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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…


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).

  1. mai.22.2014@5:15 am - Simon says:

    I think you’re harsh on Mozilla, characterising this as “the realistic thing as a corporate enterprise”.

    The fact is, Mozilla does care about the open web – but only a small proportion of it’s users do. And Mozilla can have no influence over the future of the open web if it doesn’t have any users.

    If they chose to fight to the death over this issue, the outcome would be identical, save that Mozilla would have burned a lot of goodwill with their users by taking a stand on something they don’t care about.

  2. mai.22.2014@9:51 am - LorenzoC says:

    In my opinion there is only one big issue: Mozilla does not have any new idea, cannot propose any real innovation. If you look at Firefox, it is just struggling to catch up with Chrome. FirefoxOS is the “poor’s man” Android. So I guess the only goal is to retain enough “market share” to get funds and pay salaries.

    About the “Open Web” or the Web in general, I guess the main issue is people at Mozilla don’t believe the very same story they are telling. It is like you work in some restaurant and you go for lunch in someboyd’s else restaurant. The claim “we must give people what people want” actually means “we want it too” and “we don’t have any other idea”.

  3. mai.22.2014@12:15 pm - LorenzoC says:

    “… but only a small proportion of it’s users do”

    This is true given the following conditions:
    1. the “open web” is a confused idea that means everything and nothing.
    2. you don’t evangelize anybody out of a close niche.
    3. you pick “users” in the same pool where Google or Apple or MS pick their “users”. And/or you are an user of Google, Apple or MS products who accidentally work at Mozilla.

  4. mai.22.2014@12:48 pm - Steve Smith says:

    The web is open like the streets of a major city. One may find almost anything, from sustenance to debris, the best or worst. One may be educated, entertained, enriched or robbed. It’s best not to let your children roam unsupervised.
    Like the streets, the web is public adjoining private. It requires maintenance or it crumbles and becomes unreliable or hazardous. Agreed upon rules balance with freedom in order to maintain integrity and utility. The only thing that is actually free is entropy.

  5. mai.22.2014@11:25 pm - Simon says:

    @Lorenzo – no, really. Most internet users do not care about the open web, they don’t know what it is, and they’ve little interest in learning. What they care about is whether they can watch movies and stupid cat videos on their computer.

    Now, there *are* users who do care about openness, and most of them are Firefox users because whatever it’s faults, Firefox is still better than it’s rivals in that respect. But these people are the tiniest fraction of web users, and it’s hard to have much influence when you focus on that 0.001% at the expense of driving away everyone else.

  6. mai.23.2014@1:28 pm - Toni Hermoso says:

    Even though the Web is not an ultimate ‘freedom realisation’ by itself anymore (if any medium can ever be), until other media with more possibilities emerge, I do think we should continue pursuing our ‘ideals’ and ‘aims’ with it, as we do with other media as well…
    Of course, in order to get our own (not the others) things done and become a reality, we should avoid being wooed by empty fetishistic verbosity.

  7. mai.24.2014@6:54 pm - LorenzoC says:

    I don’t buy the everlasting idea that “users” are idiots.

    Which is a bit ingrained in the american culture, see the kind of “don’t stick this in your eyes” alerts you find on products, while you don’t find any list of ingredients that makes sense.

    Some people love the idea of “idiots” because of several reasons, the biggest one is it makes a very good excuse to aim the lower common denominator, instead of making efforts to get higher.

    Again, if Mozilla thinks users are “idiots” and if Mozilla wants to pick users from Apple’s or Google pool, Mozilla has already failed and at best it can survive on the crumbs and leftovers.