Heroes needed! Firefox OS brand survey

If you’re reading this in your second language, there’s every chance that you could be a big help to us in launching Firefox OS.  Firefox OS is, of course, one of the most exciting developments in the history of the Mozilla project and squarely addresses this biggest threat to the Web today: the rise of proprietary mobile stacks.  Firefox OS is all about breathing new life and, yes, openness, into the mobile Web.

We’ve named Firefox OS “Firefox OS” for a number of reasons.  It wasn’t obvious to me that we should name it after the browser, but there are some important factors that inform this decision.  Ultimately, “Firefox OS” has the best chance of attracting users, and attracting the investments of important partners, to the platform.  Without rehashing that debate too much, it goes like this:

We need to consolidate our investment, and that of our partners, on a particular brand.   Mozilla is a house of brands, rather than a branded house.  We’re now taking Firefox and making it a house of brands for a mobile ecosystem.  The alternatives are to create a new sub-brand, and continue with the house-of-brands arrangement of today, while incurring the expense and risk of trying to create a new consumer-facing brand, and giving us a confusing product (multiple brands on one phone) in a market (mobile phone operating systems) that is characterised by great simplicity.  If you’re glazing over, don’t worry.  The point is this: we need to know how strong the Firefox brand is in many parts of the world.

If you are able to translate English into one of these locales:

China (zh-CN)
India (hi-IN)
Indonesia(id)
Malaysia(ms)
Philippines
Thailand (th)
Vietnam (vi)
Belgium (fr)
Bulgaria (bg)
Croatia (hr)
Finland (fi)
France (fr)
Greece (el)
Italy (it)
Netherlands (nl)
Slovakia (sk)
Sweden (sv-SE)
Turkey (tr)
Ukraine (uk)
Ecuador (es-EC)
Morocco (ar, fr)
Nigeria (en)
Tunisia (ar)
Japan (ja)
Singapore (en, ms)
Portugal (pt-PT)
Romania (ro)
Serbia (sr)

you can help!  The bug to jump on is Translation of Firefox OS market research study for additional locales and the file to translate is hereMilos and I are here to help too.

And lastly – a big thank you to Dwayne, Fernando, Inma, Anas, Pavel, Peter, Coce and Alexander for your help with this already.

updated Swedish and Greek locales

I’m mobile

Dawn was a long way from cracking when I set off on Monday to make the 2,000 mile round trip to attend the Guardian Mobile Business Summit in London.   So, when Richard Holdsworth of Wapple put forward the notion that we should consider the user as mobile, rather than their device, I had to feel the man had a point.
As I wrote I’m increasingly interested in how content owners perceive the Web and mobile.  I’d hoped to hear more from media companies, although with hindsight, I was probably at the wrong place to hear a balanced perspective on old business models versus emerging ones.  We were firmly in the land of the new.   No matter: I did hear a number of interesting and new (to me) thoughts.  Those that especially stuck with me.  My interpretations:

Ilicco Elia refreshing regrets about mobile advertising: that it can appear a race to the bottom on a number of micro-measurements that speak to conversion rates and (presumably) awareness, but little engagement beyond that.  What new experiences was mobile enabling, beyond a quarter-page sized ad?   A good (perhaps rare?) counter-example might be something like Gameloft’s branded games.  There was little doubt in the Finch household, after all, that we would be seeing Ice Age 4 when it arrived in our local cinema.  Ilicco went on to indicate that mobile was supposed to promise many of the things the Web was to: more predictability, relevance, measurability, but that the corpus of work in the offline world is huge and does not yet exist in mobile (or Web).

I especially enjoyed Jan Chipchase’s ramble through users finding new use cases for functionality, and then his (unsettling?  dystopian?) imagining of a world where facial recognition is instant (although there seemed to be some question about how “real” Google’s Project Glass is), I do at least know that Steve Lau is real.   We all know (even if we don’t understand) that our cognitive processes are profoundly influenced by technology.  Jan put forward the notion that soon our social vocabulary, even our ego, will be influenced by such things as facial recognition, and that this is coming sooner than we might realise.  How do we deal with that?

William Perrin, founder of Talk About Local was amongst the bulls about augmented reality.  It was perhaps strange timing to be discussing Aurasma given that news broke later in the day of HP’s write down of Automony’s valuation. But I liked Talk About Local.  I’ve had reservations in the past about things like Faces of the Fallen, which serve partly to highlight the digital divide in the most grimly stark manner (after all, the civilian casualties of Operating Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom remain literally countless).  Such projects contribute to a sense that the Internet is only teaching us more about things we might otherwise know about.  Talk About Local seems somewhat more community-serving, however.

Of course, I was keen to see the level of interest in Firefox OS.  I think that the audience was entirely engaged and there seemed a palpable sense of disappointment that Andreas wasn’t talking about a UK launch.  Perhaps my bias is showing.

…or perhaps not.
Either way, there’s impatience and palpable desire for HTML5.  Speaking of which: there was an app for the event.  All in all, it was pretty useful, but not terribly stable on a Galaxy SII running ICS.  I saw nothing in the app that an HTML5 app couldn’t do today, probably with more stability on a wider variety of screen sizes…

“A great time to be a Mozillian”

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.

Season 2011-2012

I read in May that the proportion of households in the US with television sets is now in decline.  Some speculated that this was still an after-effect of the 2008 crash, but I suspect more likely is that people are substituting TV for online video services.

Personally, I don’t watch much television apart from football, (which actually means I watch rather a lot of television).  And with a new season, comes a heightened appetite for footy-ogling restricted only partially by family obligations, my family’s generous but observably finite patience, and the fact that still most games are played concurrently.

But  hope beats loud in the heart of this Fantasy League manager, and so I therefore enjoy services like the Guardian’s minute-by-minute and clock-watch, which enable me to keep abreast of all games at once.

But this season, those services are no longer auto-updating; as Jacob Steinberg explained in Saturday’s season-opening clock-watch:

3.32pm: A lot of you are asking about the absence of the auto-refresh tool. Basically we’re not allowed to use it due to the media’s disagreement with the leagues. You’ll have to press F5 instead. STOP FOOTBALL, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Got that?  No more hands-free browsing of live football scores.

While this conjures up a rather fanciful image of today’s custodians of the sport, in some bizarre echo of the game’s founding purpose, being motivated still by a concern to preserve the eyesight of the nation’s youth, you might almost forget that these are live text updates of football scores we’re talking about.

So, yes, live text updates pushed to the browser now fall under some definition of broadcasting rights.  And yes, we’re reminded yet again that a powerful and flexible browser remains a bulwark against some fairly crazy legality – in this case, the definition of what “broadcasting” a game means.  But still, Firefox users can install an extension such as Reload Every and get on with enjoying automatic text updates.

It’s 2011.  And by the time this season ends, it’s 2012.  And yet, I’m reminded of something Asa wrote back in 2005:

the user is no longer just a spectator, he’s a participant.

…and that’s true even when he’s a spectator.

p.s. not all open web doom and gloom around the Guardian’s start to the season.  I loved this css-powered kit guide.

Bad good journalists and conservative rock stars

I’m jet-lagged, having just got back from a week in California, where I was also jet-lagged.  When in the States, I tend to watch (amongst other things) Fox News on telly.   This appalled some friends that I mentioned it too, but I have my reasons.  Fox News adds piquancy to any visit.  It’s genuinely weird to me, but it’s also mainstream.  I would probably find it upsetting if I lived in the US.  But as someone who just passes through from time-to-time, it adds a keenness to the experience.  I don’t say all this to sneer: but rather, when visiting somewhere that seems so easy to relate to in so many ways, it’s perhaps more interesting to see that which you don’t understand, like say, Mr Ted Nugent’s views on US foreign policy as expressed to Governor Mike Huckabee.

On my way home, I read about Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble, an investigation of the notion that various Web phenomena (in particular, Google’s personalised search and the goldfish bowls of social networks) mean that we will increasingly only hear our own views reflected back at us.

It’s an interesting thought.  And one that it’s hard to latch on to a counter argument for – presumably any source I could lay my hands on is part of my own echo-chamber.   But still, I was delighted that  This Week in Google addressed the topic.  As Gina Trapani pointed out, seeking out contrary viewpoints is simply part of being a developed person: and of course, your online habits will reflect the extent to which you exhibit this behaviour.   For example, my favourite newspaper columnist is Howard Jacobson, which is not to say that I agree with him all the time, but rather, I frequently find myself instinctively disagreeing even as I am swayed by the man’s clever and humane prose.  I am probably far more closely aligned with the unreadable Johann Hari whose only mode of expression seems to be the self-righteous indignation of the politics undergraduate and whose column I would only read out of condescension.

But then, I suppose there is still rather a lot to be indignant about.  And perhaps there are few books to be sold in writing about as well diagnosed a problem as the global digital divide, but it’s that, rather than people’s natural inclination to associate with those with whom they agree, that’s more worrying.  To take a rather gloomy example: the Faces of the Fallen website places an exact figure on American service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002: it’s 5,885 at time of writing.  But meanwhile, there seems to be no general consensus even to the nearest half million how many Iraqis have died since the invasion of 2003.  Estimates range from under 100,000 to over 1 million.  Obviously, there is no equivalent online epitaph to these people.

We aren’t in a filter bubble to my mind, or at least, if we are, it’s a trivial problem.  The issue is how much digital naval-gazing we’re able to do at the expense of our consideration of that part of the world that still remains predominantly analogue.  Only Ted Nugent would disagree.

repost: Why I think Firefox is the best for users

After a discussion on the Mozilla marketing list, I received several requests to repost to my blog my thoughts about why I feel Firefox is still the best browser for users.  I have mixed feelings about doing this, but only because of course, of course, I am somewhat biased and secondly, this is hardly an authoritative account, both in terms of breadth and depth.

But I do profoundly believe that Firefox is the best browser for a user for a number of reasons, even in 2011 when we see some very large organisations making some very large investments in browser development.  Anyway, if you’re looking for some talking points, here’s my pitch on why I, hand-on-heart, prefer Firefox.  Thanks to Danishka for posing the question.  Mozilla.com is of course, much more authoritative on the topic.

Security & Privacy

It’s hard to speak to the security topic on IE9 given that you often tend to see problems retrospectively in closed browsers.  IE’s track record certainly doesn’t seem so stellar.   And personally, I do not find their independent research on “socially engineered malware” all that credible (nor do Opera and Google, from what I read) .

Firefox and Chrome use a lot of the same back-end for anti-malware and anti-phishing, but Mozilla has clearly offered a vision on privacy and Firefox has a very impressive selection of customisations for enhanced privacy and security today.

Chrome’s privacy approach is reliant upon customisation at the moment,  and IE’s “tracking protection lists” appear somewhat vulnerable to gaming.

Performance

This topic has partially defined the browser market for a long time: but right now, all modern browsers seem very, very fast.  They all win on some benchmark, and in the “real world”, which browser is fastest appears to depend on which website you use.  I’d argue no browser is currently outstanding in this area, although I would acknowledge that Firefox is not that fastest on the one-off activity of starting up.  It’s still very fast though…

User Interface

The user interface in Firefox 4 is “minimalist” in the same way IE9’s is, Chrome is,  etc. but what’s important to me is that we haven’t just chopped menus off and hidden them (which seems like a fair description
of what happened in IE9).  Rather, the UI is still very intuitive and contains features such as switch-to-tab, pinned tabs (which does have an equivalent in Chrome and IE) and tab groups that help the user manage
their workflow.

One obvious gap that’s often cited is the lack of a “new tab” page in Firefox: but the blank screen is intentional as the browser gets of the way of the user and doesn’t distract them in their workflow.  It’s hard to quantify the impact of that, but I’m aware of how distracting technology can be.   It possibly takes a browser without an agenda beyond that of the user to really and truly get out of the way.

Firefox 4’s interface is in fact still very customisable (Alex Limi’s blog on the Fx 4 UI is a great reference ) in a
way that IE and Chrome simply are not.

Customisation

I’d argue that Firefox still leads customisation broadly – although Chrome may quote a higher number of extensions, it’s worth bearing in mind :

  • questionable levels of curation in the Chrome add-on collection, some of the add-ons I’ve used are very disappointing (e.g. they open a pop-up window for a page on an expired domain…)
  •  Chrome add-ons are similar to Jet-Pack add-ons in terms of functionality supported.  Firefox offers that plus much richer, deeper customisation options
  • Firefox has a very strong tradition of user-generated customisation, including the Personas gallery.

And Firefox 4 has a new add-on manager which makes customisation of Firefox also much easier and restartless add-ons.

Sync

Lastly, Firefox Sync is both more secure and more useful that the equivalent in Chrome (and there is no “native” solution for IE, as Microsoft would say).  Firefox Sync is fully encrypted on the client side and allows you to
open tabs up across instances of Firefox.  If you use more than one instance of Firefox, this is incredibly useful!

Clearly, the market is much more competitive than it was 1, 2 or 6 years ago – and clearly there are many topics (especially platform support) that I didn’t go into here.  But I feel that the quality and philosophy behind Firefox still make it the best choice for users.  And if you’re a Windows XP user (and most people on the Web are), there are much, much better options available to you than Internet Explorer.