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm one bit.

The Open Komodo/Snapdragon announcement is very exciting for me, and I suspect for many others in the Mozilla community. Having a basic, extensible IDE built on the same technology as Firefox (and therefore the web) will provide a great focal point for many of the IDE efforts that have been mooted around Mozilla technology over the years. People will be able to focus their energies on the specific tasks they wish to enable or improve, taking advantage of the incredible base that ActiveState has built.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the discussions and planning leading up to this announcement, and I think the most exciting thing about it wasn’t the prospect of the source release, though I am indeed eager to get that technology into the hands of the Mozilla developer community. The most exciting thing for me was seeing the depth of ActiveState’s commitment to the open web, and how enthused they are about helping to create a new open source community. This is a huge, huge investment in the open web by a small, small company, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going to take us — where we’re all going to take each other, in fact.

So thank you to Bart and Shane and David and Erin and all the others at ActiveState who had the vision and courage to make Open Komodo a reality, and to everyone who has already expressed their interest and support for the project. It’s going to be a blast.

blew bayou

Way back in the spring, I was invited by Dr. Andrew Schwarz to speak to some Information Systems & Decision Sciences students at Louisiana State University, after we were introduced by my AMO partner in crime (and his then-student) Justin “iFligtar” Scott.

It’s school season again, so after my Seedcamp trip, and 3.5 precious hours of sleep in a hotel by the Toronto airport, I flew down to Baton Rouge to do a pair of presentations, sample some Cajun cuisine, and generally feel old on campus. In point of fact, I flew to New Orleans and then drove to Baton Rouge, which meant that my arrival for the first presentation was a near thing, as I spent a few hours on the side of I-10 waiting for someone to come and repair a slight problem with my rental car:

Tire blowout

At least it was really humid and the car’s roof was black and I was out in the direct sun; otherwise it could have been really uncomfortable.

I spoke about building software at the scale of the web, and I described some of the defining characteristics of Mozilla’s product development: we build software, we build it at scale, and we build it for the web. I could put my slides up somewhere, but if you’ve seen me give a talk in the last few years you’ll know that my slides are really really bad at standing on their own.

I first spoke with to a small group of enthusiasts, who are part of an industry association for IT professionals. AITP, I think, but it’s sort of a blur. They were politely attentive during my talk, laughed indulgently at my Hasselhoff and Colbert jokes, and asked a range of good questions, on topics varying from how the company organizes itself geographically to, of course, the “10 f’n days” incident. Someone asked how they could get involved with testing of nightly builds, and Justin responded with a bolus load of flyers about the nascent Mozilla university programme. Well played, sir.

After a short, short break, I then went next door to give basically the same talk to around 150 undergraduates. The vast majority of people were Firefox users, though one guy who asked a handful of questions was careful to announce that he was an Opera user (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I didn’t have him removed by campus security or anything). The questions were again quite good, including one that I want to call out specifically, for what little it’s worth. Near the end of the question session, one young woman asked what she said “might be a dumb question”: how does Mozilla fund itself? Mitchell and others have covered that in some detail, so I won’t recap my answer here, but I was quick to point out that it’s not a dumb question at all, and that it’s the sort of thing that we get asked by high-powered execs at Harvard Business School too.

I wonder how many of the other industry speakers get asked such probing and thoughtful questions. Part of me hopes that they all do, because I think it makes the session much more valuable, but part of me also hopes that Mozilla gets more than the usual share because what we do resonates so much with so many people.

One low note: I was asked a few times for kooky Mozilla anecdotes, and I pretty much came up dry. I clearly need to work on my zaniness a bit.

(Oh, sure, now I see that fligtar has a post about this already. Damned kids.)

a seedcamp fly-by

A quirk of scheduling led to a mixed blessing of travel last week. On the bright side, I got to be Mozilla’s representative at Seedcamp, where I acted as a mentor and spoke on a panel about using APIs to build products and businesses. On the less bright side, I was only to be there for a single day (13 hours on the ground in London, as it were) — during a Tube strike — as I was scheduled to be in Baton Rouge the next afternoon for a pair of speaking engagements.

I had an excellent time, and found the mentoring format and conversations to be especially engaging. The businesses aren’t all ones that I’d be interested in working on, but some were very much up my alley, and the entrepreneurs’ energy was quite infectious. They seemed to be making the most of a fantastic opportunity, and it was both a pleasure and honour to participate. Maybe they’ll invite me back for the whole event next year!

twenty four f’n hours

(Everyone else makes that joke, so I figure I might as well help ride it into the ground.)

This Saturday, I have the considerable honour of being the least interesting speaker at the California installment of Mozilla 24, a worldwide 24-hour online conference connecting people from all over the Mozilla world. If you’re in the area, you should run-don’t-walk to find out more, sign up, and prepare yourself emotionally for an onslaught of Mozilla. If you’re in Tokyo, Thailand, or Paris, you can participate in person in one of those locations as well. Or you can join in online through any of a number of interesting activities. Whether you’ve been a part of the Mozilla phenomenon for almost a decade or you only heard of Firefox yesterday, there’s something here for you — and you have something to contribute!

Mozilla 24 is the brainchild of the incredible team at Mozilla Japan, and I’m thrilled to be part of it. As it happens, this will likely be the last plane trip I take this calendar year, and it’s going to be a great note on which to finish.