Mozilla Starts to Follow a New Drumbeat
Published 11:51, 11 January 10
I've written often enough about Firefox and its continuing steady gains of browser market share. Here's another nice stat:
Roughly keeping pace with previous years, Firefox grew 40% worldwide. Two regions in particular continued adopting Firefox at a breakneck pace — South America (64%) and Asia (73%).
Most of the 40% growth occurred recently. In the 4 months leading up to the holiday season, Firefox added 22.8 million active daily users. During that same period last year, Firefox added 16.4 million users.
That's all well and good, but it raises the question: what should Mozilla be doing *after* it conquers the browser world – that is, once it has 50% market share? Because once that happens – and it seems to be just a matter of time – the dynamics that kept Internet Explorer on top for so long, despite its manifest weaknesses, will kick in for Firefox (although let's hope its coders don't get as lazy as Microsoft's). That means the central challenge will have gone, and that's always a problem, especially for a volunteer organisations like Mozilla, where motivation is a key aspect.
Fortunately – and hardly coincidentally – the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, Mark Surman, has been thinking hard about precisely that issue, and here's what he and his team have come up with:
Mozilla Drumbeat is a global community of people and projects using technology to help internet users understand, participate and take control of their online lives.
If you want to go beyond this mission statement, there's this:
Mozilla Drumbeat is a global community of Mozillians who *use* web technology in new ways to understand, participate and take control of their online lives. Drumbeat provides an opportunity for these people to share project ideas -- and helps them find contributors, funds and advice to help the most promising projects succeed. Mozilla also directly leads a number of Drumbeat projects of its own.
That's still a little vague, but this finally explains what's going on:
In a nutshell: make sure the internet is still open, participatory 100 years from now.
The internet has become our global commons: a critical public resource that more than a billion people use to learn, innovate, trade, befriend and play. We envision a century ahead where this shared resource grows even richer and more vibrant. For this to happen, we must continue to build and operate an internet that is:
Open. Built on technologies that anyone can study, use or improve without asking permission.
Participatory, fueled by the ideas and energy of 100s of millions of people.
Decentralized in both architecture and control, ensuring continued choice and diversity.
Public much like a public square, with space not just for commerce but also for vibrant social and civic life.
Of course, this vision faces many challenges. Current examples: control over our digital identities and data is centralizing; and the growing mobile internet is far less open than the one on our desktop. At a more basic level, few people take the time to consider the internet as a public resource. They simply take it for granted, like air. Drumbeat is about gathering a critical mass of people to address challenges like these.
Key, then, to the Drumbeat project is openness, specifically openness as applied to the Internet. That's fits in well with the original impulses behind Mozilla and Firefox. The former was about transforming the Netscape Communincator code into an open source browser, and the latter was about defending open standards from Microsoft's attempt to lock people into Internet Explorer 6 and its proprietary approaches. Both Mozilla and Firefox have succeeded, but the threats have now changed.
As the text above mentions, particular challenges include cloud computing and accessing the Internet from mobile phones. At issue here is control: cloud computing means that you are using other people's software to process your data, while in the mobile space, operators have typically been able to dictate every aspect of the user experience: both are at odds with the truly open Internet. To that I'd also add regulatory problems, with increased censorship around the world (including Western countries), and skewed legislation that gives media companies an unjustified and unnecessary degree of power over what you can and can't do online.
Against that background it's great that Mozilla is widening its horizons (something I encouraged them to do in my occasional chats and correspondence with Surman.) Through the creation and nurturing of Firefox (and Thunderbird), Mozilla has earned a unique place in the online ecosystem: a powerful player, and yet one that is non-commercial and independent.
As well as the responsibility that this position brings, there is also the issue of self-interest: all the good work it has done so far could so easily be nullified by developments in the world of cloud computing, mobile and under the impact of repressive legislation. The real challenge will be converting that generalised vision quoted above into action that fits well with both Mozilla's interests and its strengths.
This makes getting the first year right important. There's already a rough sketch of the kind of things that might be done:
Our overall 2010 goal for Drumbeat is simple: Introduce Drumbeat to the world. Build compelling projects and vibrant community. We'll move towards this goal by:
Objective #1: Finding and setting up projects that excite us. Mostly from people we don't know yet. (emerging projects)
Start with a set of inspiring "bootstrap" projects that show what we mean & deliver early impact.
Use those sample projects to help get great new projects into longer term project pipeline.
Objective #2: Establishing Drumbeat events as places where the future of the internet is being invented
Launch the 2010 Mozilla Drumbeat Festival to celebrate successes, sprint on projects & invent the internet's future.
Use local events to identify local leaders and projects to feed into the Drumbeat project pipeline.
Objective #3: Building and evolving a flexible online platform to support Drumbeat projects and events. (mockups)
Provide an online home and workspace for Drumbeat projects to recruit helpers and drive participation.
Drive compelling stories about Drumbeat projects across a broad range of social media and partner sites
That seems sensible, although I have to say that the initial “emerging projects” are still a little thin in substance (and excitement). One caught my attention, not least because it seems better developed as an idea:
A Movie About The Web, By The Web
A collaborative documentary exploring the power of networks. We´re getting so used to the internet that we no longer stop to think about it. Why we love it. Why we hate it. What it really is and who it is turning us into.
The project aims to show what the Network looks like offline - to show the ways in which it is creating community and transforming society. To show how the Internet is less a machine created by a select few brilliant minds, but is in fact shaped by everyone. The porn, the scamsters, the magical connectedness; it's all - us.
Just as important as the “what” is the “how”:
HTML5 video and other open web technologies will be combine to create a whole new kind of media experience -- letting viewers and community members mix video, social media and data from across the web in real time. The goal will be to keep nimble and generative: as open video practices and technology evolve, so will the project. The blue sky vision would be the creation of a living documentary, a wiki-type experience that can be changed and morphed through user contributions.
I think HTML5 is really a key part of the open Web's future, and Drumbeat would do well to push it hard. It could also help Ogg become more widely used – we desperately need an open format to replace the ubiquitous Flash. Ogg is now getting to the point where it can do that; if Mozilla puts its weight behind it, Google might take the plunge and support Ogg as an alternative to Flash. That alone would lead to a perceptibly more open Web.
Beyond that, I believe that Mozilla needs to think big – not just in terms of projects that it instigates and supports, but in terms of what it is trying to achieve. For example, there are currently very few prestigious organisations that can go to national governments and make credible comments about proposed legislation that relates to the Internet. Mozilla has the clout to do this, and really needs to start engaging much more directly with the institutions making the laws around the world. After all, companies like Microsoft (and Google) now spend large sums of money to lobby the people involved: if Mozilla doesn't try to act as a counterweight to the highly partisan campaigns they conduct, then it's missing out on a huge opportunity to make a major difference – which is really what Drumbeat is all about.