The Firefox Test

The Information today reports that Mozilla plans to integrate GPT-like chat technology into its widely used Firefox browser. Mozilla has long partnered with Google for search, yielding a reputed hundreds of millions in revenue as a result.

The tech press has breathlessly speculated that, freshly invigorated thanks to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing might steal a major distribution partner from Google. First it was Samsung (wrong), then it was Apple (unlikely), and always there was Firefox, with its 200 million monthly users and its tumultuous relationship with its Googley paymaster.

But The Information’s reporting includes a twist: While Google and OpenAI declined comment, Firefox Chief Product Officer Steve Teixeira is quoted saying his company could add AI-driven chat without violating its current deal with Google – or any future deal, given the Google deal is reportedly up later this year. From today’s story: “Teixeira said his company’s search deal with Google doesn’t pertain to conversational technologies, and the chatbot arrangement would be separate from traditional search.”

Teixeira goes on to make any number of claims about how search and conversational interfaces are essentially different use cases – a useful fantasy that feels increasingly hard to defend. “…the mainstream is really accustomed to getting a search engine results page, with lots of results, and changing that behavior for mainstream people is going to take some time.”

Michelle begs to differ. A huge chunk of search is already poised to be swallowed by chat interfaces, and I’d argue it’s only a matter of time before the ten blue links becomes a secondary destination – one you go to only after consulting your AI agent. One of my principal frustrations with early chatbots like Pi is that they don’t have the ability to quickly search something in the context of our chats. As I’ve argued before, search is on its way to commoditization, and more likely than not, we’ll all end up paying for chat bots the way we pay for other valuable information services – as a monthly subscription.

To get there, major platforms like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook will need to roll out chat integrations inside search – and three of four of those have no reason not to – only Google has a cannibalization dilemma with its core search model. But for now, Google has the lion’s share of search-related attention, and therefore, the most to both win and/or lose as consumer behavior shifts toward chat. Which is all a long way of saying this: When Firefox does announce its first chat integration, more likely than not it’ll come from Google.



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