Extending our Reach: Many Layers of User Sovereignty

August 4th, 2011

Today we access the Internet in many ways, with phones and tablets and new devices becoming more prevalent.  These devices have new operating systems, new business models, and new opportunities.  They also bring new challenges to interoperability and user-sovereignty.  How should Mozilla respond?  Should Firefox and Gecko be our only tools?  Or should we develop other tools?

I believe it is imperative we develop additional offerings.   We need open, open-source, interoperable, public-benefit, standards-based platforms for multiple layers of Internet life.

Where is the open source, standards-based platform for universally accessible, decentralized, customized identity on the web?  Today there isn’t one.  There should be.   Mozilla should build it.  When we do, it will complement the commercial offerings.  If it’s widely adopted then it will help drive the overall state of this part of life towards a more open, interoperable, user-controlled version.

Where is the open source, standards-based engine for universally accessible, decentralized, customized, user-controlled management of personal information I create about myself?  Today there isn’t one.  There should be.   Mozilla should build it.

Today many Mozilla contributors don’t think of these things as “engines” or “platforms” of Internet life.  These areas don’t necessarily handle javascript or CSS or the DOM.  We don’t even have standards or even an obvious web standards body for them yet.   They may be built primarily as server software or as applications separate from the browser.  But each of these — and others we’ll identify over time —  has the potential to be an “engine” or “platform” with power and scope analogous to that of Gecko and Firefox today.  They have the potential to move the Mozilla mission forward as a complement to the browser.   If people choose to use a device or operating system where Gecko and Firefox can’t reach, we can still offer one or more platforms for standards- based interoperability and user sovereignty.   And when used in combination with Firefox these engines will have the potential to create “defense in depth”  for user sovereignty.

Will additional offerings reduce our impact?  I think not, for several reasons.

  1. Firefox will cause a number of people to pick a cell phone / tablet that runs Firefox well and we will work hard to make this an easy choice.   But it won’t cause everyone to do this.  We know this from the iOS.   iOS users tell us regularly that they would like Firefox on their device.  But they are still using those Apple devices, and Apple sales are strong.   If we can solve problems for people with Gecko-based offerings, that’s a tremendous win.  If we provide platforms in addition to Gecko for different layers of Internet life, that’s also a tremendous tool for our mission.
  2. Requiring all innovation to fit inside a specified container — even an immensely powerful one like Gecko — puts immense strains on that container.  Instead, we should figure out what are the most important things for the Gecko platform and equip the platform team to pursue those tasks whole-heartedly.
  3. People who love a new Mozilla offering may well be drawn to try Firefox and Gecko.

The discussion about iOS and systems like it remind me of discussions we used to have about Linux vs. Windows.  Windows is a locked down operating system compared to Linux.  One is proprietary, one is free software.  In the early days some Mozilla contributors urged that we should care only about Linux.  They felt our mission would be better served by limiting our offering to platforms that align well with  the Mozilla mission.  We choose a different path.  We chose to take our values to where people live.  People were living on Windows, so we went there.  We made it easy for people to switch from Windows to Linux by providing key functionality across platforms.  If we hadn’t, the web would be a very sorry place today.

We should bring Mozilla values to where people are living today.  We should do so at multiple layers of Internet life. Some of these will be Gecko and Firefox based.  Others may be available across browsers.  This gives us multiple engines of interoperability and user sovereignty.  It provides multiple ways for people to choose Mozilla.

This future has immense challenges.  It offers huge potential rewards for Internet life.

17 comments for “Extending our Reach: Many Layers of User Sovereignty”

  1. 1

    Jeffrey said on August 4th, 2011 at 12:37 pm:

    This is a good idea. Mozilla should try to make other products besides Firefox. It would be cool to see a Social Network or Search Engine from Mozilla.

  2. 2

    Antoine Turmel (GeekShadow) said on August 4th, 2011 at 5:16 pm:

    Seeks is a great project about search engine 🙂

  3. 3

    Caspy7 said on August 5th, 2011 at 12:47 am:

    Excellent visioneering and articulation.
    Keep it up Mitchell.

  4. 4

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  5. 5

    JMJimmy said on August 5th, 2011 at 4:37 pm:

    Expanding your reach is one thing but recent releases of Firefox and Thunderbird are driving people away from your products. What made Mozilla a success was their dedication to customization. Realizing that individuals want unique solutions to their own issues. Forcing UI changes on users with no options for easy customization, limiting access to certain areas of the browser for developers which results in users having to choose between addons instead of using bits of each that works for them, rapid release breaking half of them before they really need to be updated.

    This area is so often overlooked. MS Office is the same, it’s success partly due to the ability to extend the program to suit various needs. From Firefox 1.x to 2.x I recommended to everyone to switch because I knew it would be able to suit their needs, whatever they may be. 3.x I recommended it with alternatives. Now, I’m still running 3.6 and seriously looking at Opera as an alternative to recommend instead of Firefox due to recent design decisions.

  6. 6

    James said on August 5th, 2011 at 5:59 pm:

    Customized identity? Management of personal information? I just want the browser I’ve used since 2005. I hope a group of developers fork Firefox 3.6 and keep it truly non-profit and independent.

  7. 7

    Manuel Simoni said on August 6th, 2011 at 5:25 am:

    I’d love to see HTTP serving support in browsers. Running a server should be as simple as keeping a tab open.

  8. 8

    pcuaron said on August 6th, 2011 at 6:43 am:

    First focus on your core product, the browser, which is sorely lacking and driving people away into a monster-company controlled as apple’s and google’s webkit browsers, which advance the internet in the opposite direction of openness while you waste your time imagining chimeras.

  9. 9

    Salim said on August 6th, 2011 at 6:56 am:

    ” First focus on your core product, the browser, which is sorely lacking and driving people away into a monster-company controlled as apple’s and google’s webkit browsers, which advance the internet in the opposite direction of openness while you waste your time imagining chimeras.”

    Please just make the best browser possible and don’t churn the UI too much.

  10. 10

    Derrek Cooper said on August 6th, 2011 at 6:57 am:

    I always thought Mozilla should offer a service that people depend on daily beyond a browser.. Thing that stands out the most is email. Yahoo, hotmail and gmail are out there, but it doesnt seem like either really dominates. Everyone claims to hate email, but sadly it’s a part of life. How can Mozilla redefine email?

    Why is google+ taking off? I would venture to say that it is it’s tight connection to gmail.

  11. 11

    aardmaat said on August 7th, 2011 at 1:05 am:

    I’d like to see a place from where I can handle it all. I often have to share things on multiple social networks and that can be a pain in the ass. If you can deliver a place from where I can update all the services I use at the same time, and get info from all those services, I’d definitely use it 🙂

  12. 12

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  13. 13

    Regnard Raquedan said on August 9th, 2011 at 8:21 am:

    Wow, the posts in the last couple of weeks have been very rich with insights on Mozilla’s future.

  14. 14

    SilverWav said on August 13th, 2011 at 4:29 am:

    The move to WebKit is needed if Apple controls 50% of the mobile internet. But running two different platforms Gecko to WebKit wouldn’t really be a long term solution, would it?

    So it looks as if you will have an interesting balancing act to manage, that of the transition from Gecko to WebKit without annoying users and developer so much that they just move to Chrome.

    Mozilla have earned a huge amount of trust with Firefox and their principled stand up to date, the future looks interesting and full of possibilities.

    Oh and the Firefox Rapid Release Process is the best thing to happen in years.

  15. 15

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  16. 16

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  17. 17

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