Summary of Evaluation Findings

Jan. 4, 2022
Simply Secure
Mehan Jayasuriya
Jessica Gonzalez

Written by Simply Secure, Mehan Jayasuriya and Jessica Gonzalez

Impact on the Open Source Ecosystem

  • Track 1—Foundational Technology: Track 1 funding has helped support over 30 different projects that Mozilla depends on across the company. As a result of this funding, many of these projects have become more sustainable, including foundational technologies that support millions of other downstream dependencies. Track 1 funding helped to shore up some of the most foundational tools in the FOSS ecosystem, create viable open source alternatives to closed tools and made widely-used open source tools more efficient.
    • Example: Ajv, a JSON schema validator, which supports 6.6 million downstream dependencies and is downloaded via npm 100 million times per month. Ajv is maintained by a lone developer in his spare time; MOSS provided this project with not just funding but support for developing a community growth plan and pathways for more people to contribute.
  • Track 2—Mission Partners: Track 2 funding has supported over 50 projects which substantially advance Mozilla’s mission through the development of open source technology. While this track was initially primarily focused on supporting tools for web development (similar to Track 1), it has since broadened its focus to support a wide range of mission-aligned technologies. Track 2 funding has increased network security, made open source tools easier to use for beginners, given small projects the opportunity to grow and helped more people contribute to open source.
    • Example: Tails, a secure operating system, is used by journalists, activists and survivors of domestic abuse. MOSS funding helped make Tails easier to use for non-technical audiences and helped create pathways for non-technical people to contribute to the project’s development.
  • MOSS Seed Awards: While these small awards did not increase the number of MOSS applications in the pipeline as initially hoped, some of the individual awards were still impactful, including one project which became more sustainable as a direct result of MOSS seed funding. The seed awards did allow MOSS staff to experiment with new approaches—including pooling and distributing funds from external funders—on a smaller-scale.
    • Example: WorldBrain Memex applied for Track 2 funding and was rejected twice for being too early-stage. The project was able to secure a $5,000 seed award, which helped them fill a stopgap. Shortly thereafter, they raised over €300,000 in funding.
  • COVID 19-Solutions Fund: The COVID-19 Solutions Fund expanded Mozilla’s reach to new audiences, quickly addressed pressing issues in at-risk communities and generated more interest than we’ve previously seen for a MOSS track. This fund supported the manufacturing and distribution of personal protective equipment in some of the areas hit hardest by the virus (Brazil, New York City), data models allowing for the early release of thousands of people from prisons in the U.S. and a test suite for open source ventilator designs. Some of the unique qualities of the COVID fund—simpler, lower barrier to entry, timely, targeted at solving specific problems, accompanied by a communications strategy—played a significant role in its success and could be easily replicated.
    • Example: The Careables project used open hardware and open design to print and distribute thousands of face shields to under-resourced hospitals in indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities. The project delivered thousands more shields than was estimated in their proposal.

The first thing that came to my mind was really that ‘MOSS’ is perfect. That perfect acronym—it's open source support. And to me, it's designed to help projects like ours do the kind of open-source work that doesn't usually get funded, but is usually very much needed in order to make these [public health] solutions.

—a MOSS awardee

Most funders that I talked to don't even know what technical debt means.

—open source funder

Impact on Mozilla

  • MOSS deepens Mozilla’s reputation as a champion for the open source community beyond its stewardship of Firefox—this is something we repeatedly heard in interviews with members of the FOSS community, along with a call for Mozilla to continue and even expand this role.
  • MOSS is unique in its focus on sustainability and willingness to fund important types of work that most funders can’t—including security audits, paying down technical debt and building social infrastructure for growth (codes of conduct, governance, community growth plans). Other funders (Ford, Sloan, Siegel) are now shifting toward viewing open source projects as core infrastructure, which aligns closely with the MOSS model of support. In the past, many of these funders have relied on MOSS to fill gaps that they cannot.
  • The MOSS program connects Mozilla to a technical community it might not otherwise reach—82% of MOSS awardees have no other known touchpoint to Mozilla programs. MOSS also serves as an entry point for technical people to engage more deeply in the Mozilla community—in 2020, 5 MOSS awardees will serve as wranglers at MozFest.
  • MOSS awardees do not feel that they are part of a larger community; due to the lack of publicity around the program, they don’t know who else has received MOSS funding and do not feel connected to other awardees.

I think there are places where support for politically challenging, for politically radioactive projects or policy positions or tools can be an extraordinarily powerful lever for MOSS to not only advocate for itself, but to change the world for the better. Tails kind of flies under the radar. But it protects a lot of people who are speaking truth to power.

— MOSS stakeholder

Operations and Performance

  • Applications for the program as a whole have grown consistently over time, while the number of awards made and total amount of funding provided has remained relatively consistent. However, Track 1 has struggled to generate enough applications, while Track 2 has grown significantly and now receives enough applications such that it can make $1M in awards a year.
  • The cross MoCo/MoFo structure of MOSS, coupled with the three tracks, has led to operational inefficiencies and makes the program seem complex to external audiences. The most recent iteration of MOSS is also disconnected from Mozilla engineering, which has led to challenges in supporting dependencies.

Every pip user—which means nearly every Python user—can count on a more consistent, reliable package installation and upgrade experience [thanks to our MOSS award]. And application developers, and packaging toolmakers, have a firmer foundation for next-generation features.

— pip final report

MOSS is a wonderful way for open source projects to get validated. It's incredibly important for open source maintainers to experience what it's like to do open source work for pay and according to certain specs. It leads to thinking more in terms of long-term sustainability.

—survey respondent