- Alina's blog

The Open Web has fallen…

For the last few days I’ve seen, both offline and online, many reactions from people taking a stance regarding the support of Firefox for a plugin that will allow users to consume DRM-protected content: some were angry, some sad, some broken-hearted, some puzzled and a small part (mostly Mozilla contributors) just silent.

This is not new at Mozilla. In fact, during the last couple of months we have been very shaken by various situations and announcements: ads and content personalisation, “leadership” changes, conflict resolutions… Some people have been thinking that this is already a slow slippery-slope phase (which I hope it’s not).  

I cannot defend Mozilla about how this was managed (both at the decision making and communication level) – via a simplistic and defensive “we had to!” rather than through an open ended narrative…

I’d dare to say that they did the realistic thing as a corporate enterprise (for which marketshare is important in order to produce revenue and stay in business). In this case, the revenue is to cover the expenses and infrastructure that are necessary to build a browser, a mobile operating system and other pieces of software that most of the people use without [sic] wondering how engineers, designers, developers, etc. are actually paid.

It’s unjust to hit so hard in an organisation such as Mozilla, which historically struggled to build utilitarian “free” software, so people could surf the web securely, developers could build extensions and personalise it and, the more adventurous, could even take the core of Mozilla technology (Gecko) and build their own software / project / business, replicating thus the model (Thunderbird, Postbox, Komodo IDE are some examples).

On the other hand, Mozilla has never been a Free Software organisation  - but championed a hybrid model: focusing on products with a mission. And most of the time, the star product, Firefox, has allowed the installation of proprietary plugins and add-ons. Moreover, it has adopted a strong trademark policy – facts that, for a long time, spurred conversations within the free software community (ending up with forks like this one).

Mozilla has always been about pragmatism and poetry, except that, in the last couple of years, it forgot how to write poetry. Instead of poetry, it adopted the “Open Web” dogma.

The nihilistic Open Web (or rather, open web) is probably one of the most empty expressions I ever heard. I heard it first 5 years ago, during a Mozcamp in Prague. I was there with a small group of people trying to define “what the open web is”. I still remember people struggling to define “the ideal”: it may be a cocktail of bitter-sweet drinks that in the end you still love, a political tool, your deepest sentiments about the web, what else? 

I’ve been watching since then how some tried to define it, then adopted it, and then evangelised it as an absolute ideal. And here it comes the different reactions from people, put face to face to the fact that “The Web” (for some, the idealistic “Open Web”) – has reached to a point when, as any other communication medium, is subject to how the “real world” works.

As Nietzsche said, “The naivete was to take an anthropocentric idiosyncrasy as the measure of things, as the rule for determining “real” and “unreal”: in short, to make absolute something conditioned. And behold, suddenly the world fell apart into a “true” world and an “apparent” world…” .[1]

And thus, we are finding ourselves in a time when we need to search for new values – trust, confidence, a space free from distraction where to think and work, a medium where we can evolve as a human beings… I’m skeptical that we can find all this on the Web.

And that’s not to say that the Web didn’t change how we worked as society (social networks and the browser indeed changed radically the way we interact). 

But now, the Web has become yet another medium, as it was the radio or the cable TV. The latter ones are still alive, people still use those media to get informed and entertained. They followed their cycle: from greater inventions, to conforming a medium for people to pursue their civil liberties, then they became media for commerce and economic powers, then they were regulated by governments and, in the end, they ended up being as any other medium inventions before.

It’s not helpful to continue insisting on this “hegemony of the Web” – the Web is not the future anymore, but it’s not dead either (because media don’t die, they just become obsolete). This EME affair, where the very W3C brought us months ago, put an end to the Web as an ideal for humanity.

Continuing with the discourse of “the web is the only salvation” is just keeping on carving into mediocrity, 

If I had to illustrate what the Open Web was…

Photo

An illustration by Andrjez Krauze in a series by The Guardian. Taken from: Reporters without borders – “Conference on Free Speech Magazine”. 

Note:

[1] “ The naivete was to take an anthropocentric idiosyncrasy as the measure of things, as the rule for determining “real” and “unreal”: in short, to make absolute something conditioned. And behold, suddenly the world fell apart into a “true” world and an “apparent” world: and precisely the world that man’s reason had devised for him to live and settle in was discredited. Instead of employing the forms as a tool for making the world manageable and calculable, the madness of philosophers divined that in these categories is presented the concept of that world to which the one in which man lives does not correspond–The means were misunderstood as measures of value, even as a condemnation of their real intention– The intention was to deceive oneself in a useful way; the means, the invention of formulas and signs by means of which one could reduce the confusing multiplicity to a purposive and manageable schema. But alas! now a moral category was brought into play: no creature wants to deceive itself, no creature may deceive–consequently there is only a will to truth. What is “truth”? The law of contradiction provided the schema: the true world, to which one seeks the way, cannot contradict itself, cannot change, cannot become, has no beginning and no end. This is the greatest error that has ever been committed, the essential fatality of error on earth: one believed one possessed a criterion of reality in the forms of reason, while in fact one possessed them in order to become master of reality, in order to misunderstand reality in a shrewd manner”. (Nietszche – “The Will to Power” manuscripts,  “Power” book I, pg. 211).

Beyond the apps – thoughts on software development

For the last couple of months I collaborated with Telefonica Foundation for PremiosApps, a first program intended to offer support for dozens of developers aiming to build web-applications with a more social impact (apps for education, art or healthcare).

Some of the apps are already up on the Firefox Marketplace (winners had the opportunity to further develop their project through ThinkBig programme or work with Telefonica Digital on FirefoxOS). It was a really interesting experience for me, as my role was to provide support on technical, but also project management side.

So I wrote code, deployed some services, played with some tools for software project management and I had the chance to have meaningful conversation with people who build their own first web-apps. Of course, among the conversations there were questions such as whether building for a platform or another is better, whether is optimal to migrate web apps to other mobile platforms (such as iOS or Android), to go either for SQL or NoSQL databases, to use a framework or another, etc. The answer is hard in such situations and sometimes, technical decisions can play tricky when come to plan with the resources you have to dedicate to the project.

When comes to questions like “which kind of technology should I choose” – my answer has always been: choose whatever technology you find comfortable with, the technology that your tech. team colleague feels that manages it well enough, the technology that best fits with your resources and time.

In a world that changes so fast, with dozens of frameworks, APIs, programming languages and various platforms – it’s hard to make decisions, especially when you just start your project. The thing is (and we’ve had a conversation about this when discussing about databases) – software is after all an interface that connects you, as a human being, with the machine.
Databases are nothing more than conceptual representations of elements you’re working with and the relationships between them.
The Cloud Services are nothing more than infrastructure on which our code (e.g. web services) runs – a set of computers running as servers and a pipe that connects them with other parts of the internet.

One of the things I learned from this experience is that, when you start a project (like building a piece of software) that eventually will become a product (a piece a software you can actually sell or deploy) – don’t start with the “I’m going to build an app” thinking. The app is just a small, tiny part of the project, the interface between you and the user (which, of course, it’s important). 

The problem today, especially in software development world, is having to cope with a constant wave of miscommunication, that is, all that marketing talk about how easy is to build an app (eventually with just a few clicks) and how easy is to be a developer (eventually in just a few days). 

That was part of the experience for the group: learning that things are not easy, that building software is harder than it may look like at first and that even the most popular programming language – JavaScript – has its own secrets and tricks. 

Applications on the web are a real opportunity in these moments of paradigm change. It may help us explore what could be next on software development. However, we should not forget that we are still through this platforms war :) .

Beside this, when thinking about building software with social impact, things get even harder as you have to do some “problem finding”. But on this topic, building technology within a social layer, I’ll write more soon.

Thanks to Telefonica Foundation and, above all, to the group of participants I worked with. That was inspiring and made me feel hopeful about the future of software industry in Spain.

I finish this post by sharing a recent talk by Alan Kay, software engineer and inventor from Sillicon Valley (the Sillicon Valley that used to inspire me some years ago… ): youtube.com/watch?v=gTAghAJcO1o