Just over three years ago, Mozilla made an interesting move:
Today we've announced the launch of Mozilla Messaging, the new name for the entity I've been calling MailCo on this blog. As promised, it's a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, focused on email and internet communications.
Spinning out Thunderbird and email-related work was based on a premise:
Email is more important than ever, and yet it's no longer the only game in town, or even the dominant one for younger generations or emerging economies. It is worthwhile considering what the right user experience could be for someone using multiple email addresses, multiple instant messaging systems, IRC, reading and writing on blogs, using VoIP, SMS, and the like. What parts of those interactions make sense to integrate, and where? I don't believe that stuffing all of those communication models inside of one application is the right answer. But the walled gardens that we're faced with today aren't the right answer either. There is room for innovation and progress here, and we need to facilitate it.
The problem is that email isn't more important than ever: it's increasingly being displaced by those other things mentioned above. Indeed, for those "younger generations", I think email is pretty much dead.
So against that background, the following news is perhaps not too surprising:
The Web has changed a lot in the last few years. One of the big changes is how much we now use the Web for messaging, communication and social interactions. We post messages on social networking sites, we tweet, we get messages (often known as "notifications") from applications, we use Web-based mail systems. The pace and importance of innovation in this space is enormous and growing.
Mozilla has been exploring new ways to put people in control of their online communications and social interactions for a couple of years now. We currently have two teams. One is the team at Mozilla Messaging, which produces Thunderbird and messaging innovations such as Raindrop and F1. The second team is within Mozilla Labs, and has been working on identity, contacts and related topics.
We intend to combine the two teams to increase our effectiveness. Practically this means we'll be integrating Mozilla Messaging with Mozilla Labs. David Ascher will lead a new innovation group within Mozilla Labs focused on online communications and social interactions on the Web. After the teams merge into Mozilla Labs we will dissolve Mozilla Messaging. This simplifies our overall structure.
Now, I'm a big fan of Thunderbird, but I do wonder where Mozilla is going with it. Hiving off messaging hasn't worked, so the organisation needs to come up with a new strategy in this sector.
Unfortunately, quite what that should be isn't at all obvious: the patterns of online communication are changing dramatically, and coming up with a way for Mozilla to meet people's needs is going to be hard. Perhaps it should explore whether its new Web apps approach could be applied here too....