Happy Birthday, Firefox

Eight years ago, the internet and everything involved with it from online business to social media was very different than today. Flip-phones were hip and a smart phone was not anywhere on the radar of the average person. Facebook was still a college email-only social site. There wasn’t much of a move to social media back then.

All of us were still living in a world dominated by Microsoft. Internet Explorer was our browser, Windows our OS. Then came along a small group of developers at a company called Mozilla.

Firefox Turns 8

Eight years ago today, Mozilla released its own web browser, Firefox, to the world. I never really thought I’d look back on the release of a web browser as an important moment in internet history, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense to talk about Firefox today.

Stan Schroeder with Mashable writes, “Mozilla’s open source browser was seen as a breath of fresh air.” Internet Explorer, aggressively pushed by Microsoft as essentially the only browser available to consumers, was rigid, slow, clunky, and a closed system. Its design was not ideal for the direction of the internet.

With Firefox, the developers at Mozilla embarked on a truly risky endeavor. Who in their right minds would take on a multi-billion dollar juggernaut like Microsoft? Imagine the pressure starting with that project.

Firefox’s Mission is now the Direction of the Internet

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that Firefox has done well. On their own blog, Mozilla writes of the beginnings of Firefox stating, “We believed that a community of people who understood the power of the web, and who put people above profits, could build something amazing.”

The thing that strikes me the most about Firefox is the fact that they were one of the first mainstream open source and user-based projects on the web to really succeed in the spotlight. Adoption of the browser took off like wildfire; the developers had made a browser that people liked. It was different, faster, sleeker and cooler. And it was free!

Firefox, as Dave Neal relates for The Inquirer, was the “first alternative browser to really chip away at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominance.” It was the first small project from small beginnings that reached prominence quickly. It didn’t have unlimited funding, it wasn’t developed by the greatest minds at some company or on the web, and it wasn’t institutional. But it worked.

Firefox’s Symbol

In many ways, Firefox stands for the potential of the internet. Never before have people been able to have tremendous impact on the world and on others from very humble beginnings. Its story, however small in the big scope of things, is somewhat David and Goliath-like. I’ll admit, the internet would have made it to where it is today, but I like to think that Firefox’s example created inspiration that played an important role.

Now crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Gofundme bring people together to support projects of all shapes and sizes. A small idea can turn into something massive, or at least sell for lots of money (*cough* Instagram *cough*). Social media, content marketing, open source platforms, and inbound marketing have turned the internet from a top-down system into one that is based on users first, and grows from there.

Things were just starting to change in the internet ecosystem towards more open and diverse services and products. Then Firefox burst onto the scene and showed us that we can make whatever we want and we can make it better. Focus on the people and your product will be great. I think this idea is still going strong as the attention to, and effectiveness of, social media and the user experience continue to grow. So, Happy Birthday Firefox. May your next eight years help bring more of the same spirit to the internet.

What direction do you see the internet heading?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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