Website Success: Part Four

This is a followup to Website Success: Part One, Website Success: Part Two and Website Success: Part Three.

I ended the last post by saying that Firefox had penetrated the browser market, overcoming the inertia present in millions of Internet Explorer users. Let’s examine how and why that happened.

I believe that Firefox has taken such a large market share because of how it appealed to users. Not *that* it appealed, but how. Namely, it appealed to the human emotions that I stress so strongly. What do I mean by that? Well, I can think of a host of things that contributed.

First, security. People hear about worms, viruses, malware, etc. For a long-time, you would hear about how such and such worm is being spread across the internet by something like Outlook. I don’t really see it in the news as often, but during the period of heavy Firefox growth, I remember hearing about worms all the time. People were afraid of the unknown! I’ll bet that millions of people got infected by something they clicked on in Outlook and, after they fixed the problem, they said to themselves — I’m going to shore up my computer’s security. So then they probably downloaded all the free software they could find. Things like AdAware and Firefox blew up because of the security problems with Windows and Internet Explorer. Firefox made people feel safe and that was more than enough to knock millions of people off their previous IE path.

Second, open source. People root for the underdog. The Firefox About Us page says the following:

Mozilla is not a traditional software company. We are a global community and public benefit organization dedicated to improving the Internet experience for people everywhere.

We work in the open through a highly disciplined, transparent and cooperative process to coordinate the development and marketing of Mozilla technologies and products as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. The Mozilla Corporation has no outside shareholders. The Mozilla Foundation is a California non-profit corporation exempt from federal income tax under IRC 501(c)3.

This unique structure enables Mozilla to financially support and cultivate competitive, viable community innovation. The result is great products built by passionate people — and better choices for everyone.

While I don’t think the “fight against microsoft” attitude was the primary reason for Firefox growth, there’s no doubt in my mind that lots of people take out their anger against Microsoft by using products like Firefox. As soon as there was good alternative to IE, people were gone. Don’t discount the negative press that Microsoft received for, literally, years as the DOJ’s antitrust case was proceeding. That case, in large part, revolved around Microsoft’s heavy-handed tactics with Internet Explorer and the subsequent crushing of Netscape. People have it in their minds that Internet Explorer is something from the “big corporation” and is being forced on them. That just doesn’t sit well. Firefox comes along as this progressive, open-source, non-profit organization that is “for the people.” That sells. That gets people to DO something. In the affiliate world, people would say “it converts.” And at the end of the day, it’s really converting on the basis of emotions, not necessarily functionality. Also, regardless of the Mozilla Foundation being non-profit, Firefox has tremendous value (I won’t get into the how of monetization stuff for now).

Third, don’t discount functionality. I don’t think it was a primary reason at all for Firefox’s rise, but it definitely factored in. A faster browser with tons of custom add-ons with tabbed browsing definitely helped Firefox. But those aren’t so much converting on the basis of emotion as the other factors above. Security is arguably functionality, but I would say that in this specific case, it really is more of an emotional factor than a purely functional one — the reason is that lots of people used IE safely, it wasn’t like it was “necessary” to have Firefox to avoid getting a virus. I suppose you could also argue that “happiness” or something like that is an emotional response to increased functionality, but that isn’t really what I’ve been harping on for the last few posts. When I say emotional response, I’m talking about things like fears, jealousy, curiousity, etc. The strongest motivators to get people to do things.

So that’s how Firefox broke through (in my opinion). I’ll continue this with some more case studies and hopefully additional insight. I know that everyone here is not an entrepreneur and not everyone cares about how to build websites and products that bring people in day after day, but this is what I do. So I enjoy blogging about it. The truth is, I could easily write a book about this type of thing. It might not be worthwhile for people to read, but I’m just saying I feel like I have that much stuff to say. So at some point I’ll cut this off and get on some other topic or whatever, but I hope these posts can inspire or help at least a few people out there to make truly great websites.

2 thoughts on “Website Success: Part Four

  1. Eric

    I think another reason for Firefox’s success has to do with a point you mentioned earlier, self-interest and specifically self-interest for people who make websites. IE doesn’t recognize web standards (they will now, but they haven’t in the past), which means web pages won’t always display how the designer intended even if they are coded correctly. Web designers are perfectionists and they want their designs to look perfect. While most good designers hack the code so it works in IE, they also passionately badmouth the browser in public hoping 98% of the market will stop using it. They put banners on their website and install it on every computer that isn’t running it, They will even go so far as to make people feel uncomfortable when their default browser is set to IE. For web designers, the more people using Firefox, the better. Less coding and testing — plus it means their designs look perfect every time.

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