keynote video available

The video of my Seneca keynote is up now, in both regular and wide formats, it seems. They are somewhat large (394 and 270 megabytes respectively), so govern yourself accordingly.

You’ll need DivX (at least the codec) to view them, I believe.

AMO and the quality bar

addons.mozilla.org has long occupied a special place in the Firefox software ecosystem. It’s the only site in the installation whitelist by default, the default server contacted for update information about add-ons, and where we send users who are looking for hot add-on leads.

That unique position means that there is a lot of value for some add-on developers in being hosted on AMO. Such hosting involves a review process, which I think both reviewers and developers alike would agree is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole system. The intent of the review process is entirely on the side of the angels: help make sure that add-ons are good for users.

The devil, of course, is in the details here. At times, the review bar has been placed entirely too high, in my opinion: otherwise-fine add-on updates rejected because they cause a strict warning to appear in the JS console, for example. In other cases, we’ve had add-ons approved which send some data to a central server, but don’t have a privacy policy listed. The most common and burdensome cases of this latter example tend to be associated with “toolbar-building” services: the ostensible authors of the resultant toolbars typically know very little about what’s being collected or how it’s being managed, which makes for a predictably unsatisfying conversation with reviewers.

(There are other elements of the review process that are inconsistent and difficult, mostly related to needing to reject items for errors in things that the add-on authors can change after the fact without review, but which can’t be helpfully fixed by the reviewers. These are the “easy” implementation artifacts, though, and not really the topic of this post.)

The trade-offs here are painful: adding a standard of “usefulness” or “implementation quality” to the checklist will not only dramatically slow the review process and require more specialized skills among our reviewers, but will also increase the variability between different reviewers’ decisions. Those are all things that I don’t think we can afford to make worse, and both the history and special position of AMO make me tend towards a much more laissez-faire position: if the description accurately describes what the user will get when they install it, especially as far as the collection and management of private information is concerned, then I think we should let the user make the decision about whether they consider the functionality useful. Some popular add-ons duplicate functionality that is already present in the browser, such as preference settings, adding only an alternate means of accessing it, for example, so requiring “significant new functionality” seems to work against the interests of a fair number of users.

At the same time, of course, I think it’s quite desirable to be able to point users at a more “filtered” view of the enormous add-ons space hosted on AMO. We currently have one such view, the recommended list, but that’s not really much of a solution to the broader problem. (It doesn’t try to be, really.)

A minimum rating threshold would be one way to narrow the default search results returned to a user, though it depends on the reliability and resilience of a rating system. Our current one isn’t sufficient to prevent the sort of gaming and distortion that would plague us in such a world, but that’s not to say that a sufficiently robust one couldn’t be developed. (Not “perfectly robust”, mind; just enough to keep the damage well below the gain.)

A simpler system would simply provide a single piece of metadata that could be set by reviewers or administrators using their judgment and likely via some multi-reviewer discussion. This wouldn’t scale as well as the universal rating by users, but would be more resistant to gaming and abuse (and easier to track and remedy if such nefariousness is detected).

This post is already too long, but you can read and write more about various possibilities for rating and approval schemes in the Remora Idea Dump. We’re thinking about and working on ways to help users find good add-ons, in a way that scales across our community, and I suspect it’s something that we’ll be working to improve for some time!

adrenaline withdrawal

Between the frantic reskinning of AMO, the general hubbub of the Firefox 2 release, and then preparing for and delivering my FSOSS keynote, last week was pretty much non-stop adrenaline. I was completely exhausted by Thursday night, to the extent that I actually stayed on campus rather than try to get up Friday morning in time to defeat Toronto traffic for a 9AM keynote slot back up at the Seneca@York campus, but the conference itself was enough of a source of energy that I managed to keep rolling until relatively late in the evening.

Saturday was spent sleeping and traipsing about the city as part of Madhava‘s bachelor party, which was not exactly a meditative exercise itself. Ridiculous fun, of course.

So today I’m feeling pretty weird, I have to say. I’ve been quietly working through my backlog of “deal with this later” stuff — mostly context, but some of it perilously close to core — and letting the novel and welcome sensation of choosing my own next steps wash over and around me. I will readily admit, to the surprise of nobody, that I enjoy the rush of execution and the feeling of making decisions “live”, but I’m really looking forward to spending a few days taking a fresh look at the paths I was on before the explosion of the last 2 weeks. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to have “am I forgetting something important?” downgrade from “certainly” to “possibly” for a while.

And I should do some laundry, too.

I’ll probably — hopefully? — be less present/active in my usual interrupt-driven communication environments for a bit, but if you need me I’m sure you can reach me without too much trouble…

Show time

I’m waiting in the audience in the gym at Seneca right now, for people to finish registering and the introductory ceremonies to start — then I get to give my keynote, and put everyone back to sleep.

I’ve written this talk 3 times now in the last few days, trying to find a balance between talking about the things I want to talk about, and not being too philosophical for a 9AM keynote. I don’t know that I’ve succeeded, really, but my laptop’s up on stage now so I’ve run out of time to tweak it. I hope people don’t all boo and leave halfway through — especially my friends.

Oop, intros are done. Here we go!

[tags]speaking, seneca, mozilla[/tags]

the kids are alright

[Because I am a big dork, this has been sitting in my drafts for a long time, since apparently I clicked "Save" instead of "Publish" or something. What fun!]

A little less than a year ago, beltzner and I met with a few people at Seneca College about a project that some students were about to undertake. The details of the project are themselves pretty interesting, but the really valuable takeaway for me turned out to be a connection with Prof. Dave Humphrey and others at Seneca who are interested in really baking open source work, technology, communities and principles into the educational experience.

Since that fateful day, we’ve embarked on a number of pretty exciting projects with Seneca, such as their hosting of hardware for development of MDC and AMO work, test environments, some pretty awesome buildbot hacking, multi-compiler support for distcc, and APNG support.

And, of course, the most excellently righteous “Topics in Open Source” course, which Dave is teaching for the first time this term, and in which I have been joined by several Mozilla compatriots in miseducating eager students about topics many and varied. As with most interesting things, it has not been all flowers and roses — entering our community can be daunting for even the most intrepid of newbies — but I think that some great stuff has and will come of it. The amount of energy and enthusiasm there is just ridiculous, and as a wiser man would have predicted I’m having a hard time keeping up with the students. Ah, to be young again.

A little more than a week from now, on October 26th and 27th, Mozilla is co-sponsoring Seneca’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium. A generous handful of Mozillians will be in attendance or speaking, and I predict ample opportunity to talk with Dave and his fellow crazy people about what they’re doing, what’s working so far, what we could try next, and how to get involved in whatever way strikes your fancy. The lineup of speakers looks pretty great, present company excepted of course, and it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend $20 of your open-source-self-education budget. Hope to see you there!

Confession

I, Mike Shaver, love Philip Imperial Schwan with all my heart.

Je vous remercie pour votre attention. [tags]personal, phik[/tags]

when I see your face

Getting my first eye exam in 2 years today, since I really need to replace my bent and scratched glasses. My prescription is pretty stable, but I got some eye drops that are apparently going to screw me up pretty good for the better part of 8 hours.

I am looking forward to fumbling through customs and security at Pearson this afternoon, liberty bag in tow. With my luck, I’ll end up having some allergic reaction that will leave me unable to drive from SFO — or maybe that’d be vlad‘s luck… [tags]personal, travel[/tags]