|Title:||IM Interview with John Slater|
|Contributed by:||[no contributor]|
|Added on:||15 May 2008|
|Type of Object:||Text|
|Categories||interview, instant message|
Interview with John Slater over instant messenger.
AIM IM with John Slater
9/20/07, 1:07 PM
Giny Cheong: Hi John!
John Slater: Hi
Giny Cheong: Thanks for taking the time for the interview.
John Slater: Sure thing!
Giny Cheong: I'm going to start with the background questions...
Giny Cheong: When did you start using computers?
John Slater: I started using computers sometime in the early 80s. I don't remember exactly when, but my family got a Commodore 64 that I mainly used for playing video games.
John Slater: Actually, I should change that to "entirely used for playing video games"!
Giny Cheong: So, your first interest in computers was gaming?
John Slater: Yes, although I've never been hardcore enough to consider myself a gamer. I don't even play video games now. But when I was a kid, definitely. I had an Atari 2600 before that, and the Commodore was a big upgrade.
Giny Cheong: Did you get any formal computer training at any point?
John Slater: Nope. I had a computer class in 7th grade, but it was pretty worthless as I recall.
John Slater: I think I learned to make a phrase like "John is cool" scroll across the screen to infinity, but that's about the extent of my coding knowledge.
Giny Cheong: Can you tell me your official title at Mozilla and what your job entails?
John Slater: My official title is Creative Director. That basically means I'm heavily involved with stuff like our visual style, look & feel of Mozilla.com, copy tone and the Mozilla and Firefox brands.
John Slater: I've also wound up playing a pretty big role in managing the Mozilla Store.
Giny Cheong: Could you please clarify copy tone?
John Slater: Sure - by copy tone I just mean our written style...the company "voice", if that makes sense.
John Slater: I started out as a copywriter, so that stuff is near & dear to my heart.
Giny Cheong: Ok, thanks!
Giny Cheong: What's your educational background and how did you end up at Mozilla?
John Slater: I have a B.A. in History from Rhodes College, which is a small liberal arts school in Memphis. I always figured I would go back to grad school at some point, but then I sort of happened into this career and started learning stuff on the job so I eventually decided that wasn't necessary.
John Slater: I wound up at Mozilla because of a woman named Lisa Gansky, who is veteran of the tech industry out here...she co-founded Ofoto, where I worked for 6 years. When I'd finally had my fill of Ofoto, I reached out to her and she put me in touch with Paul Kim in the marketing department here. Lisa has done some consulting for Mozilla...she's basically one of those people who knows everybody, so she was a great introduction.
Giny Cheong: Do you generally work alone or in groups?
John Slater: A little of both, but more often in groups. I certainly prefer it that way. At the bare minimum, I'll usually at least work with an outside designer on a project. But more often than that I'll try to involve a few other people here in the office to help, or people in the community if possible. It's always good to get other perspectives.
John Slater: I can elaborate on that more if you want...
Giny Cheong: What kind of design projects do you work with outside designers on?
John Slater: Pretty much all of them. We don't have a graphic designer on staff here so we either work with individual freelancers or agencies on everything.
John Slater: For example, some recent projects include the new Firefox first run page, the new Firefox download page, the Mozilla Store redesign, an upgrade to the careers section on Mozilla.com, the launch of the Firefox Campus Edition, etc. I can give a lot more examples, or break down the specifics if you want.
Giny Cheong: I understand that Mozilla has a particular visual style with a look&feel. How much work do you devote to tweaking this versus new initiatives?
John Slater: Good question. It's not really an issue of either/or right now, b/c I try to incorporate this style into pretty much all new projects, or at least ones centered around Mozilla.com. Every time we do that, the style evolves a little bit, but we still try to stay close to the essentials, like that blue background you see in a lot of places. I think that really represents the Mozilla identity online, so we need to stick to that.
John Slater: Then there are other projects, like the Mozilla Store, where we can push the boundaries a bit b/c they're one step removed from the core brand. On that, we kept some of the basic colors and design elements, but also added a lot of new ones so it should stand on its own.
John Slater: When Firefox 3 launches next year, we'll introduce more new visual elements as part of that, so that will involve more than just tweaking -that'll be a huge project. But until then, we're sticking with what we have now. It seems to work.
Giny Cheong: How and when was the Mozilla style created?
John Slater: Most of the current look was before my time, but I can give you a quick history.
John Slater: It was done in different pieces. For example, the current look of the website, with the silhouettes and blue gradients, was done to support the Firefox 2 launch. That was created by an agency called Nobox (another Lisa Gansky referral) and was overseen by Paul Kim and Mike Beltzner.
John Slater: Of course, the #1 visual element by far that we use is the Firefox logo. Rather than trying to summarize it myself, I'll just direct you here:
John Slater: http://www.hicksdesign.co.uk/journal/branding-firefox
Giny Cheong: Cool, thanks!
John Slater: That's the site of an English designer named Jon Hicks...he rendered the Firefox logo based on some ideas and sketches done by other folks like Steven Garrity. There are some good links from the page I just sent that have even more detail.
John Slater: Lots of good Firefox history there!
John Slater: Oh, I should mention that other key figures in creating the logo were Daniel Burka and Stephen Desroches...both referenced in that article.
Giny Cheong: Regarding the copy tone, what is your role there? Do you get to do much of the writing or approve it?
John Slater: A little of both...for particularly big projects, or when I'm really busy, I usually outsource the writing to a copywriter. On projects that are small or require a lot of inside knowledge about our messaging, I do it.
John Slater: For example, when we launched the store we worked with a copywriter named Elise Allen to write descriptions for all the products. But when we launch new pages on Mozilla.com that really go into the nuances of what's good about Firefox and why you should use it, I usually write that stuff.
John Slater: As for the tone itself, I haven't really formalized it yet, although I have a rough idea in my head. One of my current projects is actually working on a messaging document that will hopefully make this stuff more clear so people besides me and Elise can write for us in the same style.
Giny Cheong: What is your role regarding the Mozilla and Firefox brands? Is there a similar standard for using the brands?
John Slater: Great question. It's really tricky, and took me awhile to figure out the distinctions. That's definitely something we need to be more clear about, in terms of distinguishing them from each other.
John Slater: Anyway, my role is to be the brand guy here at Mozilla, so I'm more or less the day-to-day 'owner' of the brands. I set standards for how they're used, try to make sure that the things we do are consistent with our values and goals, try to make sure that people's perceptions of Mozilla and Firefox are what we want.
Giny Cheong: Also, did you have any role with branding in Thunderbird or any other Mozilla projects?
John Slater: The brands themselves are different, but like I was saying we need to do more in terms of distinguishing them. To me, Mozilla is the umbrella that Firefox falls under. Mozilla represents open source, freedom, advancement for new technologies on the internet...things like that. Firefox stands for those things too, of course, but to me it's less abstract and more tangible - it's the primary tool we use to push for those things. Firefox is also a lot more consumer-facing, so that impacts how we communicate about it...there are tens of millions of people who use Firefox who probably aren't even very aware of what Mozilla is...they just know it's a great browser.
John Slater: Most of the work I do is really about Firefox, although like I was saying, I want to work more on making the Mozilla identity more clear. For example, the Mozilla.com homepage right now is almost entirely about Firefox. I'm working on a project now to revise it that hopefully will present a clearer picture of some of the Mozilla values...while still promoting Firefox, of course.
John Slater: As for Thunderbird and other projects, I haven't had too much involvement in those yet. My primary focus is definitely on Firefox and getting the word out about that.
John Slater: I do like the Camino browser, though!
Giny Cheong: Why do you think Mozilla - in particular Mozilla Firefox - has been able to attract a large number of users?
John Slater: To answer your questions about why Firefox has gotten so many users, I think it came along at the right time. Microsoft had such a monopoly over browsers that they'd gotten very complacent - obviously IE6 hadn't been improved in a long time and a lot of things about the internet were getting very crappy with all the popups, viruses, etc.
Giny Cheong: What sets it apart from other open source projects or even other Mozilla projects?
John Slater: So when Firefox came along, it was like a breath of fresh air in a very stagnant environment...that really kickstarted a lot of new developments in this area, and now browsers in general are a lot better.
Giny Cheong: Alright, let's go off on an explored topic... could you describe your role in the Mozilla store and when you got involved?
John Slater: Sure. When I started at Mozilla they were already planning on revamping the store and since I have a lot of e-commerce experience it was a good fit for met to get involved. At that point David Rolnitzky and I basically wrote out the plan of what we wanted to change, came up with some wireframes for the store design and selected an agency to do the design work.
John Slater: While this was happening, I also worked with several different designers to come up with some new merchandise for the store...we were trying to add a little more style in there beyond the standard Firefox logo shirts.
John Slater: And lastly, David and I worked on the promotional plan for spreading the word about the store once it launched - that included our first ever promo email, a snippet on the Firefox/Google start page, some printed coupons and of course, lots of blogging.
John Slater: Now that the store has launched there's still a lot of regular maintenance - sorting through comments in the blog, addressing customer issues, planning new merchandise, etc.
John Slater: We basically launched an e-commerce site from the ground up...a fun experience.
Giny Cheong: How do you think the online community responded to the store? Are you getting lots of customers for shirts?
John Slater: Generally, the response has been pretty good. Of course, the Mozilla community is very opinionated one, so people haven't been shy about sharing their critiques as well. The biggest one has been that we need to sell larger sizes of our t-shirts, which we're working on. Other than that, the reaction has been pretty positive...sales are way up, which is nice.
John Slater: The main reasons we do the store are to raise awareness of the brand, to give loyal fans an opportunity to get some cool gear, and to make some money for the Mozilla Foundation. The money-making aspect isn't the primary thing, but since 100% of the profits go to the foundation, it is a very nice thing to be able to do.
Giny Cheong: Was the store's promotional plan a new initiative? How does it differ from promoting Mozilla and its products, or the foundation?
John Slater: We'd never really promoted the store that heavily before, so I would say it was a new initiative. It differed from promoting Mozilla in the sense that we were talking to people who already knew about Mozilla, so we were able to promote the store specifically. If we were talking to a group of people who didn't know anything about Mozilla, of course we wouldn't lead with the store, but in this case we were able to promote the store as its own entity. We know that our customers are already quite familiar with the rest of Mozilla...
John Slater: Oh, I should also mention that we have an international store, based out of the UK, that we're updating as well. That was the other big customer comment - that we need more international access - so that's definitely in the works.
Giny Cheong: Do you feel there's a need to actively promote Mozilla or its products? Are you looking for new users or could Mozilla stand on its formidable reputation for innovative open source programs?
John Slater: I hope there's a need to actively promote Mozilla & Firefox because otherwise I wouldn't have a job!
John Slater: Seriously though, I definitely think that's important. We've had great successes so far in building Firefox to its current state, but nobody wants to rest on that. We absolutely want to find new users.
John Slater: Our stated goal is to have 30% of the world's internet users using Firefox - right now we're at about 17-18%, so we still have work to do.
John Slater: Plus, we're competing against some massive companies with massive budgets - Microsoft, Apple, etc - so we need to be very active in order to play in their league.
Giny Cheong: What do you think are the best ways you're currently reaching out to the potential audience?
John Slater: Do you mean what are our most effective current programs?
Giny Cheong: Hmm... from the new user perspective, what do you think makes them choose Mozilla?
John Slater: I think we have a great product. That makes the marketing dept's job a lot easier. Granted, we still have to explain to a lot of people that your browser is a choice you make, rather than defaulting that blue E, but the nice thing is that Firefox really is a great product and people generally like it when they try it.
John Slater: Because of that, there's definitely a lot of word of mouth working in our favor, which has been a huge help. The more we can support initiatives like Spread Firefox, where we can give people tools to help that word of mouth support, the better.
Giny Cheong: What is your vision for Mozilla moving forward?
John Slater: That's a tough question! I would like to see us continue to make Firefox more widely used - getting to that 30% figure would be great - and beyond that, make the whole notion of open source more mainstream and more widely understood.
John Slater: I think there are a lot of positive applications of open source that go beyond software...would be good for a lot of things if we could communicate the benefits of that, or better yet, serve as an example of what's possible when you conduct your business in this way.
Giny Cheong: How would you list Mozilla's priorities? How have they changed over time?
John Slater: Well, our mission statement states that we're all about promoting freedom of choice and innovation on the Internet, and from where I sit that still feels like the top priority around here. That can be interpreted in a lot of ways, of course, but people are very committed to that notion.
John Slater: I've only worked here for seven months, so to be honest I'm not sure if I can give you a very accurate picture of how they've changed over time. I'm sure things have evolved as the company has grown and developed, but it feels to me like the core goal has stayed the same.
Giny Cheong: Chase Phillips has described the Mozilla Corporation as "opaque" and lacking "knowledge of where the place as a whole was headed." What do you think about that characterization? How does it square with your own experiences?
John Slater: I don't really agree with that. Like I said, I've been here a relatively short amount of time, but I disagree about the lack of directional knowledge comment. To me, there's a pretty clear sense in everybody who works here about why we're here and what we're supposed to do - all going back to that mission statement.
John Slater: As for it being opaque, I will agree that it can be kind of a confusing place to navigate around if you're a newcomer - definitely takes a few months to understand how the process works around here, etc - but I don't think that's so bad.
John Slater: I certainly wouldn't call the overall organization opaque.
Giny Cheong: How much communication and coordination is there between different groups of people and projects?
John Slater: That probably depends on the people and projects...can you be more specific?
Giny Cheong: Hmm... this could be two questions... by different kinds of people, for example marketing and developers/coders
Giny Cheong: and across projects, like Firefox and the Calendar...
John Slater: As far as communication between people goes, I'd say that there's a lot of it. Mozilla being so open, everyone is sort of empowered to jump in on comment on anything else. For example, when we changed the Firefox first run page (the first page you see after you download and launch Firefox for the first time), we reviewed that with people from a few different departments to get their perspectives and buy-ins. Of course, the engineers don't ask me for advice about coding very often!
John Slater: As far as across projects goes, in my experience at least, there's probably less of that. I haven't been involved in any joint Firefox-Thunderbird efforts, for example. That could just be me, but like I said earlier, my primary focus is on Firefox stuff.
Giny Cheong: To what extent has Mozilla relied on the work of volunteers? Why do you think other people volunteer?
John Slater: The impact of volunteers has been huge, no doubt. I'm positive that Mozilla and Firefox wouldn't be anywhere near where they are today without the help of 1000s of people around the world.
John Slater: There are only roughly 100 paid Mozilla Corporation employees, and our biggest competition has something like 40,000 employees. It's definitely a David & Goliath situation...our advantage is that we have this group of people who are willing to help out. John Lilly calls it "fighting above our weight". Without that, I'm sure we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
John Slater: I would think that people volunteer to be a part of something that's meaningful to them. Because Firefox, for example, truly was built by the people, everyone who's worked on it can claim some ownership. That pride of ownership is a powerful thing. Plus, there are some really smart people around the world who might not have easy access to the type of jobs that would fulfill them, so being able to work on an advanced project like Firefox has to be really enjoyable for them.
John Slater: I think pride of ownership is the main thing - that's what's really nice about open source. Everyone is a part of it.
Giny Cheong: Recently there has been much discussion over Mozilla's decision to change it's support of Thunderbird. A few months before this Ben Goodger even went so far as to write, "The Mozilla Corporation should rename itself the "Firefox Corporation", since that is clearly what it is for." (http://www.bengoodger.com/2007/04/the_autonomous_future.html) How do you feel about these decisions with regard to Mozilla's focus?
John Slater: From what I've seen, I think spinning off Thunderbird will be a good thing for all involved. Rather than having to compete with Firefox and other projects for Mozilla resources, it will have its own team of people working on it. That seems like a positive to me.
John Slater: As for renaming it the Firefox Corporation, I'm not into that idea. I think that Mozilla as both an actual entity and a concept have life besides just Firefox. Like I was saying earlier in this chat, Mozilla is kind of the umbrella that goes over everything. Firefox is the leading product that has come out of it so far, and is the main tool we use to spread the Mozilla mission, but I think Mozilla as an independent concept is still very relevant in all this.
John Slater: Plus, who's to say what things will be like in 10 years? Firefox and browsers in general could be obsolete...maybe Mozilla will be known for something else entirely by then.
John Slater: The main thing to me is that Mozilla stands for these notions of open source, freedom on the internet, innovation, etc. Those are the really important concepts - Firefox is just an extension of them.
Giny Cheong: Have you contributed (as a volunteer or employee) to any non-Mozilla open source projects? If so, to which ones and in what capacity did you participate? How did those experiences compare to your work experiences at Mozilla?
John Slater: Nope, Mozilla is my first open source project.
Giny Cheong: Do you have experiences working on commercial products? How did those experiences differ from working on open source?
John Slater: Yeah, most of my background is in e-commerce. I worked for Ofoto.com (later KodakGallery.com) for six years, and before that I worked for several other dot coms.
John Slater: It's fairly different, although not as different as I might have expected.
John Slater: The main thing here is the extra layer of transparency - the notion that everything you do is really a conversation with the community at large. It's fun - I have a blog at www.intothefuzz.com that I use to report on my projects and solicit input. I think having that extra layer is really cool.
John Slater: At other companies, the main focus is making money, which is different than here. However, our main focus is increasing Firefox marketshare, so in the end you're still focusing on a pretty defined goal.
Giny Cheong: Do you consider open source software projects as public service?
John Slater: Definitely. If you look at the state of the Internet 4-5 years ago, when it was essentially controlled by a single monopolistic corporation and innovation was pretty choked off, and then compare it to now it's a pretty huge difference. Not saying that Mozilla was responsible for all of that, but it certainly can claim some credit for fostering a new atmosphere. In general, anything that rallies a bunch of people together to work for the greater good feels like public service to me.
Giny Cheong: What (if anything) do you think the popularity of Firefox will do for the open source software movement as a whole? Do you think open source techniques can be applied to other areas of production in today's society?
John Slater: I think Firefox's popularity has already inspired the growth of a lot of new open source projects, which is great.
John Slater: And I definitely think open source techniques can be applied to other areas...that's one of the most exciting things about it for me. I mean, I have no real knowledge about code or software development, but I love the concept of products built by the people, for the people rather than by a corporation for their own benefit.
Giny Cheong: What do you think is the future of open source?
John Slater: I think the open source model has a lot of applications in business, government and many other areas that aren't at all related to software - the lessons of being open and transparent, engaging people around the world and really listening to what they have to say, collaborating with others, etc are all great things to follow.
John Slater: (that answer was to your previous question, btw - now for the future of open source one)
John Slater: Well, I'd like to believe that the success of Mozilla and Firefox so far will inspire other companies to follow similarly open models. And like I was saying, the exciting thing for me is the idea that this could apply to areas way beyond just software. I have some friends who are very into the sustainable business concept, and this feels like it ties right into that. Not to get too grandiose here, but hopefully this represents a better way of doing things...our current model is really screwing up the world in a lot of ways, and I'd like to believe that there are lessons we can learn from open source about an alternate path.
Giny Cheong: Thanks so much!
John Slater: You're welcome! This was fun.
[Anonymous], Mozilla Digital Memory Bank, Object #7528, 15 May 2008, <http://mozillamemory.org/detailview.php?id=7528> (accesed 26 April 2017)
|Title:||IM Interview with John Slater|
|Description:||Interview with John Slater over instant messenger.|