now don’t take this the wrong way

(It’s the weekend, I’m off the clock; if I catch this attributed to “Mozilla”, as I saw people referring to my previous post, I will probably be quite cross. There is irony in that, but you shouldn’t feel compelled to comment on that.)

If people don’t stop link-dropping me Chris Messina’s performance art, I think I might have to hole up in a mountain cabin with automated weaponry and an ever-declining respect for personal hygiene. Don’t get me wrong, I think Chris is a pretty clever guy, and I’ve quite enjoyed the handful of real conversations I’ve had with him. He dances with the camera in a way that makes me a fair bit self-conscious, and he has Fortune Cookie 2.0 down so pat that I expect to open the BBC one day and find out that Venezuela is going to bust his patent and start making generics.

And I have a little of the manic in me too, so I can imagine how awesome it would feel to just Go like that: ranting into a recording for most of an hour, railing against enemies of the revolution; tossing half-formed ideas into the void (where they might contact the half-formed anti-ideas you threw in there 30 minutes prior — so much light); rubbing up against acceptable heresies until they’re polished and gleaming.

But if people are so starved for rah-rah web hope, if they so badly need something to Engage them, to let them feel like they’re glimpsing part of the Web Conversation, like they’re hiding under the tablecloth at the Cool Web Kids club holding their breath so nobody hears them over the gentle hum of pingback high-fiving and literary appropriation that they will spend THREE THOUSAND CONSECUTIVE SECONDS staring at Chris in a looking glass, taste buds a-tingle in anticipation of the next bon mot…. Well, damn, people. There’s work to be done. (Though, in all honesty, we’ve all sat through longer conference presentations that I’m sure were less thought-provoking and interesting. I haven’t even found time to watch Chris’ opus, but I’m pretty confident in this position.)

“Mozilla” can and probably will do many of the things I’ve read in people’s emailed excerpts of the FLV that Chris wanted to nail to the door of the church, because “Mozilla” is all the people who want to be part of it. People who agree that the Web needs a champion that isn’t going to try to slip something in their drink, a champion that isn’t going to ask you to pay to register once your free trial expires, a champion that tries every day to be a living expression of the web and sometimes succeeds. “Mozilla” is the people who build Spread Firefox and the people who dump it when they want to do something else. “Mozilla” is the people who write add-ons for Firefox and the people who will go to their grave improving SeaMonkey long after it was “supposed to be” gone. “Mozilla” is the people who help their friends and co-workers not only use Firefox but understand what that choice means. “Mozilla” is the people who mix their pronouns and metaphors because they’re terrified and proud and excited and can’t make all the things they feel about the web fit into text. “Mozilla” is the people who understand that telling Mozilla what it should be doing is like saying “nobody in my neighbourhood cares about the litter” but not picking up a piece. Chris didn’t need permission from a centralized authority to drive Spread Firefox, even ignoring the odd dichotomy of “you should make a centralized decision to drop SF so that you’re…not acting as a centralized decision making body”, he just needed to be willing to take action that might not succeed, and that would put his beliefs and goals out, in a concrete way, where people could see and judge them. He just needed to be willing to make the hard economic (scarcity, not prime rate) decisions about where to spend his time even if people were telling him he should spend it somewhere else, and I’m pretty glad he was willing. It’s scary as hell at times, and it’s a ton easier to tell people what they should do than to do what you think should be done — I speak from decades of experience here — but talk can’t change the web, can’t protect the web. And the web needs changing and protecting, make no mistake about it.

So if there are other aspirants to Ze Frank’s throne out there who want to spend an hour energizing the blogeratisphere and getting fitted for a pulpit — and I’ll be honest, you’re almost certainly not going to do it as well as Chris, unless you are actually Ze Frank — I encourage you instead to make a screencast showing someone how to use a part of Firefox, improve a document for a web developer near you, test an add-on from the sandbox, help someone make their web site work better with Firefox and SeaMonkey and Opera and Camino and Safari and all the other standards-oriented browsers out there, test a nightly, participate in any of the bazillion discussions about where the browser and platform could and should go. Do something that you think “Mozilla” should be doing, because if you’re on the web, and you care about the web, and you’re afraid that we might yet again have a monoculture of stagnation on the Internet, you’re “Mozilla” — even if you don’t know it yet.

14 comments to “now don’t take this the wrong way”

  1. entered 12 May 2007 @ 4:44 pm

    [...] From Mike Shaver (back after a cough hiatus): …if you’re on the web, and you care about the web, and you’re afraid that we might yet again have a monoculture of stagnation on the Internet, you’re “Mozilla” — even if you don’t know it yet. [...]

  2. entered 12 May 2007 @ 11:43 pm

    Actually, I’m Opera, but that’s the whole point, now, isn’t it? :)

    Well said, though—or at least I think so. I’m not too familiar with the mentioned actors… Still! A good sentiment to be sure!

  3. entered 13 May 2007 @ 1:03 am

    “it’s a ton easier to tell people what they should do than to do what you think should be done”

    Of course it is. The interesting thing about the last few days is that it’s got everyone actually thinking about things that need doing. Now, granted, we should all be doing that all the time, but sometimes the little nudge from somewhere else encourages people to take a broader view. It’s easy to just carry on with what you’re doing without taking a step back, and it’s seductive; most of the time you don’t even realise you’re doing it. The content of what Chris said didn’t matter that much; it could have been any list of complaints. What it did was give people an excuse to look at things from a slightly different perspective, ‘cos it was a bit unusual. Now what I personally am hoping for is that people will do exactly what you’re suggesting; they’re all fired up with thoughts like “no, no, Chris Messina is wrong, it does this and that“, or “it could easily fix that problem by doing X and Y and Z”, and this and that and X and Y and Z starts to happen.

  4. entered 13 May 2007 @ 10:48 am

    Very well written, Mike. And that’s in spite of the shameless plug for the Sandbox ;)

  5. entered 13 May 2007 @ 8:58 pm

    [...] I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days about the debate that’s been going on about what “Mozilla” should do. [I put “Mozilla in quotes here because it’s a quite unusual & difficult to understand thing — but the link to Mike’s post is maybe the best articulation I’ve seen, especially when viewed through special, snark-reducing glasses. (I don’t reduce the snark, personally — it’s what I like about Mike’s posts.)] Or, rather, what Mozilla should do more of, do faster, do better. They’re all right, of course. We should do more, faster, and do it better. The criticisms in the debate, both explicit & implicit, tend to create a lot of introspection & wider debate, which I think, ultimately is good, healthy and productive. Even debates like the one on languages that pops up from time to time helps to clarify things. [...]

  6. James
    entered 14 May 2007 @ 3:22 am

    You miss one very important point – the core of Mozilla is what’s in the CVS repository. I don’t know whose fault it is (module owners lacking time, MoCo policy, something else), but people wanting to improve the Mozilla platform can’t do it in tree. Apart from SeaMonkey, which is an exception since the code was already there, I don’t think anyone’s been allowed to create new projects in the tree. Why not? Now it seems that people interested in XULRunner are going to have to set up their own community, rather than being able to do it under the Mozilla Foundation umbrella.

  7. entered 14 May 2007 @ 4:36 am

    James: who has asked to create a new project in the tree and not been permitted? I don’t know of anyone. What improvements are being turned away? There is, I 100% assure you, no MoCo policy against people improving the Mozilla platform in the tree. Sunbird/Lightning, Camino and SeaMonkey are examples of projects that are in the repository and supported with Mozilla Foundation infrastructure without being official products of the Mozilla Foundation or Corporation (with commitment to security updates and other lifecycle elements, or dedicated employee time).

    But even by your own logic, people interested in XULRunner wouldn’t have to set up their own community. That code is already in the tree, and Mitchell’s post explicitly points out what many of us hoped would be obvious: that the Mozilla Foundation is not investing its resources at this time in solving the non-trivial problem of a globally-shared, independently-updated-and-distributed XULRunner system runtime does not mean that contributions will be turned away.

  8. entered 14 May 2007 @ 5:01 am

    Wow. This magnificent piece is all that my reply should have been.

  9. James
    entered 14 May 2007 @ 11:51 pm

    Mike: ok, I’m wrong about creating new projects in the tree, I was making uninformed speculation. But the real question is can MoCo hand over XULRunner to the community, with the option to take it back when MoCo has more resources to give to it? ISVs most definitely want what MoCo isn’t able to provide (blessed XULRunner releases), and are willing to do the legwork, but will they be allowed to do so as part of the Mozilla community or will they have to do it on their own at Mozpad?

  10. entered 15 May 2007 @ 9:22 am

    James: I think you missed his point. If you or anyone else wants to improve XULRunner, just start hacking! MoCo never took anything from the community, it’s just managing resources.

  11. entered 15 May 2007 @ 12:51 pm

    Mike, this is a brilliant and well-written post. Perhaps naively, I didn’t expect my video rant to get picked up as much as it did; I’ve never done video before and learned that the medium is powerful as it is vain. I didn’t expect people to sit through 50 minutes of my monologue — and I’m both glad and disappointed that I provided my 16 bullet points Cliff’s Notes to give people a simpler sense of what I was going off about.

    If you get a chance to watch it, I think you’ll better understand where I’m coming from and what I’m looking for, and I think this post of yours was the response I needed — at least from someone closer to Mozilla than I ever have been (and, I should add, the response of your well-employed colleagues was, on the whole, disappointing and shallow).

    Now, on the other hand, I get a lot of this “stop complaining and start fixing bugs” thing, which I think is tired and more importantly, weak. Not everything is a bug and not everything needs to be patched. Sometimes you need to take time to stop and look around and see how the world is changing and ask the hard questions about whether the problems you’re trying to fix haven’t already moved into some new theater of operations. In which case, you’ve really got to step back and question some fundamentals.

    It wasn’t my intention to drop a bomb or anything like that; but the response has certainly been enlightening. On the one hand, I don’t think Mozilla is taking seriously the risk from proprietary RIA frameworks. Nor do I think they’re answering the opportunity the desire for RIA development offers for broader Mozilla platform development. Nor do I think Mozilla recognizes the dual Trojan horse aspect a Silverlight-Flash/Apollo world represents. Surely I’m just paranoid, but as Matt put it, only the paranoid survive.

    Anyway, I’ve been stewing on this stuff for the past few days and hope to get a response out (wisely or not) before I head out to NYC for Personal Democracy Forum.

  12. entered 15 May 2007 @ 7:27 pm

    [...] The response, has been fairly quiet. Some were clearly frustrated others, saw it as an opportunity to bring up their issues. What I haven’t seen (on Planet Mozilla) is a post that really engages Chris’ ideas and says “I don’t agree with Chris on ‘a’ or ‘b’, but he’s right about ‘c.’ ” To be fair, it’s hard to react well to criticism – especially from someone you count on as an ally. When you spend your day fighting billion dollar beasts you don’t exactly want to spend time and energy defending your rear. [...]

  13. entered 22 May 2007 @ 9:22 am

    [...] There’s been a fair bit written in recent days about the importance of community initiative, the role of students, and the part educational institutions can play in order to encourage and enable this.  I couldn’t agree more, and this week I’m working on doing my part to further these ideas. [...]

  14. entered 8 June 2007 @ 8:39 pm

    [...] — Mike Shaver, now don’t take this the wrong way. [...]