This is the second of two parts to our interview with Blake Ross. I would have finished the first draft of Chapter 3 today, but I'm just having too much trouble cutting down the good stuff Blake gave us. I have more comments on my thoughts about Blake at my personal blog.
When did “Spread Firefox” start? Are you the soul author?
SpreadFirefox was launched with the Firefox 1.0 preview release in September and is testament to the power of our community: volunteers Daryl Houston and Chris Messina helped us build the entire site in twelve days. So I’m certainly not the soul author of SpreadFirefox itself, though I’d been working on predecessors for about a year before we launched the site. I was most excited about getting some sort of referral system set up to facilitate word-of-mouth. I knew that if we gave people just three things—the current number of downloads, the target number of downloads, and a way to help reach this target and track their contribution—they would do the rest.The affiliate system has been an unprecedented success on the individual level thanks to the passion and energy of our community members, but perhaps even more surprising is how successful it’s been on an organizational level. Within one week of launching SpreadFirefox, two organizations rose to the top of our affiliate list—the Overclockers Club and G4 Tech TV—and each declared war.
We just sat back and smiled as each racked up tens of thousands of referrals in an effort to outdo the other. As far as new media’s effect on the old, this was a great case study: G4 TechTV was referring people not just through its website but also through its television programs, which meant we were getting TV publicity that didn’t cost us a dime. The referral war is also testament to the value of “link currency”; both organizations were competing to be linked from our “top affiliate” box on the front page of SpreadFirefox, which has a very high Google PageRank (it’s the third result for “Firefox” after Firefox.com and Mozilla.org).The affiliate system is just one manifestation of our SpreadFirefox vision: we provide the tools to organize and execute campaigns, and a central meeting place, but community members call the shots. We use the same CivicSpace platform that powered Howard Dean’s grassroots campaign. We have over 100,000 registered
SpreadFirefox members [note: we actually have 85,000 right now, but by the time your book is published, we will have well over 100,000.
When did you reach 1 million downloads? 10 million? 25 million?
We reached 1 million downloads on the first day, 10 million by the end of the first month, and 25 million by mid-February.
What sort of press coverage did this effort generate?
Every few weeks, we run another major campaign on SpreadFirefox that invariably leads to another round of press coverage. The media keeps tabs on us. Every SpreadFirefox member gets a free blog, and the blog posts that the community rates most highly are promoted to the blog on the front page of SpreadFirefox to make up the day’s list of top marketing activities. A number of reporters are subscribed to this feed and report on the progress of both our official and community campaigns.
As a pioneer of ‘open-source marketing’ and as a shining demonstration of viral marketing, SpreadFirefox is also a story in itself that has garnered plenty of press attention and inspired a variety of spin-offs, including SpreadOpera.com, SpreadNetscape.com, SpreadIE.com, SpreadSeamonkey.com, SpreadMozilla.com, SpreadOpenSource.com, SpreadOpenOffice.org, SpreadLinux.com, SpreadFreeBSD.com, SpreadMambo.com and SpreadUbuntu.com (many of these sites are currently under construction, but we know of them because their developers have contacted us to learn about our successes and failures down this path).
Did you see a correlation between press coverage and downloads?
Were there spikes or have downloads been this one amazing steady waterfall of downloads? Our downloads stabilized at about 200,000 per day soon after the launch, and they haven’t let up since. We see some minor spikes after particularly high-profile press coverage, but for the most part we’re witnessing steady growth thanks to the word-of-mouth networks we’ve built up.
Whose idea was the user fundraising for the NY Times ad? How much did you raise and how long did it take you? What were the results of the ad?
The New York Times campaign was Rob Davis’ brainchild. Rob was an Internet Explorer user who contracted a virus that wiped out his hard drive. He promptly switched to Firefox and (in his own words) was so enamored by it that he wanted to help spread it to others. Rob contacted me and introduced himself as a PR executive who wanted to volunteer his time to orchestrate a massive campaign on a scale unlike anything Firefox had ever undertaken. He didn’t pitch it as a traditional advertisement, however; he proposed that we use it to commemorate the launch of Firefox 1.0 and celebrate the thousands of community volunteers who made it possible. In just a few weeks, we organized the campaign through SpreadFirefox and ended up raising $250,000—enough to purchase two full page ads and still have plenty of money left over for other launch-related activities. Every person that donated had their name listed in the ad.
The ad caused a noticeable spike in downloads, but as with SpreadFirefox in general, the real story was the campaign itself and the power of our community. The press covered the entire effort from beginning to end, which is just what we planned.
Other than the Times ad, have you used any traditional marketing tactics—press releases, banner ads, etc?
We’ve never had a need to buy banner ads; hundreds of thousands of sites voluntarily carry our buttons. The Mozilla Foundation does put out “press releases” on its website from time to time.
Do you think what you have done has lessons applicable to other companies? What are they?
People don’t want to hear you talk about how great your product is, so save your time and money. They want to hear it from their friends, their family, their coworkers and other people actually using the product, and the only way you’re going to make that happen is by building a product that people like to use. We didn’t launch SpreadFirefox until we had that product, and we didn’t know we had that product until the bloggers and others started to tell us.
Can you share a few colorful anecdotes that would help to make our book a best-seller?
• About two months ago, we started to notice that one of our SpreadFirefox volunteers was being quoted frequently in c|net and other stories as a “Mozilla spokesman.” A few confused e-mails later, our team confirmed that we had not in fact hired a spokesman; the media found the volunteer through his blog. But the guy was doing such a great job fielding press questions that we actually considered bringing him on board!
• One of our SpreadFirefox initiatives was a “For the Record” team of about 100 volunteers who were responsible for contacting reporters to either correct mistaken stories or thank them for writing accurate ones. In time, however, and of its own volition, the team took on the additional responsibility of actually soliciting new Firefox stories. They came to manage what I call [in a complete bastardization of the term] the “long tail” of press: rather than going after the USA Today’s and the CNN’s, they went after tons and tons of niche news markets and urged them to write stories about Firefox. We thought the time spent convincing one or two major outlets to cover Firefox was better spent convincing hundreds of smaller ones. (This was back before the Firefox press boom.) One of the team’s higher-profile successes was landing a story on a small ABC affiliate station in Texas:
(the story begins, “My inbox began to fill up with emails from a unified group - users of the Mozilla Firefox browser.” That was the team.)