Goodbye, Mrs Thatcher

Earlier this year, an ancient skeleton found under a car park in Leicester was confirmed (in so far as such a confirmation is possible) to be that of Richard III.  The man lived in turbulent times, arguably made all the more turbulent by his actions.  Upon his death, his naked corpse was reportedly slung over a horse and abused by the townspeople of Leicester as his skeleton appeared to show.

The reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death this week is precisely the same thing.

I grew up in a city the was ravaged by Thatcher’s policies.  The leader of the country was a hated (and I use the word with caution) figure.  The sentiment towards Thatcher in Liverpool was entirely unambiguous and, I believe, it was appropriate.   Her government manifested a disregard for the welfare of its citizens on an unprecedented level.

But this week I’ve read things like this, “glad some rancid old cow that destroyed my entire city is dead” (and that’s one of the nicer ones), written by friends of mine (and note, they were referring to a different city).

I recall 1990, when Thatcher was forced out of office.   I played in a band at the time, and we had a song for the occasion, “Goodbye”, a charge-sheet laid out against Thatcher in lyric form.  It was in parts obscene, certainly angry and still to my mind entirely reasonable.  It had a chorus of “Goodbye, Mrs Thatcher” at which point I was supposed to lay down a funky guitar riff.  It wasn’t very good.

But it didn’t need to be.  There was a mood of celebration in Liverpool and elsewhere then.  I recall discussing it in school and a classmate, a thoughtful girl and a real scouser, taught us all a lesson. Looking at the iconic picture of Thatcher in tears, she told the class that while she was as happy as everyone else that Thatcher was gone, she couldn’t take joy in the obvious pain of someone else.  That stayed with me.

Much has changed in 23 years, much of it, we are told, caused by Thatcher (or perhaps, to the movement she was a vanguard of) summed up in the possibly apocryphally-attributed quote, “There is no such thing as society”.  I understand that sentiment to be essentially Randian: you do not have obligations to others, only to yourself.  And this is certainly the behaviour that people manifest – you can do whatever you like, as long as its in your own interest.  Both conscience and manners seem to have evaporated.  In this sense, I see the unpleasant, troubling and tasteless reactions to the news that a senile old woman has died to be an extension of the individualism that the 80s ushered in.

I’m bothered by this.  After all, the cult of individualism also seeks to expose the individual.  And Thatcher’s policies were only, only justifiable if one would assert some moral superiority of one class of people over another.  I’ve never believed that.  No life matters more or less than another.  But for that to be true, we all have to exhibit a basic humanity towards each other.

Romans, Ancient and Modern

So, the freshly appointed Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has renounced his fascism.  In spite of being pretty firmly opposed to the views Di Canio has just distanced himself from, I found myself troubled by this.  I shared these thoughts with my Dad, and he encouraged me to share them more widely.

It’s almost impossible, it seems, to have a rational debate about this.   Even the normally voluble biographer of Di Canio, Garbriele Marcotti, became momentarily tongue-tied and evasive when discussing this topic.  Football in Britain is gripped by a narrative of fighting racism, of “zero tolerance” (whatever that means) and of taking a stand.  This has been a difficult path to tread at times and some of those involved are to be congratulated.

But Di Canio is a fascist, not necessarily a racist.  In a country like Britain with little history of extremist politics, it seems hard for people to understand the difference. I would like to see Di Canio’s disregard for democracy challenged, not his non-existent racism.

And then, we should remember that Di Canio comes from a country where the main opposition parties have been communists for much of his lifetime, a country which has consistently had weak democratic governments since the end of fascism, and which has frequently elected an obvious crook, and which only became a nation state in the mid 19th century.  His perspective becomes more understandable, even if objectionable.

People in Britain see fascism through the lens of the Second World War and are seemingly hard-pressed to distinguish it from Nazism.  But fascism’s origins are in ancient Rome, the fasces symbolising the power of a unified state.  I don’t share Di Canio’s (now renounced) politics.  I believe very firmly in some other things, such as empathy, compassion, and diversity – something else we can find inspiration for in classical antiquity:

I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.

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)
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

Softening the blow

So, I gather than many Chelsea supporters are less than thrilled that Rafa Benitez is their new coach.  From what I can gather, it’s the way his Liverpool team managed to deflect Jose Mourinho’s juggernaut of a side in the 2005 and 2007 Champions League semi-finals that especially rankles.  Mourinho’s evident bitterness probably doesn’t help, and many recall Benitez’ Liverpool playing rather conservatively too.

That last point may be true – but Benitez proved himself a master of maximising returns from his playing staff.  Both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard enjoyed the form of their careers (and were both genuinely world class players) under Benitez.  And Benitez’ 2005 Champions League win still stands out as the least likely at least since the 1980s.  It’s easy to forget, but have a quick look through the teams that started that night in Istanbul:

AC Milan

GK 1 Brazil Dida
RB 2 Brazil Cafu
CB 31 Netherlands Jaap Stam
CB 13 Italy Alessandro Nesta
LB 3 Italy Paolo Maldini (c)
DM 21 Italy Andrea Pirlo
RM 8 Italy Gennaro Gattuso
LM 20 Netherlands Clarence Seedorf
AM 22 Brazil Kaká
CF 7 Ukraine Andriy Shevchenko
CF 11 Argentina Hernán Crespo

Liverpool FC

GK 1 Poland Jerzy Dudek
RB 3 Republic of Ireland Steve Finnan
CB 23 England Jamie Carragher
CB 4 Finland Sami Hyypiä
LB 21 Mali Djimi Traoré
DM 14 Spain Xabi Alonso
RM 10 Spain Luis García
CM 8 England Steven Gerrard (c)
LM 6 Norway John Arne Riise
SS 7 Australia Harry Kewell
CF 5 Czech Republic Milan Baroš


Aside from the ‘keeper (who himself won 90-odd caps for Brazil), the Milan side is a whos-who of the last decade, while only four or five of the Liverpool side were in Benitez’ long-term plans at all.  So, memories of Benitez are possibly coloured by the fact that the man is a pragmatist, and, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, he had much to be pragmatic about.  However, there are two other aspects of his Liverpool side that I admired.  Firstly, devotion to duty – modelled by Benitez himself.  His side would give everything on the pitch.  And secondly – discipline, tactically and emotionally.  Benitez’ players adopted a system almost robotically and played a very clean game.  In all but emotional discipline therefore, I’d characterise Benitez as a similar coach to Mourinho.  And Benitez’ pragmatism tends to express itself in the form of elaborate tactical plans in any given situation, so, for close observers, it’s compelling stuff.

Now, for all this, and just in case anyone has forgotten, Benitez is also more than capable of getting top players to express themselves.  Never have I seen Liverpool so badly humiliated as when they faced Benitez’ great Valencia in 2002:

Good luck, Rafa.

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.