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[RM: Seems to have been inspired by some of the adverse experience Toronto had with Google subsidiary Sidewalk Labs. See:]

Johnathan Nightingale
Bestselling author (x2!),
Founder @rawsignalgroup, Board @VentureKidsCan, DCP.
Ex @Hubba , @Firefox , @creativecommons , @IBM
It's all made of people.
Toronto he/him
Joined May 2007

6:10 PM Apr 12, 2019

So, I want to talk about Google/Alphabet and "amateur hour" tactics. It's a piece of the #BlockSidewalk discussion I may have unique perspective on. Because they've run this play on me before.

I spent 8 years at Mozilla working on Firefox, and, for almost all of that time, Google was our biggest partner. Our revenue share deal on search drove 90% of Mozilla's income.

When I started at Mozilla in 2007, there was no Google Chrome, and most folks we spoke with inside were Firefox fans. They were building an empire on the Web; we were building the Web itself. When Chrome launched, things got complicated, but not in the way you might expect. They had a competing product now, but they didn't cut ties, break our search deal - nothing like that. In fact, the story we kept hearing was, "We're on the same side. We want the same things."

I think our friends inside Google genuinely believed that. At the individual level, their engineers cared about most of the same things we did. Their product and design folks made many decisions very similarly, and we learned from watching each other. But Google as a whole is very different than individual Googlers. Google Chrome ads started appearing next to Firefox search terms. Gmail & GDocs started to experience selective performance issues and bugs, on Firefox. Demo sites would falsely block Firefox as "incompatible."

All of this is stuff you're allowed to do, to compete, of course. But we were still a search partner, so we'd say "Hey, what gives?" And every time, they'd say, "Oops. That was accidental. We'll fix it in the next push in 2 weeks."

Over and over. Oops. Another accident. "We'll fix it soon. We want the same things. We're on the same team." There were dozens of oopses. Hundreds, maybe?

I'm all for "don't attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence", but I don't believe Google is that incompetent. I think they were running out the clock. We lost users during every oops. And we spent effort and frustration every clock tick on that, instead of improving our product. We got outfoxed for a while, and by the time we started calling it what it was, a lot of damage had been done.

This is not a thread about blaming Google for Firefox troubles, though. We at Mozilla wear that ourselves, me more than anyone for my time as Firefox VP. But I see the same play happening here in my city, and I don't like it. And for me it means two things:

1. The question is not whether individual Sidewalk Labs people have pure motives. I know some of them, just like I know plenty on the Chrome team. They're great people. But focus on the behaviour of the organism as a whole. At the macro level, Google/Alphabet is very intentional.

2. When Google wants to get a thing done, it is very effective. Mistakes happen, but when you see a sustained pattern of "oops" & delay from this organization — you're being outfoxed. Get there faster than I did.

(I was slow to come around to this — despite admiring and learning from @biancawylie [RM: writer and an open government and public technology advocate Bianca Wylie] and @ThisTechGirl [RM: Canadian entrepreneur, author and founder of TechGirls Canada Saadia Muzaffar] every day — because I still have optimism about the good that civic tech can do. But this project doesn't give me that optimism any more, if it ever did. #BlockSidewalk)