Sharing the wisdom of Blake Ross, inventor of Firefox

Monday night—as I was driving home from work, making dinner, and puttering about the house—I listened to The City Club's podcast of their June 14th 2006 forum featuring Blake Ross, inventor of Firefox. While I've been subscribed to The City Club's podcast's for quite awhile, I thought Blake's talk might be of interest to you because many of the ideas he applies to program development also apply to Web development. Blake Ross, a 21-year old student and developer, realized some time ago that programmers can't work in a vacuum; instead of focusing inwardly on their code, they need to understand the regular users of the world—people like his parents and grandparents. This was the attitude he brought to the development of Firefox. For those few of you who don't already know, Firefox—a spinoff of Mozilla—is the most standards-compliant Web browser available. It is an open-source application that is not only the preferred browser among the tech crowd, but also quite popular among the less technical who use it. If you are still using the Web browser that came with your computer or that was provided through your Internet service provider, I highly recommend giving Firefox a try. It is very easy to use, displays Web pages properly (if they are coded properly), includes nifty features such as tabbed browsing, and is quite adept at preventing those nasty little pop-up windows that breed so readily in some other browsers. One of the reasons this product has turned out so well is that developers from around the globe have been sharing input, ideas, bugs and solutions throughout the development process. Regular end users have been able to share their input as well. Instead of building something that would simply outfeature the competition, the development team built what users said they needed. And, when the users got what they needed, they told all of their friends, neighbors, and strangers on the street. In his talk Blake mentions the disdain developers often have for marketers, but as it has turned out they themselves have become enormously successful at viral marketing. Word has spread very well; even the words I type right now are contributing to that process. I think we can apply similar models to developing our Web sites. As I've mentioned before, it is important to learn what the end user expects to find on the site. It is equally important that we understand what our colleagues in our departments wish to communicate through our sites. While we don't need to commission expensive surveys or focus groups to do this, we do need to communicate with the relevant parties. And when all is said and done, and our site is ready, we need to get the word out and let people know how to find it. If you listen to Blake Ross's podcast, I think you'll get some ideas on how to do just that.
Related Listening

In case you missed it, I also recommend the City Club's May 05, 2006 forum featuring Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, VP and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, Tracking the Internet into the 21st Century. Among other things, he offers great clarity on the Net Neutrality issue.

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  1. I shy away from open source programs because I think they have security issues. Firefox, for example, allows users to develop and distribute plugins for the browser. How is one to know if a particular plugin is secure? Wait until others have combed through the code and proclaim it secure? I prefer Opera, it offers the features of Firefox without the Open Source security issue. Finally, as Firefox is becoming vogue we are reading that more hackers are focusing their efforts towards it.

    Comment by dave — July 11, 2006 @1:44 pm

  2. I think the relative security of open source programs depends on the community involved. Firefox has so many people involved that they tend to correct security issues far more quickly than Microsoft can for Internet Explorer. I guess the plugins would have to be judged on a case by case basis. I don't use Opera very often, but it is also a good program. I think when it comes to browsers it is important for people to realize they have a choice. They don't just have to use whatever came with their computer.

    Comment by Heidi — July 12, 2006 @1:28 pm

  3. It's incredible to see what kind of an impact a young person like Blake Ross can have on the world when armed with knowledge and ambition. Firefox is appropriately named and I see it gaining presence every day. They have done an excellent job of keeping the community focused on building the browser and ensuring readily updated security patches making it more respected than ie in many circles. Thanks again for the entry. Eric

    Comment by Eric Corl — October 3, 2007 @6:39 pm

  4. This guy is only 21? Wow, so many young people are making money on the Internet today - like Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who invented Facebook. My kids know more about the Internet than I do, lol, but makes me think I should learn.

    Comment by Pittsburgh Invention Patent Services — September 17, 2008 @10:01 am

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