25 years of love for the Web

Tristan Nitot

Tristan Nitot (left) and Tim Berners-Lee (right)

Tim Berners-Lee (right) and the author

I have to admit I’ve always been a fan of Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the Web, hence the embarrassing fan boy picture above. But I’m even more of a fan now. Let me explain why.

This week, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor, wrote:

By design, the underlying Internet and the WWW are non-hierarchical, decentralized and radically open. The web can be made to work with any type of information, on any device, with any software, in any language. You can link to any piece of information. You don’t need to ask for permission. What you create is limited only by your imagination.

This is exactly the vision that has made so many people contribute to Mozilla since its early days, when we wanted to bring back choice and innovation to the Web browser market (our motto at the time). But Firefox is going to turn 10 years old by the end of the year, and new challenges have appeared. Tim Berners-Lee is once again describing these issues beautifully:

Will we allow others to package and restrict our online experience, or will we protect the magic of the open web and the power it gives us to say, discover, and create anything? How can we build systems of checks and balances to hold the groups that can spy on the net accountable to the public?

On the anniversary Web site, he added:

We have much to do for the Web to reach its full potential. We must continue to defend its core principles and tackle some key challenges. To name just three:

  • How do we connect the nearly two-thirds of the planet who can’t yet access the Web?
  • Who has the right to collect and use our personal data, for what purpose and under what rules?
  • How do we create a high-performance open architecture that will run on any device, rather than fall back into proprietary alternatives?

What stroke me here is how Tim Berners-Lee’s questions are aligned with what Mozilla’s working on:

It’s fantastic to see how Mozilla and the Web’s inventor still share so much in terms of vision after all these years. To learn more, I encourage you to read Mitchell Baker’s blog post on 25 years of Web, Brendan Eich’s thinking on the next 25 years and Mark Surman’s love letter to the Web.

2003-2013, what an amazing decade!

Tristan Nitot
2003-2013

2003-2013

It’s the end of the year, so it’s a moment where things are a bit more quiet in our lives, which is an opportunity to reflect on what has taken place over the past 12 months. Interestingly, 10 years ago this week I registered Mozilla Europe with the French authorities. Since then, its activities have been transferred to a Mozilla Foundation subsidiary, but this is nevertheless an opportunity to reflect on what has happened over the past 10 years.

In 2003, I realized that the Mozilla project was really important for the future of the Web. Back then, AOL/Netscape had just withdrawn from Mozilla and everybody’s help was needed to make it through these difficult times. I decided then to invest my time and energy to develop Mozilla in Europe without having a clear idea on how we (peterv and the folks who joined us like Pascalc) could make the organization sustainable nor if it could pay the bills. Luckily, with a lot of effort we managed to ship Firefox 1.0 a year later, and partnership with search engines have made Mozilla sustainable.

10 years have passed since then, and Mozilla has grown a lot, and its impact has grown too.

The recently published Mozilla 2013 infographic gives us some impressive numbers: 500 million users for Firefox, 50 million downloads of Firefox for Android (with 4.5 stars in the Google Play Store!). The Mozilla Developer Network has received 18 million visits and 70 million page views. From a technology standpoint, a lot of progress has been made. What has impressed me in 2013 — even if most people don’t seem to understand yet what it implies — is that we can now run C++ code (compiled into JavaScript) in Firefox without any plug-in, which makes commercial games based on Unreal Engine 3 possible today.

The biggest effort this year for Mozilla was certainly the launch of Firefox OS with 4 operators, in 14 countries (6 in Europe) and 3 devices, less than 2 years after the project started. I’m sure that 2014 will also be an amazing year for Firefox OS, getting us closer to our goals of making the Web the mobile platform of choice for everyone.

With regards to Mozilla in France, 2013 was the year we have left our old boring and small offices in favor of a much bigger place where most importantly we can host community events that are related to Mozilla (the Francophone meet-up, the opening party) or to Open-Source and the Web at large (with events such as the DotClear and Opquast community days). The Paris team and I are going to make sure this is just the beginning!

From a personal standpoint, 2013 has also seen several changes. I switched team, moving from the Tech Evangelism team (who interact mostly with developers) to the Communications team. I also have been appointed as a member of the French Digital Council, which got me involved with Internet policy, including Net neutrality. I also went through an amazing (and intense) training called LEAD (Leadership Exploration And Development). This training is offered to Director-level employees and some volunteers, addressing many things, including personal development. Some people have described this as “life-changing”. It certainly was for me. I loved it, especially as it was a good complement on my personal work on positive psychology.

After I graduated from LEAD, I was told about another training called TRIBE (“Taking Responsibility In Being Excellent”), a modular and more scalable version of LEAD. I immediately became very excited by the perspective of deploying something similar to LEAD at a larger scale for all Mozillians who want to be part of it, including of course non-paid staff. I offered to become a facilitator for TRIBE, and I’m now being trained for this. One of my goals for 2014 is to graduate as a TRIBE facilitator. Two things make me particularly excited and proud about TRIBE. The first is that I can’t wait to have a significant number of Mozillians becoming better versions of themselves: it’s going to be good for them (I love seeing this happen!) and good for Mozilla. Second, TRIBE participation is not limited to paid staff. It sounds obvious for anyone who knows Mozilla, where being a Mozillian is not linked to employment status, but it deserved to be mentioned because is once again shows that Mozilla is a really special organization.

So that’s it for 2013 and the 2003-2013 decade. I hope that the upcoming one will be just as exciting as the one that’s now ending! In the meantime, I wish all my readers happy holidays. Onwards to 2014!

A financially healthy Mozilla

Tristan Nitot

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Mozilla has recently issued its 2012 annual report, which we call the State of Mozilla. It’s easy to be distracted by these numbers, especially in a world where all browser vendors are commercial, publicly-traded companies and therefore all aim at maximizing profit. All but one: Mozilla is and will stay a not-for-profit organization.

Mitchell Baker, in a recent blog post goes beyond the figures, and I think it’s worth repeating here some excerpts:

Mozilla’s direction and decisions are based on our mission of making the Internet understandable, interoperable and open to all, while moving the Web forward as a platform for creation and consumption.

This is what matters. We’re not about generating the most revenue. It does matter that the organization has the financial power it needs to pursue its mission, though. Good news, we’re doing great on that front too. But like Mitchell said:

The finances are important, they are what allows us to support our work at the scale at which we need to operate and to advocate for the Web and the billions of people online. For us, however, financial return is not our main organizing principle. Our stakeholders are our global communities, the people who use our projects and ultimately all those interested in the health and openness of the Internet.

Remember, Revenue is the wrong yardstick! And now, onwards to a productive year 2014, with a financially healthy Mozilla!

Mozilla Summit and the nature of Mozilla

Tristan Nitot

It’s been two weeks that I’m back from the Mozilla Summit and the vibrant energy that I perceived there is still fresh in my mind. I’d like to thank all the people involved in making the Mozilla Summit 2013 a success, from the organizers to the participants, with an extra, huge, heart-felt “thank you” for those who picked me to be the show host in Santa Clara. It was truly an honor!

The Mozilla Summit was a success due to the involvement of many people, but there is one talk I’d like to highlight, it’s Mitchell Baker’s Nature of Mozilla, whose video is available on Air Mozilla.

Mitchell Baker on stage

Here is the transcript of an excerpt:

We’re here, Mozilla is here and each one of us is here to build the Internet the world needs. We are here to build an Internet that is open and innovative. We’re here to build an Internet where people come first, where each one of us has as much opportunity, as much ability to make decisions and as much control over on-line life as we can manage. No one else will build this Internet, no one else can.

Mozilla is unique, we’re not a typical company trying to generate revenue for our shareholders, we’re not a government, we’re not a non-governmental organization. We are Mozilla. We are at our core not about a legal organization, we are about our cause and about the idea of doing things.

The heart of Mozilla is a global community with a shared mission. That’s what gives us power, that’s what gives us impact and that’s what allows us to have the impact that we do. That’s what makes us different, is this global community with a shared mission. Build the Internet the world needs.

I encourage you to view the full video if you haven’t already. But if you feel inspired, considering joining Mozilla, either as a volunteer or as paid staff. We’re building the Internet the world needs. And we’re having fun doing it!

The (small) price of openness and transparency

Tristan Nitot

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Mozilla's code is open

Mozilla’s code is open

I recently read a couple of articles in the press about the fact that the Firefox touch-friendly User Interface for Windows 8 will not be released before early next year.

Anyone working in a Communications team of an organization will cringe when reading such an article, due to its negative nature. I know because I did. The same person will then try to identify the source of the information so that similar things do not happen in the future.

In this particular case, the information comes from the publicly-posted notes from the Firefox Planning meeting.

I’ve been involved with software for the past 30 years and I cannot count how many times a project has taken longer than planned. I know too well the infamous 90-90 rule, which says:

The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.

Even if this humorous rule is almost true and shipping software rarely happens on time, setting goals in terms of concrete dates is important when it comes to managing software development.

We’re left with the following question: should Mozilla stop publishing such information on its Wiki in order to prevent PR issues? I don’t think so.

Such information is important for an organization like Mozilla for which openness and transparency are essential values. These values have a cost, which is that we cannot control what is published in the press, while our main commercial competitors are less transparent and therefore benefit from more controlled messages in the press.

Meanwhile, transparency and openness benefit Mozilla a lot. In particular:

  1. Openness allows participation. At Mozilla, many activities from software development to support, localization and Quality Assurance are participatory and involve non-paid staff. There is no need to be a Mozilla employee to contribute to the Mozilla project, which enables Mozilla to compete with much larger organizations.
  2. Transparency allows Trust. Users can trust Mozilla’s products, technologies and processes because they make sure the code they run does what it’s supposed to do, because this code is public and can be audited. In the view of the recent mass surveillance disclosures, this is priceless.

We all see the cost of being transparent and open, but the price to pay is quite small when compared to what it brings to Mozilla. Therefore, I would like all Mozillians to remember this and cherish openness and transparency.

Happy birthday, World Wide Web!

Tristan Nitot

Screenshot of the first WWW browser

On August 6th 1991, 22 years ago today, the Web was born. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor, described it on the alt.hypertext newsgroup like this:

The WWW project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system.

The first Web page is still on-line today: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.

In 22 years, the Web and the Internet have changed the world more that we can say. Tim Berners-Lee probably did not know at the time how right he would be when he said he wanted to build a “powerful global information system”. Powerful indeed!

By happy coincidence, Firefox 23 for Windows, Mac et Linux was released today, as Mozilla continues to help the Web to grow in terms of ease of use, security and speed while also bringing more features, like sharing content with friends and family. This new version of Firefox also features a new logo!

In 22 years, the devices that we use to access the Web have evolved significantly, from desktop computers to laptops and now smartphones. This is why there is also a new version of Firefox for Android.

Here at Mozilla, we’re wishing a happy birthday to the Web along with a bright future full of opportunities. No doubt that the HTML5-powered Firefox OS phones will be part of it!

User Personalization and User Sovereignty

Tristan Nitot

Eighteen months ago, Mitchell baker posted an article on her blog: User Sovereignty for our Data where you could read the following:

Right now there’s no convenient way for me to share information about myself and maintain control over that information. I share information about myself by putting it someplace where someone else makes all the rules. That “someone else” is the application.

How can I share some information without knowing what is shared, knowing that not sharing information about myself implies that I cannot get personalized content?

Jay Sullivan explains:

Mozilla aspires to enable personalization — the customization of ads, content, recommendations, offers and more — that doesn’t rely on the user being in the dark about who has access to that information, and with whom that information is shared.

Earlier today, my colleagues from the Mozilla Labs published a very interesting User Personalization Proposal for Firefox. I encourage you to go a read it, it’s fascinating.

Here is an excerpt:

Last year, the Mozilla Labs Prospector team conducted a series of experiments in which a user’s browsing history could be matched with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking. Users opted in to these experiments, which transparently showed the user these perceived interests to help them gain insight into how they spend time online. But what if these interests were also available for the user to share with the websites they visit to get a better, more personalized browsing experience?

As part of these experiments, our Labs team has been thinking about ways in which content creators and consumers could benefit from Web-based interests. For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible. Destinations like the Firefox Marketplace could recommend recipe and movie apps, even if it’s my first time visiting that site. And, as a user, I would have complete control over which of my interests are shared, and with which websites.

For now, we’re just very early in the process. I’ll leave the conclusion to Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s General Counsel:

As the Labs post indicated, we are currently in an experimental phase and there are lots of assumptions that need to be tested. Upcoming tests will provide further insights and of course we will adjust over time. All in all, we think this is a promising solution to satisfy both individuals’ and publishers’ needs, in a way that creates a better, more transparent and more valuable Web experience.

Yes, it’s just an lab experiment for now, but I’m very proud to see Mozilla think ahead and innovate in order to tackle the difficult issue of user’s control over their data while enjoying a personalized user experience.

Firefox OS: We Don’t Want To Be The Third Platform

Tristan Nitot
Firefox OS smartphone

Firefox OS smartphone by ZTE, sold in Spain

Firefox OS was released earlier this week in Spain, and will be released next week in Poland. It’s a very important moment in Mozilla’s history. The launch has generated hundreds of press articles around the world and I see that in many of those articles our approach is analyzed as if we were yet another commercial company. Because our main competitors are publicly-traded companies, people tend to deduce that Mozilla aims at becoming the third mobile platform (right behind Android and the iPhone). This is not how I — and most likely many people within the Mozilla project — see things.

With Firefox OS, we’re not aiming for a third place. We intend for the Web to become the first mobile platform.

I’ll leave it to Mitchell Baker to explain our approach:

We build products that provide a great user experience and engender openness, innovation and opportunity into the technology of the Web itself. (…) We have always built Firefox to give developers huge opportunities for innovation in areas they care about. We do not seek to control the ways developers can innovate, or the way people take control of their software. (…) With Firefox OS we hope to do something similar with the mobile computing environment. We want to bring the power of the open Web to this world. We want to bring the same kinds of flexibility, opportunity and freedom to this computing environment that the original Firefox brings to the desktop.

When you think about Mozilla’s approach, let’s not forget that we’re a proudly non-profit organization dedicated to keeping the power of the Web in people’s hands — in other words, we’re not doing it for us, we’re doing it for the Web.

20 years of a free Web

Tristan Nitot
Tim Berners-Lee and Mitchell Baker

Tim Berners-Lee and Mitchell Baker

Twenty years ago this week, something important happened to the Web: it was set free. On April 30th, 1993, the software powering the Web was put in the Public Domain. From that moment, it became possible for everyone to set his own Web server and use formats and protocols of the Web without have to pay royalties.

In short, everyone could now create a piece of the Web without having to ask for permission. This, combined with the simplicity of the Web concepts (URL, HMTL and HTTP), made the Web the success that we know and love.

On that date, without people really thinking about it, the world changed.

Robert Caillau, who worked with Tim Berners-Lee at the time, explains it well:

There are only very few crucial properties of WWW: it sits on top of the internet naming scheme, it is such simple hypertext that it does scale up indefinitely, it uses a simple text-based format, it is guided by open, free standards that anyone may contribute to. And it was made available for free very early on.

Twenty years later, the Web is everywhere. It has changed the world, the way we learn, how we communicate and work. The Web is facing challenges, for sure, but it could be on the verge of changing the mobile industry, if Firefox OS is as successful as we want it to be.

In the meantime, I want to thank Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Caillau for making the right decision 20 years ago:

Finally, as we were more interested in the excitement of making something useful than in getting rich, we opted for using the old CERN model for technology spin-off: make it available.

Sharing and empowering instead of closing things down. That’s a fantastic example of how people can change the world. It’s also really close to Mozilla’s approach!

Persona: more privacy, better security while making developers and users happy!

Tristan Nitot

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In the spirit of showing what’s (and who) is beyond the code that powers Mozilla technology, I’m interviewing Lloyd Hilaiel, a Mozilla employee working remotely from Denver, Colorado. Lloyd, can you introduce yourself quickly?

Lloyd Hilaiel – I’m Lloyd Hilaiel, the technical lead for Mozilla Persona. I build software that matters with people who care.

Tristan Nitot – For those of us who don’t know what is Persona, can you tell which problem are we trying to solve?

Lloyd – The problem we’re trying to solve is that passwords are terrible. They’re hard to remember, hard to type (especially on your phone), and given user behaviors – they don’t provide nearly as much security as people expect.

Persona is an answer to this problem: an open authentication system for the web that when fully realized will make it so users can safely use the same email address and password to log into all the sites they care about.

Tristan – Why should users care?

Lloyd – Users should care because they’re going to be able to log into websites with just a few clicks, and they are going to spend less time agonizing over frustrating password reset processes.

As people use more and more online tools, the tradition of per-site passwords becomes more and more hostile to users. With Persona, we want to change this. We want people to be able to worry less about privacy and security, and get more of it.

Tristan – Why should developers care?

Lloyd – When developers choose Persona for authentication, they basically get three things:

  • A great user experience because the sign-in flow is streamlined.
  • They don’t have to maintain all the code that does email verification, password handling nor password reset. This means more time to focus on actual features!
  • They don’t have to handle a user’s password, so there is less risk for users is the server gets compromised.

In short, developers get a better sign-in flow, less development time, and reduced risk. There’s much more detailed information about Beta 2 for developers in the Mozilla Hacks blog, which also helps you get started implementing persona.

Tristan – Please allow me to play devil’s advocate for a a second: why is Mozilla one of the few organizations to do this kind of thing? Why not Facebook or Twitter?

Lloyd – Facebook and Twitter have staggering user populations and have made types of communication and even social movements possible that are inspiring. Both, however, are businesses who’s success criteria is related to the number of users they have and the level of engagement of these users.

So while Facebook and Twitter already have “one click sign-on” solutions available that allow massive convenience, they’re very tightly coupled with the core purpose of these platforms: social interaction. Facebook and Twitter sign-in conflate the act of signing into a website with sharing access to your social network, and often granting the site permission to publish on your behalf. Sometimes this is what a user wants, but far too often it’s absolutely not. People get really upset when advertisements or high scores are broadcast to their friends unexpectedly. The final problem with these existing solutions is that are built in such a way that social providers have full visibility into a user’s browsing behavior, and improving the privacy of social sign-in is a really hard problem.

The solution is to decouple sign-in and permission-to-publish. We should make them distinct user interactions with distinct language and branding. This simple change allows people to express their desires clearly and naturally.

Tristan – Yes, but why Mozilla?

Lloyd – Mozilla is in a position to fix this because our goals resonate deeply with the privacy, security, and convenience of Persona as a solution to the problem of sign-in on the web. Further, we’re willing to invest heavily in a project that will pay us back not monetarily, but in the form of a meaningful improvement in the Internet as a global public resource.

While this may sound lofty and unbelievable, let’s explore it by digging into how Persona works: it is designed from the ground up to be federated and distributed. Practically speaking, that means once we are successful, Mozilla itself will not actually be running a centralized service. Browser vendors will build the client pieces, websites and email providers the server bits, and Mozilla will be almost completely out of the sign-in transaction (firefox, of course, in all of it’s flavors will have a native implementation of Persona which is the client component of sign-in).

Making this kind of investment to bootstrap a fully distributed protocol that is imbued with our values, a project whose success is defined by it gaining a life of it’s own and being an asset of the internet community at large rather than just Mozilla, and having the support and trust of the community to do so responsibly, is not something that anyone else can do. This is a Mozilla thing.

Tristan – Where are we in its development, what have we done so far, what’s the timeline?

Lloyd – Persona right now is ready for anyone to use at any scale. The system is highly available, and we’ve got enough users right now that we treat the service as stable – this affects how we grow the feature set, weigh the priority of bugs, respond to outages, and interact with our users.

In terms of feature set, we’ve now got a first time user experience that is great – It’s really on par or better than what you might find on a website with a traditional login system.

Tristan – What makes you excited about Persona?

Lloyd – I’m personally excited about the project because I think we’re solving a meaningful problem. I’ve heard so many stories of people frustrated with passwords, I’ve seen lots of user research that supports this, and I’m personally affected several times a month. People really have a visceral reaction when you tell them you’re going to get rid of passwords and make sign in better. People want this.

The other thing that has me excited is the size and quality of the community supporting persona. Mozilla volunteers are the reason we support over 30 languages. Early adopters have been so supportive, and have given us amazing feedback and contributions.

I consider myself privileged to work with a worldwide community of people who contribute to the project simply because they think it’s important, and it makes every week exciting.

Tristan – I agree, Mozilla’s community is fantastic! Can you tell me what are the latest Persona news? Why is it exciting?

Lloyd – We just launched Beta 2! This is huge for Persona and includes a feature called “identity bridging” – We’ve made it so the hundreds of millions of users out there with yahoo.com email addresses can use an existing email and password to log into websites. In the coming months we’re going to roll out support for other popular Webmail providers.

This means a user who’s never used a site before, and never used persona before, can log-in in seconds.

Tristan – Now, what’s next for Persona?

Lloyd – In the coming months we’re planning for improved browser support, interaction refinements, and performance improvements that I think are really going to tip the scales. Additionally this year native persona support be available to people who use Firefox OS based phones and will land in desktop and mobile Firefox – which will further streamline the sign-in experience and result in a massive number of users who are familiar with the system.

Related to Beta 2, we’re going to extend Identity Bridging support to include a couple more major email providers to make it so half of the worldwide Internet population can sign in via Persona with their existing email and password.

Beyond from these concrete plans, the near future is all about listening to users and developers. Through this we’ll make the sign-in experience even better and further reduce developer friction to integrate Persona in any environment.

Tristan – Lloyd, thank you very much for your time. We’re all wishing the best to Persona!