Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation has been ruminating on:
“how Mozilla can actively encourage large numbers of people to participate on making the web more open and awesome.”
For a long time I’ve been a supporter of the idea that supporters of an Open Web are part of a social movement and that mobilizing these supporters could be a helpful part of a strategy for preserving and promoting the openness of the web. More importantly, I think the rise of open source, and in particular the rise of Mozilla tracks shockingly well against the structure of a social movement.
So if we are interested in increasing interest in the openness of the web and believe that recruiting the next million Mozillians can helps us accomplish that, then I think there are 3 things any strategy must do:
1. Increase the range of stake holders involved (this is part of why I write about women in open source so much) as this gives open web supporters more leverage when negotiating with those who threaten the web’s openness or who influence its development
2. Connect nebulous ideas like “security” and “openness” to tangible experiences people (users?) can relate to and to core values they believe in. (This is why Mark’s “seatbelt moment” narrative is awesome in this regard)
3. Outline actions that stakeholders and supporters can take.
So with the (not always successful) intent to focus on these 3 objectives here are five ideas I think could help us:
Idea 1: Partner with Consumer Reports and help shape the criteria by which they evaluate ISPs
One key to ensuring an open web is ensuring that people’s connection to the web is itself open. ISPs are a critical component in this ecosystem. As some observers have noted, ISPs engage in all sorts of nefarious activities such as bandwidth shaping, throttling, etc… Ensure that the net stays neutral feels like a critical part of ensuring it stays open.
One small way to address this would be make the neutrality of a network part of the evaluation criteria for Consumer Report reviews of ISPs. This would help make the openness of an ISP a competitive, would increase the profile of this problem and would engage a group of people (Consumer Report users) that are probably not generally part of the Mozilla Community.
Idea 2: Invest in an enterprise level support company for Firefox & Thunderbird.
Having a million citizens supporting Firefox and Mozilla is great, but if each of those supporters looks and acts the same then their impact is limited. Successful movements are not just large they are also diverse. This means having a range of stakeholders to help advocate for the open web. One powerful group of stakeholders are large enterprises & governments. They have money, they have clout and they have large user bases. They are also – as far as I can tell – one of the groups that Firefox has had the hardest time achieving market share with.
From my limited experience working with governments, adopting Firefox is difficult. There is no one to sign an SLA with, no dedicated support desk and no assurances problems will be escalated to the right developer within a fixed time period. Many of these challenges are highlighted by Tauvix in the comment section of this post). We could spend our time arguing about whether these issues are legitimate or if those large organizations simply need a culture shift. But such a shift will take a LONG time to materialize, if it ever does.
Finding a way to satisfy the concerns of large organizations – perhaps through a Redhat type model – might be a good way to invest Mozilla Foundation money. Not only could there be a solid return on this investment, but it could bring a number of large powerful companies and governments into the Mozilla camp. These would be important allies in the quest for an open web.
Idea 3: Promote add-ons that increase security, privacy and control in the cloud.
One reason behind Mozilla’s enormous success is that the community has always provided innovative technical solutions to policy/privacy/openness problems. Don’t like they way Microsoft is trying to shape the internet? Here, use a better browser. Don’t want to receive target advertising on website? Here, download this plug-in. Don’t want to see any advertising? Here, download this plug-in. Not sure if a website is safe? Here, use this plug-in. In short, Mozilla has allowed its software to serve as a laboratory to experiment with new and interesting ways to allow users to control their browsing experience.
While not a complete solution, it might be interesting to push the community to explore how Greasemonkey scripts, Jetpack plug-ins, or ordinary plug-ins might provide users with greater control over the cloud. For example, could a plug-in create automatic local backups of google docs on your computer? Could a Thunderbird plugin scan facebook messages and allow users a choice of mediums to respond with (say email). Fostering a “product-line” of cloud specific plug-ins that increase user control over their experience might be an interesting place to start.
Idea 4: Create and brand the idea of an openness audit
As more and more personal data ends up in servers controlled by companies, governments and non-profits there are real concerns around how secure and private this information is. Does anyone know that Google isn’t peeking at your Google docs every once in a while? Do you know if you’ll ever be able to delete your personal information from facebook?
These are legitimate questions. Outlining some guidelines around how companies manage privacy and security and then creating an audit system might be an interesting way to nudge companies towards adopting stronger standards and policies in the cloud. This might also increase public awareness and encourage a upwards spiral among competing service providers. Working with companies like KPMG and Deloitte Mozilla and others could help foster a new type of audit, one that would allow consumers to easily discriminate against cloud service providers that respect their rights, and those that don’t.
Idea 5: Let’s use that Firefox launch screen to create the next million Mozillians
At the moment, when you download and install Firefox the first website you see when you load the program congratulates you on downloading the program, tells you that you are helping keep the internet open and outlines some of Firefox’s new features. We could do more. Why not prompt people to join a “Mozillians” club where they will be kept up to date on threats and opportunities around the open web. Or maybe we should list 3 actions (with hyperlinks) they can take to increase the openness of the web (say, upgrade a friend, send a form letter to their member of congress and read an intro article on internet security?)
With maybe 300+ million people likely to download Firefox 3.5, that’s a lot of people we could be mobilizing to be more active, technically, socially and politically, around an open web.
There’s a start… I’ll keep brainstorming more ideas but in the interim, please feel free to let me know if you think any of these have real problems and/or are bunk.