Archive for June, 2007

Foo Camp 2007

June 25th, 2007

This weekend was the O’Reilly Foo Camp for 2007. Foo was big this year — about 300 people. And wildly varying types of people — pretty much anyone the O’Reilly folks think is interesting.

When I got home yesterday, I realized that this weekend was extremely disconnected for me. That’s highly unusual at an O’Reilly event. In part it’s because I always choose to camp in the orchard, rather than camp out in the building space available or get a hotel room. There’s no power in the camping area, and my stuff is a ways away from the activities. In past years I’ve carried my computer around with me. This year I just left it in my pack in my tent, along with my phone. And I wasn’t alone. Of course there were plenty of people with computers, but there were also a bunch of us traveling light.

This year the facilities also encouraged disconnectedness. There were a lot fewer conference rooms available; more of the building space is in use and off-limits to Foo Campers. So the O’Reilly folks set up a bunch of rent-a-tents in the parking lot as discussion areas. The tents each had a table, chairs and a white board, but no power. That meant no projectors and no computer-based presentations. It also meant almost no one took their computers to the tents. There was very little multi-tasking — very little searching the web for info, reading mail, IMing, twittering, whatever.

All there was to focus on was the discussion, which as a result sometimes felt quite slow. The topics were broad enough that several different conversations would bounce back and forth. And there was nothing to do but listen when the conversation veered off in a direction tangential to my thoughts. For example, one tent session was “How to Measure the Health of Communities.” It was fascinating, but had many different ideas in it. A few of us are involved in technology communities and so had some clear goals and thus some obvious clear measurements. Others are involved in organizing tech and civic groups. A couple of people were interested in “social groups” and when these become communities. Many were interested in figuring out what the goals of a particular community might be. The conversation wandered around among these. One person kept trying to get the group back to the identified topic, how do we measure? I don’t think it was a very successful effort though.

The measurement piece is of great interest to me — other organizations have a lot to teach Mozilla. The session introduced me to people with similar interests, and then tickled my brain with all sorts of different ideas related to communities.

Usually the O’Reilly events are a combination of high connectedness and then running into people and talking. This one had the usual can’t-get-to-my-first-cup-of-coffee-because-there-are-too-many-interesting-
people-between-me-and-the-coffee, but-I’m-too-foggy-brained-to-be-coherent-yet feeling. (Tara Hunt rescued me with her personal coffee stash, starting Sunday off right for a bunch of us.)

I realized that the disconnectedness of many of the sessions I attended meant that each of us participated with exactly the resources we brought with us — our own experience, expertise, and abilities. The sessions would have been different with real-time Internet access. The session on “Social Implications of Craft” would have been different with access to the various definitions of “craft“. Without this we spent some time recreating these definitions, so there was less efficiency. But the trade-off was a much more personal discussion; and a much more exploratory discussion.

Now it’s time to dive back in to normal life.

Welcome David Boswell

June 18th, 2007

David Boswell is joining the Mozilla Foundation this week. The details are in Frank’s post. I want to echo (amplify, really) the welcome. David Boswell has been involved with the Mozilla project for many years. When his experience with convinced him that more understanding of non-profit and organizations in general was necessary, he went back to school to learn. I remember writing a recommendation for David when he applied to the Colombia School of International and Public Affairs. At the time I thought, how cool is this?? Graduate study in a field other than computer science and still intimately related to Mozilla, open source and the type things Mozilla is trying to do.

Enough time has passed that David has finished his program. Even better, he’s back with Mozilla full-time. This strikes me as an important milestone for several reasons. To start with the obvious, it will be great to have David focused on Mozilla. We are working on building the Mozilla Foundation’s capabilities, and David is a part of this effort. (The Executive Director search is another part.) David has always been remarkably low key and effective. For a while I couldn’t understand how he could get things done in such a quiet, unassuming way. But he does, and it’s great. I’ll be talking with both David and Frank quite a bit this week to figure out some starting points for David. I’ve got a lot of ideas, the key is to be realistic!

Less obvious, but I think equally important, is the cross-fertilization of open source ideas and organizational activities beyond coding. David now has a rich background in open source activities, a world-class education to bring to bear, and an opportunity to combine those two to help move the Mozilla mission forward. And David is not alone. In just the last week or two, another long term Mozilla contributor has been accepted into the Business School at the University of California at Berkeley. He’ll attend the business school while continuing to work full time on open source activities. He too will have the chance to combine open source DNA with a world-class education and bring the resulting connections back to the open source world.

It’s exciting to see long term contributors bring open source expertise into the graduate educational system, and then to see them bring their education back to the open source world.

Please join me in welcoming David.

Search Committee Nominations Open

June 18th, 2007

It’s time to create the full search committee for the Foundation Executive Director position. I previously posted key requirements. I’ve included them again below, along with some criteria our executive recruiter has found to be important in the past.

If you are interested in being part of the search committee and believe you meet (at least most of) the criteria, please contact me. If you know of someone you would like to see be part of the search committee other than yourself, please let me know. In other words, nominations and self-nominations are welcome.

I thought about creating a clear process for nomination and selection, but decided we can (hopefully) start informally and create process as we go. The one process point that I will start with is that if you contact me privately, or nominate someone else privately, I won’t make those names public until the named person is OK with this. If you have strong thoughts regarding the process, you can post them here as comments or in the governance newsgroup (available via newsreader or mailing list, or via the browser).

So please don’t self censor based on shyness, or on your employer.

Everyone should have:

  • Deep understanding of the project and our culture.
  • Ability to communicate the needs of the organization.
  • History of “doing” things within Mozilla.
  • Broad respect from chunks of the Mozilla community.
  • Ability to internalize different perspectives.
  • Ability to work collaboratively, incorporating other perspectives.
  • High discretion, including perhaps willingness to agree to confidentiality obligations (we need to figure out how to treat candidates properly). However this is handled, we need a complete commitment to confidentiality.
  • Commitment to speaking with one voice as a committee.
  • Ability to be a liaison between the search committee and the Mozilla community.
  • High degree of flexibility.
  • Commitment of 15-20 hours for meetings and interviews.
  • Good people assessment skills.
  • Comfortable / excited about the focus of the job.

The group as a whole should have:

  • At least one very good scribe.
  • People with different background and focus areas for the project, (not everyone can be a Firefox only person; there should be one or more people who can articulate what it’s like to be on a non-Fx project) and views about staying broad.

Modules for “ staff” activities

June 13th, 2007

In the days before the Mozilla Foundation existed, the Mozilla project was originally managed by a group known as “ staff.” staff was a virtual organization which governed the Mozilla project in general, and did so increasingly unrelated to any employment relationship. staff managed the project’s day to day activities, and held responsibility for basic technology and policy decisions. Today, some of these functions live in the Foundation — stewardship of the assets, and release of products using the Mozilla name, as examples. So the old model of staff cannot continue unchanged in the world of the Foundation.

Nevertheless, we need a mechanism to address governance issues that are broader than any particular product or project issue. More specifically, we should identify the key activities of the Mozilla project, identify the decision-makers, define the scope of their authority and the criteria by which they are designated.

In the past I’ve thought of trying to modernize or reconstruct a group like staff — a group that would have a set of project-wide responsibilities and obligations. I’ve made several attempts at this. It sounds good in theory, but in reality turned out to be very messy. In the days of staff, there was no Foundation. Trying to create another group in the Mozilla world with another set of responsibilities that would overlap with, or maybe be governed by the Foundation’s Board where required by law, or maybe govern or direct the Board is very complex. And the idea of doing this in a way that people can understand and remember is even more difficult. I’ve stumbled at the effort a couple of times now and find the task pretty daunting.

So I have a new idea that is much more simple. I’m indebted to Mike Connor, who suggested something like it in a newsgroup posting a while back. (Needless to say, if you hate the idea, please leave mconnor out of it 🙂 )

My new idea is to identify the roles that staff used to play and make modules for these roles. We might have a “governance” set of modules, or a governance module with sub-modules. We’re in the process of creating modules for non-code topics anyway and so we could use a single type of mechanism for code, non-code and governance activities. We would determine governance related activities as well as activities the Mozilla Foundation now handles directly, like management of trademarks. We’d identify a module owner. We would also identify someone (a Peer, or a member) with an acknowledged voice in the Mozilla Foundation. We could do something like arranging for owners, peers or members for these modules to meet periodically with a Foundation representative. In any case, we would develop a mechanism for notifying the Foundation when an important issue has become contentious enough that escalation beyond the module owner is warranted. I’m not sure about the right mechanism here, but am pretty confident we can figure out something workable.

This path means the activities for which staff used to have authority are identified, we are clear about which have become Foundation / Corporation activities and which, if any, are related to employment. We have owners and a way for differing opinions to be expressed.

I like this approach because it allows us to address these issues within a structure and process that is already understood. It requires giving up some of the emotional attachment of a separate staff. I think this is manageable; keeping everything from our past intact will drag us into paralysis. And this offers a good chance of having a working process.

Thoughts more than welcome. Once again, I’m posting this in the governance newsgroup (available via newsreader or mailing list, or via the browser).

Foundation Executive Director Focus

June 13th, 2007

I’ve been reviewing the job description for the Mozilla Foundation Executive Director as part of ramping up the search process. It’s a great description; I like it quite a bit. It’s also long and complex. I thought it would be helpful to provide a summary of the main strategic goals we would like the ED to help us achieve. Here it is.

A primary role of the incoming ED is to expand the reach of the Foundation and its activities. In other words, to be a thought leader and help identify and develop strategic initiatives, and to oversee execution of these strategic initiatives.

We currently have a set of initiatives underway with our product and technology development and adoption — from products like Firefox and Thunderbird, to the technology of the Mozilla platform, to projects such as Seamonkey, Camino, and Bugzilla.

What else can we do? What else should we do? What other activities would make the Open Web a more lively, viable, interesting alternative? What other activities would encourage more people to participate in the Internet in alignment with the Mozilla Manifesto? How do we identify important activities? How do we try to achieve them? How do we do new things in a Mozilla-like way?

The Mozilla project as it exists today has a set of ongoing discussions. Is our product focus right? Should we make other, new products? How much attention should we give to the Mozilla platform, separate from any other focus? How do we promote the Open Web as a competitive platform to proprietary offerings? Is the distinction between products and projects quite right?

We expect the ED to participate as s/he gains experience and currency in the Mozilla world. But we don’t expect the ED to be, or be seen, as the judge of such questions. Actually, we hope that we move towards all sorts of new questions of focus and priority, based on new participants and new possibilities. This will be a mark of success.

The Open Web and JavaScript 2

June 11th, 2007

Recently we’ve been talking about the Open Web as platform, and making the Open Web itself a rich platform. While this is a rather abstract discussion, one very concrete aspect of it is JavaScript, a key ingredient in interactive applications like Google Maps. (JavaScript is also referred to as ECMAScritpt, named after ECMA, the standards body through which the language has been standardized.) And one very concrete step occurred on Friday with the public release of a Reference Implementation for ECMAScript Edition 4. This is more generally known as “JavaScript 2.” The Reference Implementation is an early release, allowing the power of many eyes and many brains to understand and participate in the development of JavaScript 2.

Why does this matter? And why does it matter to the concept of the “web as platform?”

JavaScript is the language of the web. (I don’t mean to say it is the only fine scripting language or is better than other languages for various tasks. There are a number of excellent scripting languages.) Much of the web is written using JavaScript and it’s likely to stay that way for some time. In fact, JavaScript is so widely deployed on the web that the use cases and workloads outstrip the original design of the language. JavaScript is malleable enough that people have devised all sorts of ways to make things work that were not widely foreseen when the language was designed and standardized. But some of these uses and workloads could be much more effective with an updated version of JavaScript. And so, work on defining the next version of JavaScript has been underway for several years. This work is known as the work on “ECMAScript Edition 4.”

JavaScript is intimately tied with Mozilla. JavaScript was created in 1995 by Brendan Eich, who went on to become a co-founder of the Mozilla Organization at the launch of the Mozilla project in 1998. Both Brendan personally and the Mozilla project in general devote an enormous amount of time and focus to JavaScript. Mozilla maintains one of the major JavaScript implementations (known as “SpiderMonkey“) in our source base. We also maintain a version of JavaScript written entirely in Java known as “Rhino.” In addition, in November we launched the Tamarin Project based on Adobe’s contribution to create a virtual machine shared by Mozilla projects, Adobe products and anyone else who is interested.

Mozilla’s implementations of JavaScript are used by a range of organizations and products as well as Mozilla projects.

Mozilla has been deeply involved in improving both the JavaScript language itself as well as the Mozilla implementations. Brendan is the “convener” of the ECMA working group for ECMAScript Edition 4 (the precise name of this group is TC39-TG1 — Dynamic Scripting Language). There are other active participants of course, who have been collaborating under ECMA auspices for years.

The Reference Implementation is under active development, with plans to finish it this summer and then finalize the specification itself. The benefit of a Reference Implementation is having a testable example of what the JavaScript 2 does and doesn’t do. This allows for better evaluation of the updated language. It also allows for better drafting of the specification and ultimately a more precise specification that will foster inter-operation on the Web among browsers.

Making the Reference Implementation public now encourages review, evaluation and comment. This brings the benefits of greater understanding, problem finding and problem solving that we’ve become familiar with in the open source world.

JavaScript is not something the general consumer works with or even understands. Many may not know of it or understand why it matters. But JavaScript is a fundamental element of the web. It’s fundamental in human interaction with the web. Updating JavaScript’s capabilities updates the power of the web itself. Updating the web through open standards and through open source like Mozilla moves the web forward in a way that is accessible to all.

That’s the Open Web. That’s the Mozilla mission. And that’s why Mozilla invests so much in fundamental technologies such as JavaScript.

Non-Code Modules

June 8th, 2007

Mozilla has a long history of dividing our code into “modules,” identifying module owners and giving module owners authority over their modules, within general parameters. Details can be found in the Modules and Module Ownership document.

Mozilla activities have expanded dramatically in the last few years. A number of us have been thinking that using the module ownership concept for non-coding activities will help us better understand who is doing what and how we work.

A while back, Stuart did a massive reorganization of our code modules and owners. Along the way he compiled an initial list of potential modules for new activities. I’ve posted that list here. Take a look if you are interested. The next steps on my to-do list are to select a few of the suggested modules that seem most clear, evaluate how well the module ownership document would apply, and determine what changes would be needed in that document. Then there’s working on the list itself, which is very preliminary now.

Help is more than welcome!

I think newsgroups are often better for discussions, so I’m going to post something in the Mozilla governance newsgroup (available via newsreader or mailing list, or via the browser) and suggest discussion occur there.

UN Technical Agency Honors Mozilla

June 1st, 2007

Last week I traveled to the UN in Geneva to accept the International Telecommunication Union’s World Information Society Award on behalf of Mozilla.

The ITU is the United Nations agency specializing in information and technology. The ITU predates the UN considerably, having been formed in 1865 to harmonize telegraphy, and has a venerable history both before the UN and as the UN’s technology agency.

The World Information Society Award was inaugurated in 2006. The Award honors those who have “made a significant personal contribution to promoting, building, or strengthening a people-centered, development-oriented and knowledge-based information society.” In 2006, the Laureates were President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, a leader in the microfinance movement which has changed the lives of so many.

The 2007 Laureates are Dr. Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, First Lady of the Dominican Republic, Professor Dr Mark I. Krivocheev, Chief Scientist of the Radio Research Institute in Moscow, and Mozilla. The awards ceremony was hosted and the awards presented by the Secretary General of the ITU, Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré.

This is an enormous honor. It is a very significant recognition of the work of the Mozilla project. I want to thank the ITU for selecting Mozilla and congratulate the Mozilla community for making such an impact in people’s online lives.

The award to Mozilla is the first award not made to an individual. Mozilla may be the first Laureate not already deeply involved with the UN. The award was granted based on Mozilla’s “outstanding contribution to the development of world-class Internet technologies and applications.” The award was technically made to the Mozilla Corporation, but I accepted it on behalf of the entire Mozilla community.

This is also an important step for open source and free software. Mozilla produces consumer-facing products and so can — and is — bringing recognition of free and open source software to ever more people. The Mozilla project has now been recognized by the ITU as a fundamental actor in promoting a people-centered Internet. This should help Mozilla deliver our message more effectively, and hopefully will help raise peoples’ comfort level with other free and open source software projects.

Each Laureate was invited to make a brief address to the hand-picked audience. I spoke about Mozilla’s goals of ensuring the sustainability of an open and participatory Internet. I noted we strive for this goal through very concrete means: building software and building communities of people who participate in the Internet. I emphasized that the ability to participate is critical. It’s great to have free software to use, but the ability to get involved when one wants or needs to is the fundamental next step. I also shared the belief that human creativity is widespread, not limited to any one population or economic group, and this drives our goal of developing many possibilities of participation in building and using the Internet.

The ITU has made available (in Real Player format) a recording of the award ceremony. If you want to see only the Mozilla part, the award presentation to Mozilla starts at about 39 minutes in, and my talk starts about an hour and 12 or 13 minutes into the recording. The ITU has also created a written excerpt of the talk.

This message was well received. The reception reinforced once again how important it is to articulate our beliefs and goals clearly. We have great products, but that’s not our big message. Our message is about why our products are great — how we build them, why we build them, and how Firefox is a part of a much bigger effort with other products and projects. And the overall goal is not product centered. It is Internet-centered and it is people-centered.

The Internet should have a facet to it that is people-centered, with multiple opportunities for decentralized participation. Mozilla is building that facet of the Internet — not alone, but as a leader.

Our accomplishments are for everyone to share; our success is for all to enjoy.

Skip past the sidebar