Mitchell Baker DrupalCon Keynote

 

These are my notes from Mitchell Baker's keynote at DrupalCon Denver 2012. Follow Mitchell on Twitter @MitchellBaker or at blog.lizardwrangler.com.

When we started years ago, Open Source was not mainstream, and looked like something unlikely to succeed. It's gratifying to come to an organization like this and see Open Source really succeeding. Not only is Open Source interesting for software development, but many of the ideals that underpin it are interesting for the Maker demographic. How much control do I have over my life? I want to talk today about open source and the larger question of making our own lives, and what Mozilla is thinking about in terms of online life and how we can put all these things together.

The web doesn't need to be described from a technical perspective. We think about it as a set of building blocks that anyone can use to invent, build, connect and bend things in the digital world. Building blocks can be open, or can be quite closed. The web over the past two decades has been very open, and has been built with open source software and with open principles, such as decentralization, the ability to act without permission, the ability to build a business, and plug your work into a larger framework without having to ask an authority for permission. Peer review, open organization and leadership. These open building blocks are what allow us to move from consumption to creation.

The web provides free consumption -- free as in beer. There is also a layer of the web that has been free as in freedom. But the key to living your own life has been moving beyond consumption when you want to. When you have a good idea and want to innovate or solve a problem, that's when you move to the creation layer. That ability to be able to create is a precursor to the kind of freedom that I'm talking about -- not in terms of politics, but in terms of our control over our own lives. At Mozilla, that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to build open building blocks into as many layers of our life as we can.

Mozilla

Most people know us from FireFox, but that's not the whole picture. Many people get confused about the different legal entites. Let's talk about who we are.

The Mozilla mission is at the heart of what we do: building individual control and freedom into the heart of the internet. The biggest way we do this is our consumer products work, such as FireFox and Thunderbird. We've been more successful than we could have hoped in bringing innovation into the web.

Consumer Products

We generate revenue through Firefox, and that turns out to be a lot of money, in the standard search advertising market. That's a huge amount of money for an open-source non-profit organization, but a tiny amount compared to the market we compete in. That's the amount that Google or Apple or Facebook will spend on a single advertising campaign. That's a bit of a dichotomy. When non-profit advocates talk to us, they think we're technology and product people. On the other hand, in the valley where we live, many of the businesses find us confusing because we don't talk about money and return on investment and shareholder value in business terms.

That is the core of Mozilla: trying to build products that reflect the overall mission, so that the products we put out there should reflect the internet that we want.

WebMakers

Aside from the consumer products, we have WebMakers. If you're not a developer or interested in building Drupal or Firefox libraries, but you are interested in openness and innovation in other aspects of online life, we have WebMakers to help you get involved and think about technology.

Right now, these two parts make up Mozilla. We have a complex legal structure with 400-500 employees worldwide, and most of them are about how we can legally hire and pay someone, or be able to spend money on community groups legally and efficiently.

Open Web Building Blocks

HTML/CSS/JS

By this, I mean the web as we have understood it for the last five years. Drupal lives here. As an open source and FLOSS community, we have been very successful at this layer. Apache, Drupal, Wordpress... we have a pretty good foothold in this layer. Much of the innovation comes through Mozilla, and Drupal is growing. This is a layer where we brought competition and openness. We understand this and we've been successful.

Mobile

How do you collaborate and publish and interact on mobile devices? This question is more unformed, currently. We have a model, but it is a closed model. It is beautiful and elegant, such as the Apple stack. However, it is an integrated, highly-centralized stack. Many of the other players such as Google and Microsoft are doing the same thing. Once you get into one of those environments, you are stuck there, and developers in that environment need to be approved and can't go outside the approved scope or business plan.

We're thinking about how to make changes here. We have an offering for the mobile space. The web is the platform. Every player is building a tightly-integrated stack with a set of services from a single vendor. What could compete with that? Not Mozilla. But the web can. The web is already a platform with hundreds of thousands of developers and innumerable webapps. It has reach and is cross-platform. For the mobile space, our working principle is that the web is the platform, and the web can compete and provide a rich user experience.

We're not trying to take the place of a closed stack; we're trying to create an alternative. The response we have gotten has been very effective. We're partnering with Telefonica, and our development work is done in an open-source manner. We have a bunch of marketing and product information that we keep confidential, but the code is open. There is some engineering management in the middle to figure out how to handle patches, and we have a lot of experience on that. Everything that we do is new at one point.

When Mozilla was first founded, there was a very strong view that it was source code only, and we would never ship a binary. Now look: we ship products, and we have changed the world. There are a bunch of boot-to-Gecko releases and there is also a source repository. Please check them out, we would love to have more involvement.

Video

We've had a video tag in the browser for a number of years. Video is an area where people don't realize what is possible until you see it. That's true in the browser, and I find that it's true with Drupal as well. For many people, video was a flash model, where you consumed it. But, video on the web can be extremely interactive. We have a general project to take video and build the interactivity of the web into the video production process. Why not have web resources availalble with each video? These are ways where people involved in watching a video can get involved and share information. There is at least one organization using Drupal as the back-end to this video management system.

When we say "Video" most of us think flash, but when I say video I mean something executing in runtime in a webpage-like environment. You can imagine the type of assets that watchers can click to indicate that they would like to interact. For example, you can have a tweet billboard, and that's pretty simple. I think with the beginning of the interaction with Drupal, we'll move into a more sophisticated layer where assets can be brought to bear in runtime on a webpage that looks like a video experience to the user.

  • landofopportunitymovie.com
  • github.com/douglasmiller/drupal-popcorn
Identity

Who am I online? Do I have to identify myself with every device? Do I want to use a social graph such as Facebook or Google or might I want another alternative? The social networking sites have a huge purpose, we like them, people use them, but going forward it's increasingly likely that some of us will want an identity model not tied to a social network and their business plan. There is a Drupal plugin for this.

How do we take identity as a whole, and make the login process as easy as centralized system, but make it decentralized? Here is a quick demo of our product called Persona, which lets email providers turn into identity providers. Webmail users will already logged in; for those who are not logged in, they are prompted to log in with their email provider right in the same dialog.

Video plays

We plan to use Persona across different devices. We think providers who will ship a boot2gecko phone will also be interested in an identity system. This will allow us to attach content or purchases to an identity and share it across different devices. Try it; if you add it to a website, please share your experiences with us. We want this to meet your needs and the needs of your customers.

Social

We have some experiments, but where this ends up is not clear today. It's not important that Mozilla is the leader or winner here; it's just important that they happen.

Open Web Apps

This ties very closely into the mobile strategy. We have the web with old-style apps, and then we have mobile, with a different style. There's no question that we find mobile apps useful for lots of things, but they don't reflect many of the great traits of the web. They can be proprietary and data can be locked up into them. We have a marketplace for open web apps, which are apps built with open web technologies, but also tied to you. If you have an identity that is you, when you buy an app you get a receipt and should be able to access it on any device. The Web Apps initiative is to take the things that people like about apps, and the development ease, with some of the freedoms and innovations that have been great for the web.

Webmakers

Through the video work that I described earlier, there's a bunch of filmmakers and journalists who are getting involved in taking open web technologies and using them in their work. Journalists and filmmakers take stories and they reach other people, and that's a great experience to take open web values and share them with new audiences, even if they are not developing or deploying the core technologies.

???

What are the other building blocks that we can use to build a decentralized lifestyle? There are certainly more out there. I think we'll see these arise from unexpected places. There's a whole generation of people for whom devices are more comfortable than pencil and paper. I don't think we know what will come up here. There will be a lot of change, and it may be a little disconcerting.

These are some of the building blocks for keeping internet life open. One way to leverage these is through products. The benefit is that we can reach people who may not be aware of how we do things and may not care about why they are built in an open-source fashion, but as they are using them they can use about them. So these products are built to reflect our values, and Mozilla will continue to build products.

We also have community. This is something, as projects grow, community takes some effort. At Mozilla, we have hired a lot of people, and the description of what community means what it means to work in a community that is not employment-based is something new. The people who come to Mozilla and work on our projects have a relationship that is different than just employment. Community is the fundamental tool for how we stay true to our ideals and our values.

In an employment relationship, we have a lot of tools to get employees to do things. In a volunteer community, that is not always true. It is very hard to get volunteers to be quiet when they are convinced that you are doing the wrong thing! The ability to employ people and build an organization is important, but the voices of independent people who have voices and are interested in building the world they want to live in is very important. The idea that the individual matters. Merit matters. You can actually go try something, and you don't need some centralized person to ask permission. You can ask a question, people will respond, and you respond back: that's how you build a community, and that is more powerful than we understand in modern life. The ideas that we use to build our communities are so powerful, even in other areas of endeavor.

Outlook

This is the open source way of thinking, combined with an acceptance of change. This is an outlook that will allow us to create the building blocks that we need. Change is really not easy for people. Even though we live in a technology environment and things change quickly, people get comfortable with the way things are, especially in a values setting. Even in Mozilla, we frequently hear "Oh, we can't do that, it's against our values." But, just to say something new is against our values can be just a way of avoiding exploring new ideas. We can take these ideas and values into the new world. Because, the new world is coming. There's a lot of change in the world today, and we can take the things that bind us together into this new world, but we won't be successful if we don't try.

This is one of the challenges for any established community. We have something to offer, and beyond our products and technology we have a way of relating to each other which recognizes our value in the world today. I would hope that all of us spend our lives building products and technology, but we spend time to look up and think about what drives us, what motivates us, what open source really means, and how we build a world which is not Big Brother but has the richness and technology to challenge us.

That combination of what we know how to do and vision of open building blocks of the future will build a better world than we are likely to see otherwise. Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Q: Why not work on making a better OpenID?
A: We've been deeply involved in OpenID. The more we worked at it, there were a couple of issues that were difficult to improve enough to make us think that it would work across all devices. There is a good detailed description that I won't go into here.

Q: How much work is it to persona-enable an email provider?
A: It should not be much work. I think we would rely on you to tell us. The goal is that it is very simple, and we have validated this with some people. I have had a couple people say they had trouble with it. If it is not considerably easier than OpenID, then it is not done yet, that's for sure.

Q: How can we move forward with video while the codec war is still unresolved?
A: We have to be pragmatic. It was just Monday where Mozilla started talking about using the codecs already on OSes and mobile devices. I am on the pragmatic side of the house. We have to figure out how our products interact with our mission. One side says, we will never touch patent-protected codecs. I personally have never agreed with that view, because I believe in putting products in front of people that they love and that work. For mobile devices, we will probably see this. Then there is the desktop, and then we have a discussion about whether it is available on Linux, and so that is still moving back and forth, but I think we are moving toward a more pragmatic view there. I think we will probably lose some of our evangelists and contributors because of this decision. There is also Opera, and I don't know what they will do.

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