Archive for July, 2008

The Mozilla Tree

July 29th, 2008

The Finished Mozilla Tree

This morning at the opening session of the Firefox Plus Summit I showed this image, which has been in the works for a while. It’s my current approach to finding a good metaphor to explain the complex nature of Mozilla. There’s a fair amount of explanation needed for this image to make sense, and I’ll try to get that posted before long.

Data — getting to the point

July 24th, 2008

I’ve received a couple of emails from people saying it’s hard to comment on the data issue without some idea of where I’m heading or what I’m thinking. So here goes. I’ll come back to some of the topics I’ve written about already. And I’ll continue with the other posts as well; I think we need some depth of analysis to make good decisions.

In the meantime, here’s the basic message.

I would like to see Mozilla provide more leadership in helping people manage the collection and treatment of data related to them — what I’ve called “Associated Data.” I don’t have a specific plan of what leadership would look like, or what features or capabilities this means our products, services or websites should implement (or block). There are a lot of different types of Associated Data; the desired treatment of different types may vary. This is something I’d like to see us figure out.

I would also like to see Mozilla provide leadership in treating some basic aggregate, anonymized usage data as a public asset. To do this, we need to develop a sense of what data this might include and what aggregation and anonymizing techniques make the Mozilla communities comfortable. Some data — like public disclosure of bandwidth use, website rankings, etc. seem to be areas everyone is comfortable with, but we should make as few assumptions as possible. Sometimes it can be hard to get truly anonymous data and so this is an area where great care — and therefore  leadership — is required. But if everything that is known about the basic usage of the Internet is closed and proprietary then the Internet as an open platform will suffer. I don’t have a specific plan as to what Mozilla might do here; that’s the point of the discussion.

These are difficult and sensitive topics, it would be easier to ignore them. But both of these areas are critical to building the Internet that is healthy for the individuals using it. The Mozilla mission is to keep the Internet an open platform, and to promote the values in the Mozilla Manifesto. It will be hard to do this if we ignore the effects of data.

Data Relating to People

July 23rd, 2008

In my last couple of posts I’ve described why I believe Mozilla must pay attention to data in order to help individual people deal with  data about them.

There’s a lot of data about people being created.  I’ve listed below some of the basic kinds of this data  that I think we need to be able to distinguish in order to speak meaningfully the effects.  I’m calling all of these categories “Associated Data” for the reasons described at the end of the post.

Is there a type of data about people that’s of interest or concern to you? If so, take a look and see if it fits into one of the sections below.

  1. “Personal and potential personal data.”  These terms are already in reasonably wide usage to mean specific information that identifies an individual, such as name, address, email address, credit card number, government-issued identification number, etc.   In some cases it’s used to include other information that can be combined to create personal information, such as an IP (Internet Protocol) address.
  2. “Intentional Content.” Data intentionally created by people to be seen by people.  When we post to social networking pages,  blogs, photo sites, product review sites, create wishlists, send gifts and other online markers we intentionally create content about ourselves or associated with us.   Sometimes this information is in big chunks, like a blog post or photostream; other times the information is in small bits like a recommendations, “pokes,” etc.  Sometimes we want this data to be public and sometimes we may not.
  3. “Harvested Data.” Information gathered or created about an individual through the logging, tracking, aggregating and correlating of his or her online activities.   It’s possible today to record just many of the actions someone takes online (the “clickstream”) and then to harvest patterns and other useful facts from that data.  For example, an e-commerce website you visit regularly will know a great deal about your shopping patterns, what kinds of items and what price ranges you look, how many times you look before you buy, the average purchase amount, the average time between purchases, etc.   They’ll know which ads you respond to and which you ignore.
  4. Relationship Data.  Our relationships with other people, such as our “friends” or followers at various sites.  This can  be either Intentional Content or Harvested Information.  I call this out specifically because a relationship always involves at least two people.  And so the treatment of this information — is it public or private, how is it used — always affects at least two people.  I’m not yet positive this is a useful topic, but (obviously) I think it likely enough to include it here.

“Associated Data.” It will be helpful to have a term that describes all these types of data.  In a vacuum “Personal” would seem the best because this is all information that somehow identifies, is related to or associated with a specific person.  But I think “personal” is understood as item 1 already.    I’m using the term “associated data” to mean all of the types of data listed above.

Are there other broad categories of information about people that would help us think clearly? Are there different categories altogether that would be more helpful?  And are there examples of this kind of data you’d like to make sure we think about? If so, note them in the comments or somewhere where we can find them.

Why focus on data?

July 22nd, 2008

I’ve said in a previous post that I believe Mozilla needs to pay attention to the amounts and types of data that increasingly define the Internet experience.    I’ve even created an outline of  different topics relating to data that I think should be part of the discussion.  Why is this?

Principles 3, 4 and 5 of the Mozilla Manifesto state that:

3.  The Internet should enrich the lives of individual human beings.
4.  Individuals’ security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.
5.  Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.

These principles are at risk if individuals have no  control over the creation or use of the data that describes us.    These principles are at risk if we sit back and hope someone else addresses them.  We need to build them into the Internet.

What can and should Mozilla do to help people be safe and in control of their online experience in the midst of this rising sea of data?

Framework for discussing “data”

July 21st, 2008

Here’s my starting framework for the data discussions.

  • Outline the different reasons data is important/ different ways in which understanding data is important to building the type of Internet we want to live with.
  • Develop some shared, reasonably specific terms about the kinds of data that related to people.
  • Develop some shared, reasonably specific terms about other kinds of data, in particular the types of aggregated data that tell us  how people are actually using the Internet.
  • Identify a range of overall approaches consumers might take, or want to take, regarding data.   I’m thinking this is at a very high, general level, such as the approaches of not caring, to a considered trade of data for services, to absolute control of all data.
  • Identify approaches Mozilla  could take to data, at a very high level.   Everything from avoiding the collection of any data to making the trade-off between convenience and data clearer to consumers, to providing tools to help consumers with these trade-offs.    Each and every approach Mozilla might take must be one that is based on our stated principles of safely, control and benefit for the individual human being, and on promoting the Internet as an open platform.    There’s a range of possibilities there and I imagine we’ll have some lively discussions.  This should not obscure the fact that there is an entire set of activities that we will not consider.
  • Identify what Mozilla might/ should do with our products, our websites and the product related services.  Some of this discussion is underway already of course, with the anti-phisihing, anti-malware services we offer in Firefox and the discussion of website analytics that occurred via blog and discussion groups earlier this year.   Setting these within a general framework will be very helpful.

The last couple of topics are discussions where our values and goals are critical.  These are areas where Mozilla actions — if any — regarding data will be distinctly Mozilla.   In other words, actions based on our mission, and designed to bring the principles of user safety and control to life, and to promote the I health of the Internet as an open platform.  I suspect the temptation to jump to this last couple of topics right away will be high.   And we’ll probably jump backward and forward a  few times.

It’s important to have the earlier discussions, and to do so with a focus on developing shaved concepts and vocabulary.     Let’s develop a shared understanding of the kinds of data that exist, and then we can talk more intelligently about whether it “should* exist or if and how it should be regulated or controlled.  Similarly, let’s develop a shared understanding of the high level approaches consumers could take with data before we discuss what approach each of us thinks they *should* take with data.

After we have enough shared vocabulary we can talk more effectively what Mozilla can and should do regarding data to manifest the principles of openness, innovation, and user safety and control in our activities.

Thinking About Data

July 21st, 2008

Our online lives are generating increasing data about us as individuals and about how groups of people are using the Internet. At the dawn of the World Wide Web 15 years ago people “surfed” to websites and viewed information. Today Internet life is more participatory and people create more information. In addition, a range of tools have been developed for tracking and generating data about people and our activities. The existence and treatment of this data is important to our online security and privacy. The treatment of this data also affects the public ability to understand how people use the Internet.

I believe Mozilla must think, talk, and respond to this new level of data somehow. I recognize that any discussion of what Mozilla should do regarding data may be perceived as Mozilla wanting to use data to make money, or otherwise changing our nature. This is not the case. Our goal in thinking or doing anything regarding data will be to improve the safety and control of individual people, and to improve the overall health of the Internet.

I’ll say this in many different ways, but I expect some will remain suspicious. The good news is that people are sensitive to this topic precisely because they recognize that the treatment of data is important. I’m hopeful that people will give us the benefit of the doubt as we have these discussions. And if that’s not possible, at least keep an open mind.

Because the topic of data is so complex, I’ve put together an outline of the different facets of this conversation that are important to develop a shared understanding of the landscape. From there we can integrate this understanding with the Mozilla mission and the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto. I’ll post that framework in a separate post.

Mark Surman and the Mozilla Foundation

July 17th, 2008

I’m thrilled to report that we’ve identified the person we believe should lead the Mozilla Foundation into a new stage of activity. That person is Mark Surman, the role is Mozilla Foundation Executive Director. “We” in this case is the Executive Director Search Committee, the Mozilla Foundation Board of Directors, Mozilla Foundation staff, plus a set of other Mozilla contributors who have spoken with Mark.

The Mozilla Foundation Board of Directors and Mark would like the Mozilla community and Mark to meet before we make a final decision. We’re inviting interested parties to talk with Mark about the Mozilla Foundation and the Executive Director role, to develop a feel for how well Mark and the Mozilla project fit together, and provide your thoughts and advice to Mark on what would make a successful Mozilla Foundation and a successful ED.

We’ll do this via an Air Mozilla broadcast. It will be on Wednesday, July 23 at 11am Pacific time, 6pm GMT. Mark lives in Toronto, so he’ll join us from there. Asa will host, and Mitchell will participate from Mountain View. As always, we’ll have facilities for people to send in questions, either before or during the broadcast and we’ll answer as many of them as possible. We’ll make the questions and the broadcast available afterwards for those who can’t join us at the time. After the broadcast we’ll have a mechanism for you to share your ideas. Most likely that will be  messages to me, I’ll be more definitive shortly. Your thoughts will assist the Board and Mark in making a final decision.

We are not planning to introduce a series of candidates for the Executive Director in this manner. After many months and countless discussions and interviews, Mark stands out as the one person we want to introduce to the Mozilla community for this role.

Some additional materials: Mark’s blog, which includes some recent posts about Mozilla, Mark’s CV, and the Mozilla Foundation Executive Director job description.

Mozilla’s Magnetism

July 14th, 2008

One of the great things about Mozilla is that periodically I’ll be thinking about how to get something done and then I’ll look up and find someone else has already done it, and often gone further with the idea than I would have. Dave Eaves’ post today about “The challenge of Mozilla’s magnetism” is an example. I’ve been thinking about this all weekend, writing a post in my head. But now I don’t need to, Dave’s got just about everything I was thinking about already pulled into something coherent. The first three-quarters of the post are almost exactly what I was thinking — particularly the reasons for the pull of Mozilla to so many people and the need to balance that with what strengthens our current communities.

Personally, it’s much better to hear this from Dave than to see it written by me. That’s because once it’s clear that a set of people wanting Mozilla to do more also understand the precious nature of our current communities and how strengthening them must be central, then it’s much easier to be open and responsive to ideas for expanding.

The last paragraph — a suggestion about the minimum plan Mozilla should build and execute to work with others who care about the open Internet — is really helpful. It seems so obvious when written this way — of course Mozilla should do this. We may in fact be able to do more, but we don’t need to wait to figure out how much more to get started.

Concentric Spheres of Community

July 14th, 2008

In a post last week I talked about concentric circles of community, noting that I actually think of Mozilla as concentric spheres of community. That’s because each community (practice, action, interest, user) is made up of many different sub-groups.

For example, the Community of Practice is that set of people who are sharing resources and using a bunch of Mozilla practices together to achieve a result. Within this group we can find many different kinds of activities. We might think of subsets based on the project, such as the Firefox, SeaMonkey, Thunderbird, Camino, Bugzilla, or Calendar communities of practice. We might think of subsets based on activity — the localization, quality assurance, coding, website, design, UI, support, infrastructure communities or practice. We might think of subsets based on language or locale.

There are so many dimensions to Mozilla communities that I think we need (at least!) three dimensions to have a working model. To help with this, there is now a wiki page for discussion of the Mozilla community to see if something other than blog comments is better for a long term discussion.

A Second View of the Open Internet

July 10th, 2008

A while back Dave Eaves suggested that the open web is a social value. This may be true. I’d like to explore a different approach to the Open Web/ Open Internet. Not opposite, because the two approaches might fit together, but distinctly different.

One can think of the Open Internet as something very specific and very concrete, as something that can be built and measured. The Internet itself — open, closed, or otherwise — is a set of technologies that determine what capabilities are available. The Internet is physical; it’s tangible. It’s made up of hardware and software. The Internet may embody values. (And its early designers such as Vint Cerf are extremely articulate about the values they designed into its basic layers.) But the internet is more than an idea or a value. The Internet is a physical reality.

We could approach the Open Internet the same way. We could define the Open Internet as one where key Internet technologies have specified traits such as interoperability through standards, constructed with open source and free software, individual freedom to control and move one’s data, and so on. If we do this we end up with a more practical, more technical and maybe more limited approach to promoting the Open Internet.

There is something gloriously open-ended about the abstract idea of the Open Internet and its potential to address many of the pressing issues of our era. I’ve heard this open-ended approach to possibilities referred to as the “poetry.” This poetry is critical and gives us lift and  drive and excitement. It’s very inclusive, and can expand to fit a broad set of dreams.

Building the tangible, bit-based reality of an Open Internet isn’t quite as deep into poetry. It’s very deep into nuts and bolts, hard work, competitive forces, measurable results and the technologies that need to be built. It’s still got plenty of poetry — just look at the excitement and motivation of the people who make it happen. It’s also got a lot of nitty-gritty, every day, concrete tasks that must be done and must hold up to close inspection and comparison. So it’s not as broad. It’s less appealing to people who share our goals but want to build in areas outside of technology.

Building the “bits” of the tangible Open Internet isn’t for everyone. It’s only a part of creating the online life we’d like to have. But it’s critical. We need the technology.

Thinking of the Open Internet in concrete and specific terms allows us to be focused and effective at specific goals. It’s also more limited, and possibly more limiting. Perhaps we need different perspectives on how to think about the Open Internet?

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