Lizard Wrangling: Mitchell on Mozilla & More


Inviting Conversation

March 28th, 2016

I feel a strong need for more conversations with people who care about the Open Internet, Mozilla and Mozilla’s mission.  I’ve noticed that my blog has become pretty “official.”  By this I mean most of the posts are more one way and don’t invite conversation the way I’d like.

I’m going to try returning to blog posts that are  more about topics in process, and see if this helps spark good conversations about what we want to see happen and the decisions we want to make going forward.

I’ll tag these posts as “thought process” to be very clear they aren’t intended as decisions or announcements.  We’ll moderate comments on these posts.  Hopefully after-the-fact if possible but if we see too much spam or flame-throwing or trolling we’ll change that plan.

International Women’s Day; Time to Take Action

March 7th, 2016

Tuesday March 8 2016 is International Women’s Day (IWD), an event launched just over 100 years ago to promote equal rights for women.  IWD is officially celebrated in many countries and by the United Nations.

This year I’m much more focused on marking International Women’s Day than ever before.  There are two drivers for this.  On the one hand, there has been important progress to date and many women in the world have ascended to new levels of empowerment.  On the other hand, there is a great deal of critical work still needed.  As the World Economic Forum’s annual The Global Gender Gap Report 2015 notes, “Ten years of measuring the global gender gap has helped us understand how lack of progress is damaging to global economic growth, and given us insights into how practical measures can support growth and improve the quality of life for women worldwide.” Governments around the world have recognized the remaining needs by including “Gender Equality” in the United Nations shared goals for the future, known as the “Sustainable Development Goals.”  Empowering women to reach full potential has many aspects, and each one of us with good will can make valuable contributions.

I am particularly focused on the role the Internet can play in improving the lives and opportunities of women, girls and their families.  The Internet is an unusual development because its core design principles are to provide the maximum amount of opportunity for the maximum number of people.  In the tech world we use phrases such as “decentralized” or “placing decision-making at the edges of the system rather than the “center” or “open” or “interoperable” or “permission-less” to explain this extraordinary nature of the Internet.  Sometimes we shorten this to “the Open Internet.”  Whatever the phrase, the meaning is a system where more people have opportunity to innovate and to solve problems that are important to them.  An opportunity like the Open Internet comes along very rarely, maybe once in many generations, and so I want to make sure that its benefits are available to all of humanity.  Indeed, it is crystal clear to me that the Open Internet is they key to development that is inclusive, innovative and sustainable.

For this reason I am honored to participate in the United Nation’s’ first High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which was launched this January.  I am eager to bring the possibilities that ICT and the Internet bring for  empowering women into the work of the Panel.  This involves learning for me, as this is a global topic and my Silicon Valley experience is only a piece of the picture.  At Mozilla we’ve learned a lot and benefitted from our participation in the US State Department’s TechWomen program, which brings professional women in technology fields to spend time with Silicon Valley technology organizations.  The women Mozilla has hosted through this program have been impressive, inspiring, and the source of much learning for Mozilla and for me.  Similarly we have learned a great deal from the Outreachy program, which brings people from underrepresented groups, including women, to working internships in free and open source software organizations.  And of course I learn an enormous amount from the thousands of Mozilla volunteers as well as the organically developed Women@Mozilla program.

Recently Anar Simpson (Special Advisor to me on the topic of Women, Girls and Technology) and I followed up with delegation trips to join women  professionals in technology in Jordan, the UAE and Zimbabwe.  In Jordan the TechWomen designed the  “I Am Empowered” campaign which reflects the degree of progress we’ve made to date.

Photo Credit: Agnes Monpanari

The input from these activities will help form my technology related contributions to the Panel.  Similarly I’ll be gathering input from Mozilla community members, who build and teach and spread the benefits of the Open Internet around the globe.  And of course, from technology leaders in Silicon Valley, so that together we can make greater strides for women’s economic empowerment.

Dr. Karim Lakhani Appointed to Mozilla Corporation Board of Directors

February 1st, 2016

Image from Twitter @klakhani

Image from Twitter @klakhani

As we just posted on the Mozilla Blog, today we are very pleased to announce an addition to the Mozilla Corporation Board of Directors, Dr. Karim Lakhani, a scholar in innovation theory and practice.

Dr. Lakhani is the first of the new appointments we expect to make this year. We are working to expand our Board of Directors to reflect a broader range of perspectives on people, products, technology and diversity. That diversity encompasses many factors: from geography to gender identity and expression, cultural to ethnic identity, expertise to education.

Born in Pakistan and raised in Canada, Karim received his Ph.D. in Management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, where he also serves as Principal Investigator for the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab at the Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

Karim’s research focuses on open source communities and distributed models of innovation. Over the years I have regularly reached out to Karim for advice on topics related to open source and community based processes. I’ve always found the combination of his deep understanding of Mozilla’s mission and his research-based expertise to be extremely helpful. As an educator and expert in his field, he has developed frameworks of analysis around open source communities and leaderless management systems. He has many workshops, cases, presentations, and journal articles to his credit. He co-edited a book of essays about open source software titled Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, and he recently co-edited the upcoming book Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities and Openness, both from MIT Press.

However, what is most interesting to me is the “hands-on” nature of Karim’s research into community development and activities. He has been a supporter and ready advisor to me and Mozilla for a decade.

Please join me now in welcoming Dr. Karim Lakhani to the Board of Directors. He supports our continued investment in open innovation and joins us at the right time, in parallel with the Katharina Borchert’s transition off of our Board of Directors into her role as our new Chief Innovation Officer. We are excited to extend our Mozilla network with these additions, as we continue to ensure that the Internet stays open and accessible to all.


Honored to Participate in New UN Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment

January 22nd, 2016

Women’s economic empowerment is necessary for many reasons.  It is necessary to bring health, safety and opportunity to half of humanity.  It is necessary to bring investment and health to families and communities.  It is necessary to unlock economic growth and build more stable societies.

Today the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched the first ever High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment to help drive change by providing thought leadership and mobilizing concrete actions.  The Panel will provide recommendations for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to

. . . improve economic outcomes for women and promote women’s leadership . . .

The Panel is co-chaired by Luis Guillermo Solis, the President of Costa Rica, and Simona Scarpaleggia, the CEO of IKEA Switzerland.  Leaders of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, and UN Women will participate.  The Panel will also include a diverse range of representatives from different regions and roles.  I have been invited to serve on this Panel and I have, of course, accepted.  It’s clear to me that the Open Internet is the key to global growth that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable.   To fulfill this promise, digital transformation must include education and opportunity as well as basic access to everyone, with women as equal participants.  I am delighted to contribute this perspective to the work of the Panel.

The Panel is supported by the UNWomen, which will provide the Secretariat.  UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.  I’ve been lucky enough to watch the Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at work over the last six months or so.  She’s a tremendous force for the empowerment of women globally and I am delighted to work even more closely with UN Women.

A call for the release of Bassel Khartabil

December 16th, 2015

Bassel Khartabil is a Creative Commons and open source contributor in Damascus, Syria. He  has been imprisoned for three years due to these activities. The MIT Media Lab has invited Bassel to join the Lab as a research scientist in the Center for Civic Media. There Bassel could continue his work building 3D models of the ancient city of Palmyra, the remains of which have been destroyed by ISIS.

Instead, word has recently come that Bassel has been secretly sentenced to death.

On December 10 Joi Ito, the Director of the MIT Media Lab, described how he and Creative Commons came to work with Bassel. Joi’s story is also the story of how I came to know and work with Bassel on open source projects.  I’ve put some additional details of my experiences with Bassel below.

The Guardian has also written a detailed story of Bassels’ involvement with open culture and open source activities. Bassel was also explicitly mentioned by US Secretary of State John Kerry in the statement issued this December 10 to mark International Human Rights Day.

I initially met Bassel through joint activities with Creative Commons. Joichi Ito, then CEO of Creative Commons, invited me to join CC in their launch events in the Middle East. I accompanied Joi on the trip he describes in detail in his post linked above.  My role was to add additional open source contacts and expertise to the group.

As Joi mentioned, the CC crew and I drove from Amman, Jordan to the Syrian border, and then from the border to Damascus. All except me, that is, who had visa issues when we arrived at the border. This was not really surprising to me since the idea that an American citizen could drive up to the Syrian border and get a visa on the spot seemed unimaginable to me. One of the organizers had been sure this would not be a problem however, so I joined the group. It didn’t take long at the border to realize it would would be a problem. Joichi asked one of the local CC contacts and one of the drivers to stay with me, giving me two Arabic speakers to help and a degree of comfort. The other car, driver and the rest of the CC team continued on to Damascus for the events Joi describes. In a moment of odd humor to defuse the tension, Joi named me the “hot potato” to be juggled.

I spent seven hours at the Syrian border while Bassel worked with authorities to get my visa situation sorted out. I was extremely lucky that the driver was an elegant and cultured gentleman, who told me stories and acted as my guide around the border buildings.

Meanwhile, Bassel was working like crazy to resolve my visa issues. This of course involved constant contact with the government authorities. I was fully prepared to learn it was not possible to continue  –emotionally, anyway. I wasn’t really sure how I would get back to Amman, or if I had enough local currency to pay for the trip but I figured that the Creative Commons folks would help me get settled somehow.

At the end of the phone call Bassel kept saying that it would work out, it just needed time for him to talk with all the various people who needed to sign for my visa. To my surprise he was right.

Eventually all the necessary paperwork was obtained and the border authorities allowed me to continue to Damascus. After arriving in Damascus I attended the events Joi described, feeling very lucky to see Creative Commons and open source welcomed by a previously unknown community. It was clear that Bassel was focusing huge amounts of his life’s energy on serving these communities.

A year or two later I returned to Damascus on my own. Once again Bassel was my host. He arranged for me to meet with government officials. He did the same with a range of students, including the local organization of women programming students. He arranged for me to give talks at the university and at the local HackerSpace which he had founded. We talked about Open Source, learning to code and Creative Commons. Bassel worked to promote the open Internet and open culture.  He pushed hard for inclusion of Arabic speakers in online life.

Bassel was arrested in March of 2012 when he returned to Syria after a Creative Commons conference. The Guardian article describes what has happened to Bassel after that arrest. And recently the warning that Bassel has been secretly sentenced to death has come.

Today I echo Joi’s call to the Internet community on behalf of Bassel Khartabil: “We ask for your help in calling attention to Bassel’s arbitrary detention and seeking his whereabouts and immediate release.”

Mozilla Open Source Support: First Awards Made

December 10th, 2015

We are delighted to announce the first set of awards in the Mozilla Open Source Support program’s “Foundational Technology” track, which supports projects that Mozilla uses or relies upon.

We have been greatly helped in evaluating applications and making awards by the MOSS “Foundational Technology” Committee – many thanks to them.

The first seven awardees are:

Buildbot: $15,000. Buildbot is a continuous build and integration system which has been immensely valuable to Mozilla over the past few years. Their award will be used to remove the term “slave” from all documentation, APIs and tests, and also to make improvements so Buildbot works better in the Amazon EC2 cloud.

CodeMirror: $20,000. CodeMirror is a powerful source code editor built with Web technologies, used in the Developer Tools and in Mozilla Thimble. Their award will be used to improve support for both right-to-left languages and complex script input.

Discourse: $25,000. Discourse is online discussion forum software, used by several Mozilla communities. Their award will be used to make email a first-class interaction mechanism for Discourse, allowing Discourse instances to replace and improve upon mailing lists.

Read The Docs: $48,000. Read The Docs is a website for building and hosting documentation, used by many of Mozilla’s Web projects. Their award will be used to add the ability to generate documentation from code without needing to install it, thereby making it easier to build the documentation for complex projects.

Mercurial: $75,000. Mercurial is a distributed source code management system, used heavily by Mozilla for core repositories such as mozilla-central. Their award will be used to implement better support for ‘blame’ (showing who last changed some code) and a better web UI.

Django: $150,000. Django is a popular server-side Web development framework, used in many Mozilla websites. Their award will be used to make Django suitable to be a back end for Web apps which use WebSockets.

Bro: $200,000. Bro is network monitoring software, which is at the heart of Mozilla’s intrusion detection system for our network. Their award will be used to build the Comprehensive Bro Archive Network, a public repository of modules and plugins for Bro.

MOSS is an ongoing program, with an initial allocation of $1 million. The above awards allocate just over half of that money ($503,000), and applications are open for the “Foundational Technology” track on an ongoing basis. We look forward to supporting more of the excellent projects that Mozilla uses or relies upon in the future. Thank you to you all – we couldn’t do what we do, without you.

Thunderbird Update

December 3rd, 2015

This message is a summary and an update to a message about Thunderbird that I sent to Mozilla developers on Monday.

Here are the key points. First, Thunderbird and Firefox are interconnected in a few different ways. They are connected through our technical infrastructure. Both use Mozilla build and release systems. This seems arcane but it turns out that “build and release” is a massive component in the development and distribution of complex software projects. They’re connected through the sharing of some pieces of technology. And they share a home in the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Project.

The time has come when it is no longer effective for Thunderbird and Firefox to keep sharing the same technical infrastructure. Firefox and Thunderbird have diverging needs. Firefox needs to move at the speed of the Web, and needs to bring the things we love about the Web into the world of mobile, social, data and the cloud. That’s a fiercely competitive setting with high consequences. We need to be laser-focused if we want to move these parts of online life towards the traits of individual user centrality and control, openness, interoperability and a level playing field. Thunderbird is a valuable and respected open source project, with different parameters. In my message on Monday I noted that planning for the future should be based on the need to plan for a future where the technical infrastructure of Firefox and Thunderbird are separate.

I’ve seen some characterize this as Mozilla “dropping” Thunderbird. This is not accurate. We are going to disentangle the technical infrastructure. We are going to assist the Thunderbird community. This includes working with organizations that want to invest in Thunderbird, several of which have stepped forward already. Mozilla Foundation will serve as a fiscal sponsor for Thunderbird donations during this time.

I also noted that we should look at whether Mozilla remains the best organizational and legal home for Thunderbird. This is a separate question from the technical infrastructure. This question is much more wide open. I don’t know what the answer will be. It could be that Mozilla remains the best home, based on history, affiliation and shared community. It could also be that a home geared to open source projects of Thunderbird’s size and scope is better suited. I can imagine either being the case. We have decided to separate the technical infrastructure and to explore what is best for Thunderbird and for the Mozilla project as a whole.

These discussions are at a very early stage. Finding the right solution requires some effort. This is Mozilla focusing on a more forward looking path, one aimed at longer term stability rather than continuing the status quo.

Mozilla Open Source Support Program: Applications are Open

October 30th, 2015

Last week we launched the Mozilla Open Source Support Program (MOSS) – an award program specifically focused on supporting open source and free software. The first track within MOSS is a support for open source and free software projects that Mozilla uses or relies on. Our goal is to identify up to 10 such projects that we can fund in a thoughtful, meaningful way by December 12th.

We received positive feedback about the program, and a few ideas to improve and refine the offering. We have collected your feedback and answered questions – the MOSS wiki page has been updated to reflect those additions.

Today we are opening the application process.

Applications must be submitted by project leads in collaboration with a Mozilla champion – an established Mozillian who knows the project concerned and is willing to vouch for and support the application. If you are seeking a champion for your project, the best thing to do is investigate how Mozilla uses your code and ask the people most closely involved – those who integrated it, or who have patched it, or who maintain installations of it. If they can’t champion your grant, they may be able to suggest someone who can.

The deadline for applications which wish to be considered for the initial batch of MOSS grants is 11:59pm Pacific Time on Sunday November 23rd. However, we think it’s unlikely that the initial round of grants will exhaust the money available and so, after that date, MOSS applications will continue to be accepted, and will be considered when time permits.

You can read more about our draft selection criteria and committee in newly-posted information on the wiki. We invite you to take a look and share comments and feedback for one week.

We plan to hold a brown bag with David Bryant on ‘Building a Community around MOSS’ some time in the week beginning November 9th. Please join us if you are interested in becoming a champion for an open source project Mozilla currently uses, and if you would like to help us build a strong community. Timing will be published on the mailing list in the next few days.

If you want to be kept informed of Mozilla Open Source Support Program (MOSS) updates please join the public mailing list.

We look forward to considering the applications.

Mozilla Launches Open Source Support Program

October 23rd, 2015

Initial Allocation of One Million US Dollars

Today Mozilla is launching an award program specifically focused on supporting open source and free software.  Our initial allocation for this program is $1,000,000. We are inviting people already deeply connected to Mozilla to participate in our first set of awards.

Mozilla is a part of the open source and free software movement.  We were born out of this movement.  We prosper because of the technology and activism which comes from this movement.  And we know that open source and free software remains a key part of the Internet and the online life we seek to build.  We have had a grant program for many years.  Now it is time to formalize a systematic way to provide a new level of support to this community.

The Mozilla Open Source Support program is designed to recognize and celebrate communities who are leading the way with open source projects that contribute to our work and the health of the Web.  It encompasses both: a) a “give back” element for open source and free software projects that Mozilla relies on; and b) a “give forward” component for supporting other projects where financial resources from Mozilla can make our entire community more successful.  We’ll give more specific names to these components as we go forward.   The Mozilla Open Source Support program will also encompass a component supporting increased attention to the security of open source and free software programs.  Our initial allocation for Mozilla Open Source Support is one million US dollars.  As we develop this program we will determine future allocations.

We will start immediately implementing the “give back” component for open source and free software projects on which Mozilla relies.  Our goal is to identify up to 10 projects we rely on and can fund in a thoughtful, meaningful way by December 12th.

I invite Mozillians and our community to participate in the further refinement of this program by suggesting improvements to its terms, which you will find at I’ll take input on the design of the program for a week and then will finalize the terms for the first set of awards.  Please send suggestions to the Mozilla Open Source Support mailing list; you can subscribe here. The wiki contains a FAQ with more information about the program.

I also invite Mozillians and friends of Mozilla to begin identifying projects we rely on and are good candidates for this program.  We are compiling a basic list of projects we rely on here.

I am reminded regularly of how deeply Mozillians identify open source and free software as a critical element of an open Internet and healthy, trustworthy online experiences.  I am excited to build a program that helps us bring concrete support to this worldview.  You are the key to making this program great – to identifying great projects, to helping figure out what engagement from Mozilla would make a meaningful difference and to deepening Mozilla’s connections with our open source and free software compatriots.

I’m here to support this effort, and to support you in making it awesome.

Zero Rating and the Open Internet

May 6th, 2015

One of the challenges of our time is how to make Internet access and use a realistic possibility for the billions of people who cannot afford the data charges.  An attitude of “just wait, eventually this will work out” is not acceptable.  Such an approach would reinforce the global digital divide; it would keep a large fraction of humanity from benefiting from the possibilities of the Open Internet.

An early response to address this problem has been various programs known under the name “zero-rating.”  “Zero-rating” as practiced today means two things:  First, someone other than the ultimate consumer covers the cost of their data charges. Secondly, the parts of the Internet that are available for citizens to choose from is limited, and predetermined by those entities with financial power.

The first part of “zero-rating” is clearly part of the long-term answer, and Mozilla applauds the work being done here.  The second part of zero-rating as practiced today — the predetermined, limited access — is disastrous.

Selective zero-rating is unquestionably bad for the long term opportunities and inclusion for the people it is designed to serve.  It pre-selects what’s available, directing people to where others want them to go.  It is bad for economic inclusion. It is bad for the ability of new entrepreneurs to grow onto the global scale.  It is bad for the long term health of the Internet.  Zero-rating as practiced today is “selective zero-rating for a few apps and websites; exclusion for the rest of the Internet.”

The correct answer is that all data is transmitted at the same price, whether that price is “zero” or anything else.  This way, consumers pick the content they choose to access based on the quality of that content, not the financial power and business partnerships of the provider. This way, new entrepreneurs can still reach any and all users on the Internet, even if they are a few  people working in a co-working space with no ability to subsidize data charges.  I’ll call this system “equal-rating for all” or “equal-rating” for short. (One could call it “zero-rating for all” as well.  I haven’t done so to limit the chances of confusion.)  There’s no question that this is a better answer.

The question is, how do we get there?  Today “zero-rating” comes in a few flavors:

1) Network providers cover the costs to users of accessing certain hand-picked sites and apps;

2) A company pays to provide access to a suite of different services; or

3) a company pays to subsidize access to only their services.

In any of these cases there is a direct connection between a particular site and a cost. This is a well known model for the private sector, and it’s no surprise this is the first model to be explored. As recent protests in India and elsewhere are showing, however, selective zero-rating has massive unwelcome properties which threaten to make this model unacceptable.  In an optimistic vein, we can see this as the dialog between the initial proposals from private industry being adjusted and improved by citizen engagement in the future of the Open Internet.

There are many cases where industry leaders gather together to resolve a problem shared across an entire industry. Could the private sector organize itself to provide a baseline “equal rating” for some amount of data necessary for modern life at discounted or no charge?  Such a program would integrate the “version 1” private solution of limited access with the citizen demands for the opportunity and full inclusion of the full Open Internet.   Perhaps those companies paying for the equal rating might get a “brought to you by” attribution that could bring brand value and network effects.  Orange and Mozilla are experimenting with this sort of model in multiple African African and Middle Eastern markets, where users purchasing a $40 (USD) Klif phone receive unlimited talk, text, and 500 MB a month for 6 months.

Another possible way of “equal-rating” content so it is free-of-charge to the user is a model where people watch ads in order to access other sites. Mozilla has been exploring this model in a partnership with Grameenphone (owned by Telenor) in Bangladesh, where users can receive 20MB of unrestricted data per day after watching a short ad in the phone’s marketplace.  One question is whether the model makes sense economically when the audience has little disposable income, so testing and exploration here is important. This model may seem odd to Open Internet activists in markets where most can pay for data charges.  However, this group isn’t the target market.

In a related vein, an increasing number of companies, foundations and non-profit organizations around the world are interested in how we promote social benefit via the Internet.  These organizations could join together to come up with creative approaches to make sure everyone has access to a certain amount of data that lets them participate in online activities.  Could these organizations join together to organize and implement an “equal-rating” plan?  What would that look like?

Immediate exploration into how to implement these “version two (“v2”) solutions is important for two reasons.  First, they are better for the people being served, economic inclusion and the health of the Open Internet as the platform for global inclusion and development.

Second, a growing number of people are advocating that their governments ban zero-rating. Such action would, of course, force the private sector to find some different solution.  We agree that different market solutions must be found.  If the private sector can react quickly and effectively, achieving these solutions without regulatory bans has two significant benefits.  First, it would avoid any unintended consequences from the specific text of legislation.  And second, once a government has the authority to ban zero-rating in general, it might decide to issue exceptions. We’ve seen this happen in Chile, for example, with Wikipedia Zero being granted an exception. We love Wikipedia and believe if there is going to be any exception at all, Wikipedia is a good one. However, this government ability to control content that is actually available so easily has some profound implications for free expression and censorship that have yet to be explored.

The correct answer for full opportunity of people coming online is to provide is “equal-rating” for all data. How we get there and how fast we can get there is a critical question. The opportunity level for billions of people depend on it.  Mozilla will actively engage in this process.  Our first formal action was to deliver a letter dated May 5 to Prime Minister Modi of India in support of the Open Internet, and stating that  “Zero rating is not the right solution  … we do recognize the need for new and alternative market solutions ….we are committed to doing our part alongside the other actors in the Internet community to address these challenges.”

You can follow the ongoing work at the Mozilla Policy Blog, which today has a companion piece to this post, authored by our Policy team. And please jump in, either with Mozilla or elsewhere, to build effective, healthy solutions to Internet access for all.


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