Building or Believing?

As several people have mentioned recently, talking about Mozilla in a comprehensive way is hard. In the new design for we’re introducing people to Mozilla in just a few words and it is particularly difficult to do this in a small space.

Our current approach is to say that We believe that the internet should be public, open and accessible. In earlier comments, there were concerns that this was coming across as a religious message that could be off-putting and that this also didn’t convey any of the actions the community is taking.


Concerns about putting people off are valid, but it’s worth looking into this to find out what is making people uncomfortable since there’s no actual religious content in that message.

One of the definitions of belief is “a body of tenets held by a group” and this seems like an accurate description of Mozilla’s principles. The word itself seems neutral, but it comes loaded with a set of associations. I wonder if the problem then is a worry of having our passion (which is good and which the community has lots of) be confused for zeal (which can definitely be off-putting)? The dictionary lists those as synonyms, so I suppose there’s a fine line.

This concern also applies to other parts of our story. For instance, a manifesto is defined as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer” but how many people assume only radical ideas are published in a manifesto? Calling our publicly declared principles a manifesto is correct, but could it be off-putting for people new to Mozilla?


One way to address this is to change the introduction. Maybe “We are building a public, open and accessible internet” is better? It is certainly true—we’re not a think tank but rather a community of people who do things. On the other hand, this misses some of the poetry of our story. We are doing things, but why?

My feeling is that our passion is a major plus (who wants to get involved with a group of people who aren’t excited about anything?) but we have to be aware of how we are perceived by people who are new to Mozilla. Maybe we keep the passion a click away, so people can find it but it isn’t the first thing they see?

We probably won’t know what’s right until we try some things out. This spot on the home page could rotate and feature several introductions and we’ll see what works best (there are bound to be some interesting optimization tests we could run).

I’m certainly open to ideas about any of this, so please post comments, thoughts or suggestions for better introductions.

23 thoughts on “Building or Believing?

  1. Eh, I think no matter what you say or how you say it, there will be hand wringing. I’d be strongly against entangling religion with the message, but I just don’t see it here.

    Rather, what I *do* see is a bold, confident, and crisp phrase that draws me in with just two words. We believe. It’s powerful and elicits an emotional response. Plus, it’s immediately followed by the rest of the sentence which fills in the context. Watering that down to make it feel safer and more neural weakens the message. “We are building” lacks the passion, and doesn’t really draw me in.

  2. What about “We are passionate about ensuring that the internet should be public, open and accessible.”

    For some reason, corporate messages tend to toss out passionate more frequently than using the word believe to discuss a belief system. That would probably reduce the potential off-putting connotations.

    I have never seen anyone be taken back when I describe the Mozilla manifesto. I have seen a few wry smiles though.. I think it invokes a feeling in some people that because we have a manifesto, we must be a group of idealistic radicals. I wouldn’t change the wording based on those wry smiles though.

  3. I like the ‘we are building’ text more than ‘we believe’. “We believe that the Internet should be…” might be interpreted as saying “We believe that everybody else should change what they’re doing so that the Internet will be…” after the manner of political lobbyists. “We are building” highlights that not only does Mozilla think these are important goals, Mozilla is actively working towards them, and if the reader agrees they are welcome to join in and help.

  4. I agree with dolske completely here — “We believe…” is a powerful, visceral statement that is not necessarily related to religion in any way. As you point out “We are building…” addresses the “what” but not the “why”, and the why is the important bit here.

    I went back and skimmed the manifesto to see if it contained a powerful phrase that we could use here instead of the “We believe…” statement, but didn’t find anything. I would be tempted to revisit the manifesto with this in mind and see if “We believe…” could be worked in there somewhere as well.

  5. I just want to follow up and say that I too agree with dolske. I prefer the phrase “We believe” because of the emotional power it embodies. I feel that “We are passionate about” is a suitable synonym, but it does feel slightly less powerful to me. Probably because of the general over-use of the phrase by corporations.

  6. I think both are important. The foundation and community believes as well as builds. At first glance, “We believe” might give the impression of zeal, but i think the rest of the sentence “unzeals” it. If passion and ideology is what the visitor should see first, then I don’t think there is a problem.

    To me, “We are building a public, open and accessible internet”, sounds like Mozilla is rather building a Wi-Fi net or something.

  7. I’m going to go against my instincts (which say that “building” is better than “believing” because the former is more of a call to action and indicating that we’re not just talking about something, but doing something) and agree with the tide of opinion that suggests we stick with “believe”.

    That said, it would be nice if one of the sub-bullets talked about what we’re currently doing in support of those beliefs, and how others can get involved.

  8. I think that because of how innovative the Mozilla mission is you need to start with the belief or principle behind it. I would wager that outside of the community that it’s not inherently understood what the motivation is behind “building an open, accessible Internet.” And, like Nuss said, by leading with “building” it sounds like Mozilla is just another company creating products.

    Mozilla is value driven. The products created are an extension of those values. So, while the “building” is tremendously important and something to be super-proud of, the “why” behind it is paramount.

  9. @beltzner – I prefer “believe” to “build” in this case because what we do is guided by what we believe — the “do” part may change over time, but the “believe” part is essentially our guiding star.

  10. I think that it depends on what’s the target audience and the goal of the site.

    If we want to expose our manifesto, make something we all identify with and strengthen identity (like a Mozilla Business Card) then “Believe” sounds better.

    But if it’s going to be a place where we want to redirect people interested in what we *do* and possibly consider joining us then we “Build” and “Contribute” sounds better imo.

  11. After yet few more seconds.

    The “believe” sounds wrong next to “get involved”. Little bit like a religious movement – at least from a foreign language perspective. How can I get involved in believing?

    But “we build” and “get involved” match perfectly, don’t they?

  12. “We are building” sounds weak in comparison to “We believe.” I think maybe it’s the progressive, so in that regard, “We build” plus some appropriate wording changes thereafter would sound better. I still think “We believe” sounds better—stronger, firmer—than either “We are building” or “We build,” though.

    The home page is a one-shot chance to get the fundamental *values* of the Mozilla Project across to visitors, and values require believing first of all; acting upon them (“building”) comes second and can only be done after deciding you share or respect the beliefs.

  13. Cool post and tough call between building and believing… We build because we believe! But what makes us different is that we do both: believe and build.

    This said, I’d put poetry (believe) first and let people know about pragmatics (product) later. We can afford to do that because our products are really strong (Firefox is most likely a bigger brand than Mozilla). Also, poetry is a key differentiator with our competition: we build such great products because we believe. Let’s put the “believe” first…

  14. I prefer the “we build.” Lots of people believe lots of things; to me Mozilla is effective because we do things with that belief.

  15. I support “We build” as well. The continuing success of a global community such as Mozilla is actually being able to build “something” between different people who may have different set of beliefs, and who might not have collaborated otherwise in other situations.
    I do think “building” is poetry. And this building must revisit our shared and personal beliefs constantly, so we can get track of which implications have what we have built and what flourishes and decays around us at the same time.

  16. Well, I think that “We build” is more appropriate to explain in a sentence what Mozilla is doing. You know, a lot of people are beliving that things could be better, internet should be open. The difference is that Mozilla is doing that, building an open web. Believing is very important for people and organization, but it is more important for anyone beyond them to make these things happen. Mozilla does not just belive in a more open, accessible web, Mozilla is actually building it by offering a platform which helps it to grow. I think this should be better known.

  17. Perhaps people have an instinctive reaction to “I believe” because of postmodernism’s (wrong-headed) suspicion of overarching stories (“metanarratives”). Any large group which has beliefs and principles and acts on them is automatically suspicious. Or perhaps I think about this sort of thing too much 😉

    I think this is a silly trend, and I think we should stick with “believe” and be proud of it 🙂

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