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Posts Tagged with “Internet”

Describing the “Open Web”

September 16th, 2009

Jono recently posed the question “What is ‘The Open Web’ and why should you care“. When I’m talking with people who drive cars regularly, I sometimes describe the Open Web by saying it’s a place where there is a decentralized¬† “aftermarket.” “Aftermarket” is the term used to describe replacement parts or equipment that a person uses to maintain or enhance a product. It’s a well known term in the auto industry.

For example, imagine if you bought a car and were forbidden from replacing the windshield wipers or the battery or the tires unless and until the car manufacturer allowed you to do so. Imagine if you could only use a battery that the car manufacturer provided, or approved. And imagine that the only place to buy batteries or windshield wipers or new tires was from the car dealership. In this case your ability to keep yourself safe is reduced — if the manufacturer has only poor quality tires, that’s all you can get. If you want tires for snow but the manufacturer doesn’t offer them, you’re out of luck. If the tires are wildly expensive, you’re stuck. In this setting we would also say goodbye to the variety of independent developers, stores and maintenance centers; everything would be controlled by the automobile manufacturers. Innovation would also be channeled through this same small number of manufacturers. Develop an innovative tire or better stereo system and you have to get the manufacturers to adopt it; you can’t go directly to consumers.

This ability to change components, to enhance or maintain a product the way to meet individual needs is at risk in the online world. Similarly, the ability of independent creators to try new things is at risk. Technology manufacturers use both technical and legal means to restrain this freedom. Some make it difficult technically to change a component. Others try to make it illegal. Some do both.

The Open Web embodies the legal and technical flexibility so that I can decide what combination of products best suits my needs. I may be very happy to stick completely with what the manufacturer of a piece of technology gives me, just as I might be happy to have all my automotive maintenance done by the dealer using exclusively “official” products. I may want to make only a few changes and the options the manufacturer has pre-approved are fine for me. But somewhere in my life I am very likely to want something slightly different, something attuned to me and the quirks of my life. I may need to find a technical guru to help me, but fortunately there are lots of technical communities building interesting things. The Open Web makes this possibility real, a vibrant part of online life.

The Internet and the Public Good

August 6th, 2007

Last week I participated in a thought symposium called The Internet and the Public Good. It was about 30 people, jointly hosted by the Mozilla Foundation, the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The goal from the Mozilla Foundation’s perspective is to learn new ways to think about public benefit and the Internet. We’re a public benefit organization and it’s important to figure out what set of programs we should launch beyond the support of our current projects. So it’s worth exploring whether there is understanding outside of the open source world about public benefit that can help us.

The symposium started out with a discussion of a “public good.” It turns out that a “public good” has a specified meaning in the realm of economics. So there was a lot of discussion about what a public good is, what it means to be a public good, how public goods have been regulated, how public goods might differ in different parts of the world.

A couple of very interesting comments came out. The discipline of economics can separate three things: a public good, public interest and public provision. Public goods are as described above. Public interest (or public benefit) can be generated by either private or public goods. Either public or private good can be provided by public sources (e.g., government) or private sources. (Of course, as a normative issue, one generally hopes that if a government funds something, there is a public benefit to it.)

This has helped me state more precisely what is of interest to me personally. (I’m not speaking for the Mozilla Foundation here). I want to ensure that the Internet has robust public interest aspects. That the Internet has social, civic and individual benefits as well as commercial benefits. I suppose one could call this ensuring the Internet has robust non-commercial aspects. But this is a negative approach. I’m not against commercial activity being a vibrant part of Internet development. On the contrary, I believe commercial activity brings great value to individuals and society.

But I don’t want to live in a world where the only thing the Internet is useful for, or effective at, or pleasant or fun, are activities where someone is making money from me.

In addition, I want public benefit to be provided by both public and private actors. I hope the Mozilla project can push more actors, including commercial players in the Internet space, to provide more public benefits.

The “Open Web” as Platform

April 19th, 2007

We often talk about the “platform” or “a platform” or the “Mozilla platform.” It turns out people use the concept of “platform” to mean different things. There’s the platform for creating web-enabled desktop applications known as XULRunner. (There’s an earlier version of the platform known as “Gecko.”) There’s Firefox as a platform, both for people creating additional features through add-ons, and for web developers. Each of these has value, yet all of them are but parts of a whole.

The basic platform is the Web itself. The most important thing Mozilla can do is to help create a Web that is open, inter-operable, portable, innovative, decentralized, participatory and competitive with closed systems that operate on the Web. I’ll call this the “Open Web.” Everything we do should be evaluated against this goal.

The ability to impact the Open Web should be a constant factor in determining our priorities. Firefox, XULRunner, Thunderbird, other projects — both as products and as platforms — are important as projects themselves. But their long term viability and strategic value lie in their ability to enhance and promote the Open Web.

The Web itself is the great prize, the fundamental platform that determines the degree to which the Mozilla vision can be realized.

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