Mozilla

I Am Not A Number

July 13th, 2009

What’s the most interesting thing about the Internet today? To me, it’s not an application, it’s not a technology, it’s not a characteristic like “social.” The most interesting thing about the Internet is me. My experiences. And you. And your experiences.

I can name a set of applications that are important to me today. Tomorrow and next month and next year that set will be different. The things I want to do will be different. The types of information I want to access and share will vary. I will want to integrate some information across all the applications and sites I access. I will want to maintain some information under my control and share subsets of it selectively with Web applications. I’ll want to be able to access a website or its information with a very precise and rich identity, so the site delivers a highly personalized response. Other times I’ll want a general identity or anonymity so I see information which I can filter for myself.

In other words, I don’t want to be the invisible part of my life. Not in my physical life and not in my online life. I want to have a presence that is me. That presence won’t be a pre-existing Web application. It won’t be a number or an identity managed by a Web application. That presence will be an odd collection of information and approaches and unexpected connections that is the online manifestation of who I am. It will be idiosyncratic, it will be flawed, but it will be me.

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13 comments for “I Am Not A Number”

  1. 1

    Scott Fitchet said on July 13th, 2009 at 10:36 am:

    I might want to access the top level of that vibe by using the “about:me” URL …

    This is a good start: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Firefox/Sprints/about:me

  2. 2

    Giuliano said on July 13th, 2009 at 11:36 am:

    [Off Topic Mode: ON]Mitchell, while I’m reading this post I have a message saying that blog.lizardwrangler.com is using an invalid certificate.[Off Topic Mode: OFF]

    That presence will be an odd collection of information and approaches and unexpected connections that is the online manifestation of who I am. It will be ideosyncratic, it will be flawed, but it will be me.

    This sentence fit my perfectly feelings. Thanks for having written it in a so unequivocal way! :D

  3. 3

    Pingback from Mozilla Labs » Blog Archive » Poetry and Pragmatics – the Weave version

    [...] Through the Weave project, for example, we want to reclaim the vision of the browser acting as a true user-agent on the web. We want to help broker user data in a secure and private manner. We want to build the foundational, open source building blocks upon which an entire new generation of web applications will be built. We want to enable the poetry so succinctly captured by Mitchell when she says: “I am not a number“. [...]

  4. 4

    Pingback from Poetry and Pragmatics – the Weave version | Easy Firefox

    [...] Through the Weave project, for example, we want to reclaim the vision of the browser acting as a true user-agent on the web. We want to help broker user data in a secure and private manner. We want to build the foundational, open source building blocks upon which an entire new generation of web applications will be built. We want to enable the poetry so succinctly captured by Mitchell when she says: “I am not a number“. [...]

  5. 5

    Cymaphore said on July 14th, 2009 at 5:24 am:

    Off-Topic here, but might be interesting for you if you don’t know already:
    http://cymaphore.net/journal/entry/9/200907141434/A%20pice%20of%20history%3A%20Mozilla%20landrush

    A pice of Mozilla History
    :-)

  6. 6

    Sundog said on July 15th, 2009 at 9:00 am:

    As something of a legacy Orwellian, I have to admit to maintaining deep reservations about the juggernaut of what might best be considered the Cult of Profiling. From the nuisances of Amazon’s ‘may we suggest…’ (I ordered the film ‘Mildred Pierce’ because it’s a Noir, not because of Joan Crawford or that it’s a post-war ‘women’s film’) to Google’s comprehensive database collected on each of my identities (exactly what information are they gathering – and where does this information go?), I not only find myself quite naked when surfing, It’s also apparent that most profilers are busy defining my personality for me . In psychological terms this would be termed projection. Which, more often than not, serves the projector’s interests far better than those of the projectee.

    The Zen adept, Li Po, granted an interview with a teacher from another Buddhist sect that claimed to have perfected the arts of mind reading. Sitting in the Zendo; Li Po shifted this way – “Where am I now? ” Shifted that way – “Where am I now?” To say that there was no answer forthcoming from the would-be psychc — should probably go without saying…

  7. 7

    matt said on July 15th, 2009 at 10:44 am:

    Mitchell,

    the trend for web browsers to track user’s histories and preferences bothers me. the main reason i didn’t give google chrome a chance was because of the fact that it blatantly listed the top 6 most visited sites on the homepage. the fact is, i am not necessarily the same person from one moment to the next. what i use the internet for at three in the afternoon and what i use it for at three in the morning are two are two different things, and i don’t want them both projected at me every time i go online to read the news. with sites like stumbleupon and pandora, and yes even twitter, we are already able to access an internet that suits our specific tastes and lets us share our identity and our take on the human condition. a great browser is a lens through which to view man’s crowning achievement, the assimilation of all human knowledge. i don’t want my lens to be tainted.

  8. 8

    Mitchell Baker said on July 16th, 2009 at 6:19 am:

    Matt

    this is a very interesting point. Sometimes the highly personalized response can be very helpful. It also has a very fragmenting effect, where no two people see the same thing. I wonder how many people have this desire to see the world without it being pre-filtered to match who I already am.

  9. 9

    Mark said on July 17th, 2009 at 5:48 pm:

    Hi Mitchell:
    I’m not sure what the resulting tool /software / or browser ‘thing’ that would be built to make real the concepts you envision. But I do think that your ideas are fascinating. After reading your post, I was inspired – to do what I don’t know, but my mind was going places I hadn’t expected.
    Is what you describe even possible or ‘natural’ with our current interfaces of keyboards, mice, screens (large or small) and OS’s? Maybe – but perhaps the improvements to our online experience shouldn’t feel or behave anything like what we expect and have become used to today. With much respect to the others who have posted here, I don’t think it’s just about privacy, data collection and marketing – but a new way of interacting with other humans and the content out there. A new way to find what we want when we want it, a new way to discover new things, a new way to interface with the cloud? Hopefully there are some 12 year old boys and girls somewhere in the Kazakstan or Kentucky with access to a fast connection working on this now, ’cause they’ve never known anything but Google.
    The conclusion of the quote used for your post title is of course “I am a free man!” Followed by: The P: “What do you want?” #2: “Information.” The P: “Well, you won’t get it.” #2:”By hook or by crook we will.”

  10. 10

    mitchell said on July 21st, 2009 at 7:25 am:

    Sundog: yes, the cult of profiling can be disturbing. On the other hand, understanding oneself or finding better ways for me to manage the information that makes up my life might feel different. For example, a better way for *me* to manage what used to be called “my rolodex” and more recently “my contact list” and today my “social graph” might feel great. Having a organization generate this information about me for its own purposes may feel very different.

  11. 11

    mitchell said on July 21st, 2009 at 7:48 am:

    Mark

    Yes indeed on the “I have a free man.” Though I struggle these days with all uses of “man” or “men” to represent humanity. I also often think of the phrase “Number 6″ as in “be seeing you.”

    I agree — let’s hope there is a lot more involved in the idea that each of us has a “virtual me”, that is about more than the data and interactions we can visualize today. I’m not sure how to get there other than head in this direction and pave the way for the 1 year olds you mention. To make the path open and generative and easier to “build on the shoulders of giants” than it would otherwise be. Our experiments with Weave for example are simple now, but may be a freamework for trying new things.

  12. 12

    Kiran Vinjamuri said on July 30th, 2009 at 10:25 am:

    ** Problem:
    Profiling is required for personalization which in turn attempts to bring better user experience. Most people choose which movie they want to go to, or while at home a particular movie may capture their attention. Because, we choose what we want to see. Some day it could a comedy or a drama another day. If someone forces you with inappropriate content, you move away. Typically I think most people read only 10-40% of a news paper, because everything does not interest everyone. Newspaper is a highly one-way mode of accessing information. And so is TV. Millions of sites on the web are no better. You goto Yahoo homepage and it treats you like anyone else. You login and personalize your *my* page. Then you get your personalization. But the whole web is not personalized to you yet and can’t be too. Currently its not possible to have a single view of all that you use and all that you want to see in a personalized way.

    ** Possibily solution from future:
    Personalization is a must if we must evolve. To deal with privacy issues a service on the cloud must be available which acts as our agent to share any info. Typically like openID. But essentially it should be a official service managed by a government body of whichever country one belongs to. The reasons are:
    a) Ultimate protection and responsibility delegated to Government
    b) Authenticity and anonimity where required
    c) the user has control over what info and to whom it is shared
    d) I am an ID and I get my Personalization across the web without sharing my real Identity
    e) An example: Whatever I claim to be, my passport details with government has all the info. This info is not accessible to most people.

    ** Possibility solution in near future:
    Privacy concern over browsers are natural but foolish too. So does it mean we trust gmail or yahoo fully with our private communication? Is

    every toolbar stuck on your browser not a spyware? Isnt your OS already reading and sending your usage behaviour?

    So.. what is the *one thing* in the world people really trust on the internet? Its surely their favorite window. Whichever it might be and

    whatever they might be doing in that. If its been stable, providing consistent user experience and gave no major trouble, they will use it.
    For example windows OS. The web talks about how frequent is crashes, who insecure it is etc. But most of the world still uses it for their

    business and personal use. So why are they using it? Every file they save, are they sure they will get it back? Most of them did… thats why

    they are still using it. The problem with browsers is that they are easy. Almost anyone can download, install and start using a browser. Thats

    why its easy to critize one and start using another. In early days windows OS was one among 20 potential OSes. But today most people

    depend on windows. Today we have handful of browsers fighting for whatever reasons. Users will vote for the most stable and simple browser, minus personalization.

    PS 1: I used Google chrome for a long time, until it repeatedly crashed with its new version. I switched to firefox which I hated because of its instability few years ago. But for now, thats the window I see all day.

    PS 2: Interestingly we have implemented a concept called *My lifeboard* which attempts to provide everything what a user would ask in one screen. From about me, to about my people, my personalized content, my shopping and my virtual assistant. its very much work in progress though. Is this a way? authenticity is the key.

  13. 13

    Avery said on August 8th, 2009 at 4:56 am:

    [...] Through the Weave project, for example, we want to reclaim the vision of the browser acting as a true user-agent on the web. We want to help broker user data in a secure and private manner. We want to build the foundational, open source building blocks upon which an entire new generation of web applications will be built. We want to enable the poetry so succinctly captured by Mitchell when she says: “I am not a number“. [...]

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