Thunderbird market segments

David Ascher dascher at
Mon Apr 26 23:00:01 UTC 2010

  On 4/26/10 2:53 PM, Kent James wrote:
> If I may summarize your views in a way that you will probably object 
> to, but I sincerely believe is accurate, it is that 1) there is no 
> future in a standalone email client like Thunderbird for the 
> individual user, 

I don't believe 1).  I think that there are a variety of things that a 
user-centric communications client can and should address, and that if 
we do it well, that kind of client would be quite successful.  I'm 
thinking not just of the "traditional" benefits of desktop clients, but 
also of benefits like giving people access to multiple types of 
communications from multiple "vendors", allowing for decentralized 
choices around user experiences, allowing for locally hosted copies of 
data under user control, etc.  (I discuss some of them below)

> and 2) MoMo must remain committed to the individual user, 

Yes to 2).

> therefore 3) Thunderbird does not make any sense as a flagship product 
> for the future world that you see for MoMo.

3) certainly doesn't follow given that i don't believe 1).

> That's what makes it really hard to make comments on directions for 
> Thunderbird, as it does not really fit into the strategic future of 
> MoMo - your product is RainDrop.

Raindrop is an interesting experiment in a bunch of things, but I see it 
as fairly irrelevant to this conversation.  I'm not sure how you got to 
such a strong belief in my beliefs =).

> It seems to me that MoMo needs to either clearly articulate the 
> technical direction that Thunderbird could take to morph it into a 
> product that matches your strategic vision - or else agree that the 
> individual user is not the ultimate target of Thunderbird, and let it 
> develop into a product focused on various organizational or 
> professional market segments. My fear is that you will hold on to 
> Thunderbird as an individual email client for too long, and in the 
> process allow any possible strength it might have had as an 
> organizational product (or working professional-focused product) to be 
> regressed into oblivion.

I agree that we need to paint a picture of a future version of 
Thuderbird that is compelling, and includes not just technical direction 
but UX vision, participation model, revenue model, etc.  However, I 
don't think that's something that can be done either a) with words 
alone, or b) in isolation.  Which is why I mentioned that we'll be doing 
add-ons to explore ideas, and elicit feedback.

As an example, I'm really interested in Mike Hanson's add-on exploring 
"people in the browser" 
What I find interesting in particular is that my own thoughts about the 
topic have evolved as the add-on has evolved, and as Mike has reacted to 
shifting environmental conditions.  I'm hoping we can do the same with 
our ideas about future possibilities for Thunderbird.

As to whether there is "latent strength" for Thunderbird as an 
enterprise-focused tool, I've tried to be explicit that:

  - MoMo isn't the right organization to do that, for a variety of 
reasons which I've mentioned
  - if someone else is interested in taking that on somehow, I'm more 
than happy to talk.

To me this is us looking at the issue of user-centric or 
enterprise-centric futures for Thunderbird, and deciding quite 
explicitly in which case we'll lead, and in which cases we'll get out of 
the way.

> I personally am not pessimistic about the role of a standalone email 
> client for the individual, but I think that there needs to be some 
> major changes in focus, understanding what, exactly, a standalone 
> client offers over a webmail client, and designing the product to 
> optimize those advantages.

Agreed.  Here are some of my thoughts:

0) Communications have intent, and we need to understand what those are, 
and build our software accordingly.  An email from twitter telling me 
that someone's following me has a completely different intentional 
structure than your email to this list.  In general, we need to be much 
more aware of the social and psychological context of a communication 
than we are now.

1) as the user agent, a communications client can put the user's 
interest ahead of the service provider's.  In particular, the 
communications client can embrace the multiplicity of relationships that 
the user has with both service providers and other people.  Thunderbird 
does that fairly well with respect to email/news (and to some weak 
degree rss), but there are a lot of other modes that people use today.

2) as a client-hosted program, a comm. client should in theory be 
customizable more easily than a hosted webapp.  To the extent that those 
customizations can be _effective_, I think we have an interesting 
strategic advantage.  There are complexities there w.r.t. security, UX 
integrity, economics, etc., but there is a lot of "asymmetric advantage" 
potential there compared to most alternatives.

3) as a public-benefit organization, we should also think differently 
about who controls what.  I think if we are able to think about how to 
build software that puts users in effective control of their digital 
lives, we can win a competitive battle against software that needs the 
users to give up some level of control for their success.  We just need 
to be very cognizant of the fact that control doesn't mean either "lots 
of knobs" or "if you don't like it you can fork it", but instead think 
about the spectrum of control points that different people can use.


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