Posts Tagged with “openness”

Heartfelt moment of the week

May 10th, 2010

Discussion of what “open” means to Mozillians in Drumbeat group leads to this (emphasis added):

Open is:

Equal accessibility for all, without barriers, regardless of person’s mental or physical abilities, financial status, education, or native language.

I learned that from Mozilla.

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.

Building the Open Web — Jesse Dylan and Elizabeth Stark today

August 5th, 2009

Jesse and Elizabeth will be at Mozilla today to talk about building the open web. This talk will be streamed over the web at I hope to archive this as well, especially given the short notice.

Jesse and Elizabeth are planning on talking about “the ideas of social movements and engagement as they apply to the Internet . . . draw[ing] upon successful examples to discuss the factors involved in engaging large amounts of people to support an issue. We will discuss what is needed to communicate complex ideas in a more accessible fashion, and examine ways to inspire people to think more about these ideas, and to get them to actually do something about it.”

Jesse Dylan is a filmmaker and idea generator. He has worked with organizations such as RED, Bono’s one campaign, the Clinton Global initiative, and TED. He is the founder of Lybba, a medical non-profit seeking to provide medical information openly and accessibly on the web. Jesse created the “Yes We Can” video in support of the Obama campaign, which garnered over 100 million views.

Elizabeth Stark is a free culture advocate. She teaches at Yale University, founded the Harvard Free Culture group, and most recently produced the inaugural Open Video Conference in NYC. She has worked for years engaging a variety of communities and organizations around the ideas free knowledge and cultural participation.

Principles for an Open Transition

December 2nd, 2008

Openness, transparency and massive participation are extraordinary tools for problem solving. They are also important tools for citizen engagement, providing positive alternatives to alienation and conflict.

Mozilla — like many open source projects — lives or dies by these same traits. Openness, transparency, massive participation — these are the traits that identify Mozilla. And we’ve seen success tackling problems conventional wisdom said couldn’t be solved.

During the US presidential campaign the Obama campaign expressed a clear commitment to using Internet technologies to enable increased openness, transparency and civic engagement into the government process. The Principles of Open Transition identify basic requirements for meeting these goals. We hope the Principles will be the start of a rich discussion about openness and citizen engagement. Many questions will come up over time. The Principles won’t answer them all. We hope they identify a few key, foundational elements that we need to get right for the rest to develop well.

Mozilla is an explicitly non-partisan organization. Mozilla supports citizen participation for people of  different views and policy objectives. Mozilla is also an explicitly international organization. We hope that Mozilla’s experience with openness and participation directed toward effective problem solving can be of benefit to many organizations —  government and otherwise — that seek to bring these approaches to their work.

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?

The Open Web and Firefox Focus

April 26th, 2007

The Mozilla Foundation’s Statement of Direction describes two complementary techniques for advancing the Open Web. One is to nurture a broad set of technology and community building efforts, centered around the Mozilla platform and values. The second is to focus more precisely on those areas with the greatest leverage for change. Today, this second technique translates into a focus on Firefox, the platform technology that underlies Firefox, and the Firefox ecosystem.

It is extraordinarily difficult to create the kind of impact that Firefox and the Firefox ecosystem now enjoy. The Mozilla community has done this, and the Foundation feels an acute responsibility to live up to the opportunities this creates. We have a rare point of leverage and must not let it slip away.

Because Firefox has such leverage today, the bulk of the Foundation’s resources are devoted to promoting Firefox, the Firefox ecosystem, the underlying technologies that make modern browsing possible, and the various communities that participate in these efforts. In more concrete terms this means:

  • Focus most where we have the greatest impact — Firefox and “browsing” broadly defined — that is, browser-based access to web content and applications
  • Focus on the XUL platform that underlies Firefox to keep the Open Web competitive against closed/proprietary platforms
  • Assist other Mozilla participants and projects, but not equally with Firefox and not at significant cost to Firefox
  • Be exemplary Mozilla participants (this has historically been explicitly not doing whatever people ask for, but providing evaluation, review, module ownership, etc., with a focus broader than a single product)

Clearly these expectations are very broad — what does it mean to “focus on the XUL platform that underlies Firefox?” How much is specific to Firefox? To what extent are more general platform needs incorporated as “assist other Mozilla projects, but not equally with Firefox and not at significant cost to Firefox?” This level of detail should generally be worked out by the technical leadership through the module ownership system.

And clearly there are a range of other activities which the Foundation could undertake to promote the first goal above — encouraging a broad set of Mozilla-based participation, whether or not any particular effort becomes a global general consumer product. As noted in the Statement of Direction, the Foundation intends to do so. There will be more on this topic before too long.

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.

Open Source, Open Science

August 30th, 2006

At Sci Foo Brian Behlendorf and I hosted a session about how the lessons learned from the open source software experience might be applicable to scientific endeavors. The hope is that we can support the “open” movement in science as well. By “open” I mean a system where effort and resources are pooled and the result shared. This is in contrast to an increasing focus on what’s “my intellectual property, how can I best protect that intellectual property, use it to create a closed system and then extract the most value for me from that closed system.”

We ended up with a list of things that are different about the life sciences that make it difficult to transport open source software methods wholesale. These are listed below in no particular order. I use “science” here to cover the range of topics, although it feels a bit basic. The real value is in trying to figure out how to alleviate some of these problems. I haven’t tried to do that here; rather I’m trying to start a list of the various issues.

  1. A lot of scientific effort is expensive. It’s hard to work in many areas without being tied to an institution that provides the equipment, the labs and other necessary support. This greatly reduces an individual’s ability to break out of the standard way of doing things.
  2. A lot of scientific efforts require long periods of outlays before getting meaningful results — it’s harder to find incremental projects that can demonstrate value (whether economic or social) quickly.
  3. It’s much more difficult to “scratch one’s own itch.” Someone choosing to work in many scientific fields is unlikely to be solving his or her own immediate problem. The result may be years away, unknown, and not directly applicable to his or her own life. This is quite different from software development, where many people get involved to fix something that is bugging their daily experiences.
  4. There’s no accepted set of free and unencumbered tools and building block for the life sciences. This problem was raised by Richard Jefferson of, who notes that the technologies used to pursue the scientific process are encumbered by patents in such a way that the end result is hard (or impossible) to use and share freely. It’s as if a patent on a compiler (or all compilers) applied to any code that had been compiled. Richard’s pithy summation of this problem is: “there’s no LAMP stack.” (Thanks to Richard for permission to attribute this to him, which is required under the Chatham House Rule under which SciFoo operated.)
  5. There’s already a recognition system in place through the peer-reviewed journals. This mechanism has a variety of problems itself and may be due for change. But even so, there is an accepted review, recognition and advancement system for the sciences outside of collaboration.
  6. Collaboration often needs to occur between institutions rather than individuals. This makes it harder to get started than simply having a few people decide to try something.

The Big Picture — Part 3

July 4th, 2006

Here is the last part of Mike Shaver’s summary of the Categories: Mozilla | Tags: , , , | Comments off

History of “Choice and Innovation on the Internet”

March 13th, 2006

I’ve been thinking about how to describe the goals of the Mozilla project, and how the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation fit into that. By “Mozilla project” I mean all the people who are involved, unrelated to any employment relationship. The Mozilla Foundation, including its subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation, together make up only a small portion of the people involved. It’s important that the Mozilla Foundation remain in sync with the larger project it seeks to lead, and that we have healthy discussions about that goal.

We’ve been using the goal of “choice and innovation on the Internet” for some time now. Recently someone asked me for a history of this phrase. I did a bit of research, here’s what I found.

I. Pre-Foundation website.

As far as I can tell, I think we started using the specific phrase “choice and innovation” when we created the new web pages for the Mozilla Foundation. Before the Foundation existed, our web site and communication was mostly internal, aimed at developers and participants in the project. It was less aimed at end-users or at the general public. So the site did not have a focus on explaining the importance of the project in general terms.

II. Pre-Foundation Public Statements

In the pre-Foundation era I did explain the importance of the Mozilla project to the press, particularly around the release of Mozilla 1.0 in June, 2002. I’ve found and copied a few of these interviews that were done by email below. The comments show their age a bit (2002 was a long time ago in Internet time) but overall still seem relevant today.

Question: “What is your view on the market share currently held by the Mozilla browser? Is it important to take on Internet Explorer? (if it is, how to do that?)”

Answer: “The Internet is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. ‘Browser’ software is the means through which consumers and citizens access and manipulate data via the Internet. It is an unhealthy situation to have only one means of accessing Internet information. It is unhealthy to have our means of accessing the Internet determined by the business plan of a software vendor. The goal of the Mozilla project is to provide alternative, open source software through which people can access the Internet. This is a critical piece in allowing the needs of citizens and consumers to determine the development of Internet technologies.”

“The Mozilla project provides a viable, vibrant technical alternative to Internet Explorer. This alone is not the entire story, distribution is also important. But distribution is impossible until a viable technical alternative exists, and Mozilla provides such an alternative.”

Question: “Going further than the published roadmap, where do you see the Mozilla browser five or ten years from now? Which kind of features may be incorporated in the future?

Answer: “The Internet is a diverse environment. Human beings can access their data and conduct transactions on the Net based on their goals. Different people choose different means of doing so, some focus on convenience, some on protecting their privacy. Innovation has returned to “browser” software, providing new convenience to users. Many of us use devices other than desktop computers to access the Internet, and Mozilla based software helps power the change.”

Answer: Our goal is a World-Wide-Web where consumers have choice, and where no single entity dictates what the consumer can do or see. In other words, to maintain effective consumer choice in how our personal information is transmitted and used. We’re dangerously close to losing that choice now, as more and more websites provide their data and services in formats only IE can understand.

III. The appearance of “Choice and Innovation”

I believe the “choice and innovation” phrase first appeared in Nov. of 2003, when we set about finding a good way of describing our purpose that could be easily absorbed and understood. “Bonsai” (our web-based tool for showing what has changed in our source repository) suggests it appeared in version 1.2 of the “about” page. The phrase also appeared on the front page of the website when it was revised in mid to late Nov. 2003. In this case the reference was:

What is Mozilla?
The Mozilla project maintains choice and innovation on the Internet by developing the acclaimed, open source, Mozilla 1.5 web and email suite and related products and technology.

IV. What I take from this

“Choice and innovation on the web” has been an excellent way to describe our goals or mission so far. The phrase has developed staying power because it expresses a basic nature of what we’re doing. My believe is that “choice and innovation” is a great starting point, has served us well and is part of our heritage that we should look to. I also suspect it is not enough to guide our daily activities. Is any innovation equally desirable for us to pursue? And do we care if choice lead to a better overall better experience? If so, for whom? “Choice and innovation on the web” is a great foundation, and I’m proud of it. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to build upon this foundation and define what we think the Mozilla project can and should do to make the net a better place.

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