Rethinking Mozilla

May 13, 2007

Open source successes have been down to appropriating existing models of development, refining the concept and then sharing the development. How many open source projects are paradigm shifts in their conception? Linux isn’t. Mozilla isn’t. Puredata isn’t.

Chris Messina from Citizen Agency has posted a wonderful monologue, which asks, why hasn’t Mozilla diversified to match the advancement in Microsoft and Adobes rich media tools.

It’s a good question. A really good question. And I’ve spent most of the weekend thinking about it. Here’s my thinking on this.

1. The mode of production for web browsers has to change. Hand coded interfaces, applications and middleware configurations are, to a degree, costly. Time to market is painful when there is so much innovation and adaption of web services. But, are we seriously thinking that the future of media production online will remain as HTML. Heck no. HTML has been useful getting the global audiences onto 56k dialups, migrating them to broadband flash and ajax applications. Community, media sharing, bookmarkable, re-editable pages are extremely handy, and we all know this is what Berners-Lee had in mind from the start, only to be scuppered by the dodgy commerce of web1.0.

Media production is about to get a lot more agile, deploying more media than we can consume and it’s going to be closer to the broadcast media that you all love. Publishers know they don’t have to be clever interactions – like YouTube. It’s called the ‘Least Acceptable Media’ Syndrome (Nod to Steven Johnson for that one liner).

Are they going to want to faff around with pages that work well in browsers? No. They don’t want the browser and if you’re wanting a linear media fix, you dont need a browser. Look at Joost. A P2P system, with a Mozilla framework for crossplatform functionality and a video render slapped on top and bingo, you have the telebox on your laptop. I’m still disappointed with Joost, just as I am with 99.9% of broadcasting, but many many folk love that kind of thing. They are also the Joe 6 Pack Chris refers to.

2. The Mozilla production team are not business analysts; their passion is not in the review of media consumption; it’s in the disruption of software companies that make commercial browsers, befriending the web monkey and standing proud that they made an elegant solution to browse the web and give affordance to customisation.

Unfortunately, the customisation of the Firefox is at the hands of the wider community. Quality slips in favour of a quick hack of fun. Bad extensions slow the elegant Firefox. Fear of bloating the browser makes Microsofts job a lot easier. And if anything, Firefox has helped Microsoft make a better browser. I use both Firefox and Thunderbird. The latter is not by choice. In fact it sucks; the user experience is just not ‘fun’, the usability is a grunt, daily.

But with so much functionality, where is the innovation? Where is the paradigm shift in communications? Where is the emotional exchange that affords consumers to say, these are the tools I want to socialise and work?

Mozilla as a platform is an interesting idea. But it’s not going to happen. To be a platform that supports media production, right down to the level of scripts, filming, editing, encoding, deploying and taking into the consideration that the model of media production, is likely to evolve exponentially over the forthcoming decade to embrace digital broadcasting, then they don’t have either the development staff or the business roadmap to keep up with the paradymn shifts.

RSS will become that chosen supply chain for media distribution; unlikely that you’ll get your headlines and articles within it. Rather the feed will contain instructions, commands, fucntions even to instruct your thick client to generate the media you so wish. Yes, thick client. If you think about the benefits of real-time media production, its’ going happen locally, not on server or p2p network. The TV model is about to get an new lease of life, people the mass audience wont type URLs by choice. They wont fidget and play like the average Firefox user does. Media engagement requires the least distruptive interfaces. Like one button. Just one. Not options. Point and Click, get the Kodak moment.

If Mozilla wants to take the web to new levels of experience, they have to start talking to more than just web developers. Forget about browsing and emailing. How could we use asymmetrical communication devices that afford media production as the basis for commercial exploitation, leaving the user with One Click.

Chris highlights the ethos of choice, but herein is the folly of engagement; choice is an illusion of commercial culture. Free to choose is the basis of funneling the mind and the wallet. If choice is so important to the consumer, the answer is to optimise the benifits, not create more choice.

If Chris’ monologue was to prompt a call to action so that we can all begin to rework the rules of ubiquity, so be it. Joost should have been an open source project, but then again, the licence owners to the content would have never had touched it. If the Open Souce communities want to break the advertising model for something more richer, then projects like Mozilla have to work with the brands that need to communicate; help them innovate so that ‘prosumer’ engagement becomes natural.

If you want to get the openness of the web to it’s full glory then you have to talk to the auteur, the media makers, the designers who want to understand how their work, art, skill and passion can be shared so that they benefit. Dialogue needs to happen there, not preach to the surfing converted.

And how do you do that? Start to show them. Build the media industry tools and commercial processes that enable Mozilla to be relevant. Mozilla fixed a problem that mattered to a few and did it really really well. If Mozilla attracted the right minds, the economists, the media directors, the strategists, then you have a dialogue that can lead to a Production Suite that will make the media industry valuable again. And maybe, it just might make Google rethink it’s conduit strategy. Now that’ll be fun, wouldn’t it?

Chris’s video is here. Watch it. It’s long, but it’s good. Go on. And if you’re not reading this through Firefox, install it now.

4 Responses to “Rethinking Mozilla”


  1. Nice insights, Dave. I’ve been using Mozzy derivative Flock for a little while now, and – probably because there are fewer badly coded extensions for it – it’s smoother and slicker than Firefox. Worth having a look at if you’re interested. Also, there’s a good discussion of HTML 5.0 versus XML at http://www.digital-web.com/articles/html5_xhtml2_and_the_future_of_the_web/

    Peace, Pipes

  2. Rob Myers Says:

    Open source successes have been down to appropriating existing models of development, refining the concept and then sharing the development

    The cvs/bugzilla/mailing list model is peculiar to “Open Source”, and one of ESR’s few coherent points is that “Open Source” does represent a different model of development. Even proprietary companies are adopting it internally because it works so well.

    In the case of Mozilla and PD, the original authors have been involved in some capacity with the “open sourcing”. In the case of Linux it was written from scratch. The Windows NT kernel is a copy of the VMS kernel, written by the guy who wrote the original VMS kernel. Microsoft have innovated less here.

    Free equivalents of proprietary software must be written when the proprietary software refuses to go Free. This is the logic of the ethics of Free Software. And which platforms are seeing more innovation? Linux powers the internet and geek development. PD has rendered Max a bad memory. Mozilla is used by proprietary VC bait like Flock.

    why hasn’t Mozilla diversified to match the advancement in Microsoft and Adobes rich media tools

    Because it is a browser project. It doesn’t have the market logic of MS and Adobe. They must prevent best of class solutions being adopted in order to prevent other companies profiting. This doesn’t benefit users, and leads to stagnation.

    Microsoft and Adobe are playing catch-up with the Free Software AJAX toolkits. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they come out with crappy proprietary replacements. They have forgotten AOL and eWorld.

    People don’t assume that you wait for the Microsoft version any more.


  3. Also with the plethora of usefull plugins, it gives all the more reasons for installing firefox


  4. NY Times has a delicate writeup on the relationship of Mozilla and Google.


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