The estimable Glyn Moody wrote in very positive terms about the Mozilla Festival that took place in London last week. As well as pointing out Firefox’s recent bouncebackability, he correctly points out that there’s much more to Mozilla than releasing Firefox.
Reading through Glyn’s list of projects he encountered at the festival (he lists 7, but I suspect he could have identified several more), you might conclude that Mozilla lacks a certain focus. That is in fact far from the truth: I don’t believe that I’ve known Mozilla to be more focused in all my time with the project. We have opportunities to influence the direction of the Internet, and keep the Web at its centre, but we simply need to make sure we pick the appropriate targets. Let’s not deny it: the Web appears to be under constant threat, from the Balkanisation of the Internet to proprietary stacks, to clumsy legislative measures (SOPA, ACTA), to Wired magazine’s ill-advised sensationalism.
The way I think of this is that Mozilla has to grow stakeholders in the open Web. (What does that even mean?) When we read about content owners going out of business, or doing things that seem irrational or short-sighted, the response shouldn’t be to shrug and assume that their business model is outdated. Their business model may be outdated, but if the Web isn’t enabling a new one for them, then the Web is failing them. Not every profit margin is a market failure: content has value, and simply because the marginal cost of production approaches zero, it doesn’t mean that content owners should be beholden to other interests to make money.
Similarly, if we read that a network operator has a stated opposition to net neutrality, our reaction shouldn’t be solely one of indignant repudiation, however cathartic that might be. We should understand what would need to change for network operators to value the open Web as the driver of their business.
And if we think that the health of the Web is dependent upon a narrow coalition of powerful private economic interests, we should be concerned. As a wise colleague of mine says, one should be wary of elites.
The disruptive power of the Internet has been fascinating to observe. And long may it continue. However, if disruption only serves to consolidate economic power with a few interests, something is wrong. There should be (and I use the word advisedly) cannibalistic opportunities for the disruptees too.
These are things that we need to enable. This takes a focused strategy. And this is exciting work.
We’re already seeing the interest in the industry for Firefox OS, and amongst web developers for the new APIs being created to make Web development as rich as native development on mobile platforms. That’s just a start.
But there is a downside , or if you prefer, a corollary to this, and one I want to explore: focused strategic execution is not necessarily conducive to community participation. If Mozilla is working to (for example), release a smartphone with a network operator partner in (for example) Latin America, then how do you get excited as a contributor in (for example) Bulgaria? How do we marry the commercial “heft” of a major partner with the broad spectrum of interests and abilities that the Mozilla community at scale represents? I don’t have a good answer for that yet.
Glyn’s article was especially welcome as I regard him as both a friend of Mozilla (he keynoted at MozCamp 2009) and a truth teller. The piece he published in August this year, about the importance of participatory structures in open source communities, should be provocative and somewhat uncomfortable reading for anyone at Mozilla.
And this is my paradox. To be true to our mission, we have to think broadly. And to be successful, we have to be strategic and focused. And to be us, we have to be participatory.