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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).

Opening-up opportunities, listening, empowering

Almost three weeks ago, I flew to Cluj (the hearth of Trasilvania) to be part of the first Mozilla Romanian Community meet-up. It was a tough decision to go, as I’m trying to lower my participation in community events and keep focus on new projects.  But Ioana (who organized and planned the meet-up)  finally convinced me – telling me that we’d try to make the meet-up different and even more, offering me the task of advancing the meetup’s agenda.
And, in the end, I’m very happy that I finally decided to go.  It was a very productive and constructive event and it made me leave Romania feeling inspired, motivated and optimistic.

Mozilla Romania Community

Below I’m going to highlight the things that most impressed me there:

  • diversity of community participants:  Mozilla Romania is a community network with participants of different ages, individuals doing their own projects, Mozilla staff, companies such as Softvision, non-profit organizations such as Ceata or participants in Student Labs as ROSEDU.
  • more than 50% were people I never met before (except maybe via twitter or mailing list).
  • I met Alper, 16 years old, who has been organizing for a while Webmaker and Programming events in his town. He shared with us how hard is to be a teen who wants to do stuff and does not have much support from local organizations because of his age. This brought into conversation the difficulty for under 18 Mozillians to participate in the broader Mozilla Project (e.g. accepted as Mozilla Reps).
  • Support and build local social initiatives: during the session where we sorted out topics, there was a good number of social initiatives, or… how to start working with organizations that already help people acquire new technical skills. Valentin is already part of the Digital Kids program, Alper is trying to do something with organizations in his city, Dan shared his experiences with the YearUP program in Mountain View, I shared some of the experiences trying to ignite a Hive Barcelona Community. There are lots of opportunities to work through this in a future.
  • Mobile – a strong testing community - In Romania, the testing community has been growing for a long while and especially, in important tech. hubs such as Iași and Cluj. There were not so many conversations about FirefoxOS or WebApps, but more  about testing or how to get more people involved into FirefoxOS project through testing.
  • Community Building and Tools – those were two main sessions with  lot of participation and interest. One of the questions was: “How do we make Mozilla.ro community a strong community support network?”. There are individual contributors who want to do things and help advance Mozilla’s mission but don’t know where to go and whom to ask when they may need it. One of the approaches to this was, apart of “just do it” – to take advantage of Mozillians.org social network (a better use of tags, group and skills categories) so you can find your “go to person” or your mentor. There have been other topics such as making events more visible or turning the local get involved page more attractive.
  • Participants from major Academic and Tech hubs in Romania: participants came from cities like Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi and Constanta, Hunedoara, Carei. And of course expat Romanians from Barcelona, Berlin and Mountain View.
  • We had the meet-up (and planning meet-up) in two amazing co-working spaces in Cluj: ClujHub and Cluj Co-work!



Overall, the meet-up was really productive, I think. Ioana and Alex will come with more details about what’s next, after we finish documenting it. We started it with an interactive plenary around: challenges to contribute in a community project, the importance of individual, decentralized contributions and demand of permission vs. good communication. The goal of the meet-up was to see how to work together more efficiently and avoiding unnecessary conflicts.

I think that we achieved a big part of this goal. Of course, there is more to do, and most importantly, lead as individuals, document and then share back next year.

What I took with me from all this experience is the optimism that communities in Mozilla can be seen differently, not just a resource. Community is a group of like-minded people and organizations who work for a common goal. Yes, some communities produce resources: as documentation, word of mouth marketing, tools, products and others. But one of the things there are often ignored are the signals that a community produces.

The question here is how to help the community produce useful and meaningful signals (not noise) – signals that can sometimes drive the project into new directions and even contribute to decision making processes. Probably the answer is: a different approach to community building – meet-ups are opportunities, not events where suffocate people with top-down agendas and topics. Agendas should be for empowering and motivating, for listening and then building.

There are tons of positive and interesting signals I received from the Mozro meet-up and I’d probably write more abut later. Until then, thanks to Dan Gherman, Ioana, Brian King and Alex for helping with the pre-planning!