Mozilla

The “App Model” and the Web

August 9th, 2011

Mozilla’s mission is to bring openness, interoperability and user sovereignty to Internet life.  We should do this in the apps world.   We should embrace some aspects of the current app model as a complement to the browser model.   We should also provide an alternative to aspects of the current app model that aren’t so open to interoperability and user sovereignty.

There’s no reason why “apps” can’t incorporate the characteristics that are important about the web.  They don’t today because Apple didn’t build them that way.  There’s no reason Apple should; Apple has a different view of the world.  But we can.  In fact, Mozilla is one of the very few organizations that can do this.  We have reach, scope, and we are part of the infrastructure of the Internet already.  Only a few organizations in the world have this position.  And Mozilla is unique among them.  We are organized as a non-profit precisely so canmake  user sovereignty and interoperability central.

What’s Important About “the Web?”

What are some of the things about “the web” that we want to see alive and well in an open web apps model?  Here’s a starting list of characteristics:

  • “plug and play”  — interoperable at many levels
  • direct access between consumer  and developer
  • innovation without permission
  • easy to go from consumption to creation
  • heterogeneous — works on multiple devices, operating systems, platforms, data types, languages, technologies, browsers, clients, etc.
  • linkable
  • decentralized
  • the browser provides a locale of “user-sovereignty” that the app (and mobile models) lack

What do people love about “apps”?  Here’s a starting list of characteristics:

  • convenience and fun
  • task -based — quick and effective
  • sense of ownership and being “close at hand” – icons, apps have a home on my device
  • discoverability
  • lots of innovation
  • distribution channel for developers
  • monetization channel for developers

What are some drawbacks of the current app experience?

  • Apps are often device specific, platform specific
  • Devices are the center of the world, not the person using them
  • Little if any interoperability across devices or platforms
  • System is implemented in a highly centralized model
  • Difficult for app and content creators to reach people without approval of gatekeepers
  • Requires permission at many levels — centralization allows a few App Store owners to control business model, pricing, relationships
  • Learned helplessness:  if there isn’t “an app for that” then it’s not worth trying to do something
  • Apps and web experiences live in separate silos

A Better World:  What Would an Open Apps Ecosystem Look Like?

A better world will marry the convenience and enjoyment of apps with the power of the web.  We will be able to:

  • take our apps cross-platform and cross-device, so when we update our phones we can take our apps with us whatever device we select.
  • bridge our contacts and social graph from different providers
  • share “leader boards” and other multi-player game elements across the web
  • control the access that apps have to our information; e.g., only allow apps to share information directly with our permission
  • discover apps in open and flexible ways just as we discover other content on the web
  • buy apps from multiple providers, who may add value through bundling, support, or services
  • interact directly with apps creators if we choose to
  • unify management of apps and website applications.

In this world both the browser and apps connect us to a universally accessible, interoperable Internet that encourages innovation without censorship.

This is a world worth building.

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