Thinking about the Open Web

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Thinking about the Open Web

I’ve been thinking about how to talk to people about what the Open Web is, why it’s so important, and why they should care.

The Open Web as a global public resource

It struck me that the Open Web is analogous to some other fundamentally vital things in our society:

  • public libraries
  • public schools
  • public parks
  • public broadcasting
  • public roads
  • public art
  • public museums
  • public galleries
  • etc.

Many of these things are deemed so vital a part of our everyday lives and societal infrastructure that we support them through our tax dollars. Others are supported by concerned citizens who believe so deeply in their importance that they donate not only their hard-earned money, but also their time, skills, and creativity.

The Web is an increasingly important part of our lives, and it is absolutely essential that it remain free and open and accessible to all. If it doesn’t — if the Web becomes closed, restricted, controlled, and inaccessible to anyone who is disadvantaged or marginalized in some way — our whole, global society will suffer as a result. The Web cannot become something that further delineates the haves from the have-nots. It is already far too important for that, and it is still only in its infancy.

Mozilla exists to support the Open Web

Mozilla is an organization devoted to ensuring that the Web continue to develop as and remain a global public resource — akin to libraries, schools, parks, and roads — and everything we do, every resource at our disposal, is focused towards this end. This is the absolute core of our mission as outlined in the Mozilla Manifesto, and it is the heart of everything we strive towards.

Why Mozilla makes a browser

Making a browser is one of the most important things Mozilla currently does — not as an end unto itself, but rather in support of our larger mission and goals.

The browser is by far the most important tool we use to create and consume the Web. Without an open browser there is no Open Web. This is why we build Firefox, and why we’re pushing hard to get Firefox on to as many devices and desktops as we can. The Open Web is an increasingly crucial part of our lives and our society, and Firefox is one way we’re working to ensure that the Web remain open and available for everyone.

What do you think?

Is this a useful way to think about and talk about the Open Web to people who might not quite get what we’re so excited about? Not everyone is going to grok the analogy in the same way — and this certainly isn’t the only way to talk about it — but I think that most people understand that public works are a good thing, and that ensuring open and equitable access to fundamental resources and infrastructure — which now includes the Open Web — is an essential part of a just and civilised society.


7 thoughts on “Thinking about the Open Web

  1. This makes a lot of sense.

    For years we’ve been linking people directly to the Manifesto whenever we talk about our mission and why we do things. The Manifesto is, and will be, a key document but I don’t think it helps people get their heads around things (it seems more of a reference document for people who are already involved in the project and mission).

    Having some analogies that are better introductions to people that then link deeper to the Manifesto seem like a good approach. We’ve made some initial attempts at this with the Mozilla Parks stuff. This may be along the lines of what you’re talking about in this post.


  2. I think the most important thing to remember, at the end of the day, and for a variety of reasons, is that, while everyone will benefit from an open web (apart, maybe, from some greedy corporations and governments), not everyone will appreciate or is even able to appreciate what the open web does for them. It’s a part of the reason why so few people (in relative terms) are aware of this matter, but, above that, it’s the reason why quite a few people who are aware of the problem don’t agree with Mozilla in our stance on it. And I think what we need to do and learn, is to respect those people, as much (or even more) as we respect those who are not aware of all these things. Not look down on them, not force them into anything, just respectfully ignore people like that, that are effectively rowing against the tide, because, yes, the fight for the open web is the tide. Let us not delude ourselves thinking we are the rebels, that we are the ones that are doing something different. Because I know for a fact that some people think those who fight for an open web are rebelling against the state of things. And while that may seem true to an outsider, anyone who knows the least bit about the internet knows that the state of things is that the web is actually open, and Mozilla is fighting to keep it open, and to keep that state of affairs. In a very real way, Mozilla are conservatives, except we are talking about conserving the internet, which, in and of itself, is a very right-wing, liberal minded open space, if the analogy applies. So, as I was saying, we have to respect that some people will try to row against the tide, will try to change the state of affairs, but our best weapon against them is to simply ignore them, and keep doing what we do, keep trying our very best, always with are goal in mind, and in the end, if doomsday comes, if the web becomes some sort of twisted… thing! We will know we have done everything we could, and we will be of clean conscience and spirit, and I hope all our work will not have been in vain, because, from it, many people will have been made aware of our mission, and, like myself, they will be fighting alongside us, and then, against the tide, they will be trying their best too, or maybe not, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ll be much more than we ever were.

    I seriously and honestly believe that once someone understands and agrees with the openness of the web, there’s absolutely no turning back. So each one of those people who agree with Mozilla today, who understand its labour, they will never leave us, even if they use other browsers, it doesn’t matter. Well, if they use Internet Explorer or Safari it does, but at the end of the day, what it really matters is not that Firefox and the Mozilla platform has many users, it’s that we have many users that matter. Many users that fight and agree and create. As nice as sponsorship revenue may be, I’d rather have Firefox being used by 5% of the market where half of the users are active testers, extension creators, evangelists and so on, than have Firefox being used by 50% where only 1% of those are users like that. And I do believe that Firefox will never loose an user once it sort of “becomes” that kind of useful user. And that’s what really matters, in the end.

  3. Pingback: Still thinking about the Open Web « Tuna Park

  4. Deb, this is a great post. Thank you for taking the time to think and blog about it. I think it’s helpful in describing *some* of what we do and why it matters.

    But I’m concerned that if we define or are seen as defining “the Open Web” down to purely public, non-commercial spaces and activities, that we give up a lot of our power to shape the rest of the Web.

    Our Manifesto speaks to the myriad of activities that happen on the Web and the need for balance between the public spaces and activities AND the commercial spaces and activities.

    Obviously the commercial spaces and activities on the Web are already very well represented (but I’d argue not represented well) by some very powerful interests and so I’m totally with you that Mozilla can provide a much-needed counter-balance to ensure that the non-commercial aspects of the Web aren’t drowned out by the commercial ones.

    But I’m still concerned that if we project that we don’t care about the commercial Web, or that the commercial interests on the Web are somehow not a part of “the Open Web” that we lose our seat at that table and that we relinquish our say in how that part of the Web evolves.

    I think the evolution of the commercial aspects of the Web need just as much Mozilla help maybe even more than the non-commercial Web. The commercial Web needs Mozilla to ensure that it’s fair, respectful of individual choices, not exclusive or inaccessible, and understandable to regular people — that it doesn’t become a series of walled gardens and ghettos.

    So rather than describing the Open Web in terms of only the public-benefit aspects, I’d like to see us describing the Open Web as all aspects of the Web that enrich peoples’ lives and explain that we pay particular attention to making the public aspects as strong as they can be (because they have little or no other representation in the Halls of Internet Power) but that we also care about the commercial aspects of the Web especially where they intersect with issues of choice, trust, privacy, accountability, and information asymmetry.

    Or, in short, we should want the whole Web, commercial aspects included, to be “the Open Web”.

    Now, that doesn’t help us find better metaphors, I suspect, but it might help us not create ones that could sideline our potential influence.

  5. I guess I see commercial interests as being part of “the public” and something also included when working towards the public benefit.

    Corporations use public roads, for-profit concerts are put on in public parks, etc. I certainly didn’t mean to exclude for-profit interests in this — to me “open and equitable” means everyone, whether corporate or not.

    But there are semantic issues, for sure. Language is tricksy 🙂

  6. An open web is important to me. My initial feeling is that comparing it to the public resources in your list… well, the connotation a lot of those things bring up for me is “diminishing funding” which then implies “declining quality.” I wish that connotation wasn’t there, but for the time being it is.

    Maybe the interstate system would make a good analogy for the open web? The design is standardized and therefore we benefit from knowing what to expect. We can trust that we can navigate it in Oklahoma as well as we can in California.

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