The Open Web has fallen…

by Alina Mierlus

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…


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


[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).