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that seem irrational or short-sighted, the response shouldn’t be to shrug and assume that their business model is outdated. Their business model may be outdated, but if the Web isn’t enabling a new one for them, then the Web is failing them.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.
While I have a certain queasiness about the rapaciousness with which football (soccer) has sucked the
life money out of so many other sports (and especially rugby league), and how what used to be a guilty pleasure is now a somehow unavoidable topic of polite conversation, the sport still consumes my imagination.
I recall watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his first season at Ajax about 11 years ago. He was gangly, a misfit, overconfident and yet completely out of tune with his team-mates. He was comical. And I was resentful of the praise he garnered in the 2004 European championships, while the graceful Henrik Larsson seemed to be so undervalued by the Swedish public (even after that diving header against Bulgaria). And so, like many English football fans, I’ve always had a resistance to the notion that Zlatan is truly a great. He’s the classic flat-track bully, winning a sequence of domestic titles by crushing smaller opponents, but conspicously failing in the Champions League and in major international tournaments.
Last night, I finished work late, went to the supermarket, got home, made myself something to eat and sat down with my scrambled eggs and my jetlag late in the first half of England-Sweden. England-Sweden – a fixture that has never set my pulse racing, and yet, is pregnant with memories. The summer of 1992 was an poignant one for me, and I picture Graham Taylor’s England sliding out of control. More importantly, I think of 2002, and watching a rather tedious game with the-then-future-Mrs Finch; and the rematch, 4 years later, which we missed as the by-then-Mrs Finch gave birth to our first daughter Emma; this past summer, being off work and with my family for what was one of the most enjoyable games of Euro 2012. Alone with my memories, my eggs and my tabasco sauce, I drifted off.
I woke up late in the second half to the noise of a crowd going wild. Well, going as wild as a Swedish crowd goes. England’s 2-1 lead somehow pulled back to 3-2 to Sweden. I saw a beaming Zlatan, fresh from completing a hat-trick. Bleary-eyed, I focused on the remaining minutes of the game. And then I saw this:
It’s like Zlatan scored that hat-trick just to wake me up to say, “you won’t want to miss this”.
There’s so much to love about this goal: the breadth of Zlatan’s imagination, his speed of thought, his sudden and total commitment to a wholly improbable outcome, and, yes, his ability to prove me wrong.
Still – he’s never done it in a big game, eh?
update: due to the parlous state of international copyright, these videos are being taken down. In Sweden, you can see the goal on TV4′s website, once you’ve sat through a minute (literally a minute) of adverts for winter tyres, pasta sauce, digital cameras and various other things you might not actually need.
So, I’m back.
Back for 6 weeks already, in fact – how time flies – having spent an incredible summer with the family. I reflected on my own situation when I read this in the Guardian, Forget the balance, this is the merge, a slightly depressing article for a number of reasons: firstly its conclusions (there is no balance), but also its assumption that only mothers need to consider time with their children (to the Swedish resident, it’s clear that fathers and children need to prioritise time together just as much). Equally, those without children need their balance just as much, in order to grow as people.
Anyway, having spent several weeks largely away from screens (email, IRC… especially email), I felt refreshed. And I had to consider this when reading the miserable story of a wretch from Lancashire who was “trolling” the family of abducted, presumed murdered, schoolgirl April Jones.
How does someone sink so low? Well, people have always told sick jokes. Not everyone – certainly I’ve always been too squeamish – but many do. I tend to smile wanly, perhaps groan, to show I’m not amused but nor have I taken offense. After all, once chooses to take offense, doesn’t one?
No. Not always. Not entirely. Not when your daughter is missing, presumed murdered. You’d have to be absurdly tranquil not to take offense.
Those of us in the Internet industry talk of “disintermediation” as the malaise afflicting network operators, excluded from being able to offer differentiated value-add to their users. But the Internet disintermediates people too. One only has to read a comments thread on -and I’m going out on a limb here- just about any online forum to find deeply uncivil exchanges. People seem to delight in attacking each other online, and in hurting each others’ feelings. There is almost a sense of liberation for so-called trolls: this piece, “Meeting a troll…” is very instructive. The false sense of anonymity the Internet conveys allows people with limited imagination and empathy do very unpleasant things. I pity the person who behaved so vilely towards the family of April Jones: he isn’t a fully-formed person, or at least, is capable of behaving like he isn’t one. I’m sure he’s no parent himself. I’m equally sure he wouldn’t behave like that in the company of that poor family.
But then, this isn’t just an Internet phenomenon. In the mid 1990s, the term “road-rage” was coined, describing how recklessly and aggressively people could behave in situations of stressful traffic. I’ve been a passenger in cars where the driver has “retaliated” for a perceived slight. I may even have quietly cursed under my breath at being cut up myself. Where does this come from? I’m sure studies have been done, but my jaded perspective identifies three causes: busier roads seems fairly obvious; a self-righteous egotism or sense of entitlement (think Gordon Gecko); and the simple fact of being in your own isolated environment. Or, as Gary Numan put it:
Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live.
Well, let me make my contribution:
Those of us in the industry need to pay attention to the harmful effects, the lack of humanity, that existence behind a screen can give rise to.
In case you’re wondering where I am this summer – I am taking a couple of months to be a full-time parent, as is customary for both mother and father throughout the first 6 years of a child’s life in Sweden. (i.e. we’re not expecting #3). I’m very grateful to my employer and my colleagues for their flexibility in this. Back in August.
The study of industrial economics is, what, 235 years old? And it was only about 220 years old when I struggled through a joint honours programme. There I was exposed to the eloquence of (inter alia) Dr Quentin Outram. I recall his delight in exploring theory A and critique B before tossing both on the bonfire, with contemporary thought C, as he said with a chuckle, “in what we laughingly call the real world”. His subtext (or what I understood it to be) was that our attempts to explain reality will always be doomed to revision, that there will always be a reality yet more real that the one we’re currently dealing with, just like in
Inception The Truman Show The Matrix Fight Club.
So…is anyone actually using Google+ (at least, for what Google hope you’ll use it for?). Facebook perhaps wasn’t a great original invention, but it generated what you might call “critical mass” and has quickly evolved into a platform. Google+ seems to think it has identified the fatal flaw with Facebook: that one’s friends are not homogenous group but rather, several smaller circles. Paul Adams of Google had demonstrated as much over a year ago. We have circles of friends. That’s wisdom so great that it verges on common sense.
I read with interest the complaints of Violet Blue (if that is her real name) about Google+’s “drama”. Google is, after all, desperate to get this right. And they believe that they are fixing the fundamental flaw of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter et al.
Except it won’t. It may yet be successful. Google may yet bring to bear the massive quantities of information they have and gather up Facebook’s users, but let’s not pretend Google+ or Facebook or anything else are like connecting “in the real world” was, or is. Facebook caters to (amongst other things) exhibitionism. It’s partly popular because exhibitionism is easier in Facebook than it is in the real world. And it keeps friendships alive that would not survive, or simply were not possible in the real world.
As for circles of friend – yes, they certainly do exist. But “circles” is the wrong name for them, as they aren’t circles, at least, not from the perspective of the person who is at the centre of them. They’re irregular, they overlap and you are not equidistant from all points. Who has not, at some point, had a “best friend”?
Just as social media is changing friendships, so is the nature of friendship informing how social media works. But after nearly two and a half centuries of the dismal science, events of the past two years tell us that we retain a great ability to wholly ignorant of how we “really” work.
I thought this was a rather good piece, How browser make money, or why Google needs Firefox. People often seem to forget this rather fundamental reality of the browser and search market – especially when they talk about Mozilla being “funded”.