Mozilla, messaging and innovation. Interview w/ Ascher.

March 25, 2009 § 6 Comments

The penny dropped for me at the end of David Ascher‘s talk at FOSDEM last month: now is a great time to be digging into the messaging side of Mozilla’s mission.


The Internet is abuzz. Tweets. Status updates. 17 flavours of IM. A zillion RSS feeds. Good ol’ email. With each nifty new innovation, we see more messages — and more types of messages.

Mostly this is good and useful. It’s certainly fun. But it’s also a bit of a mess. As our messages cluster on a few big servers using their own formats, we have less and less control over our own information. Our data — and our attention — is fragmented.

David’s point at the end of his FOSDEM talk: this is a big opportunity for Mozilla. As our mission is to promote the open Internet. We’re one of the few players with a compelling reason to innovate and put users back in the driver’s seat. What this might look like is a pretty interesting conversation topic.

At the moment. David’s heads down getting Thunderbird 3 (which I love for its speedy IMAP) out the door. I stole him away from this for a couple of minutes to get a video snapshot of the big picture messaging space and the opportunities for Mozilla:

In case you’re video dis-inclined, or maybe offline on an airplane, here are the highlights from the interview:

  • The Internet has been open since it started. It helps people innovate in a distributed way. Mozilla’s job is to make the Internet more open.
  • The link between the open Internet and the messaging space is a mixed bag right now.
  • Most of the exciting things happening on the Internet right now relate to messaging — Facebook, Twitter, MySpace.
  • There are lots people innovating and creating new things that are interesting from a cultural point of view.
  • At the same time, things are not as open as they could be.
  • Messages are getting centralized with a few players, which in turn means people don’t have as much control over their own information as they used to.
  • We need to figure out how people can get the benefits of all these innovations in messaging, which at the same time getting back more control over their data.
  • An example: it would be great if people could search all of their messages easily without having to log into 50 different sites. but people need all of their data to do this.
  • This is the kind of thing that Mozilla could make happen because of our central place on the Internet, and because giving people access to their own data fits with our mission.

The idea of pushing pushing Mozilla’s mission even further in the messaging space is pretty interesting to me. I wonder what other people think? What does Internet messaging look like from where you sit? What kinds of things could Mozilla do to make Internet messaging more open?

PS. Super thanks to William Quiviger for posting Mozilla FOSDEM photos, including the one used above.

§ 6 Responses to Mozilla, messaging and innovation. Interview w/ Ascher.

  • Aidan Skinner says:


    AMQP hasn’t quite sorted internet-scale message federation, but it’s something that people are looking into. It’s still primarily focussed on the message-queue programming problems rather than the social messaging aspect.

  • dhumphrey says:

    Man, I love this space too (it’s where I do 90% of my Mozilla code contributions). I think we can do some great things here. Thanks for drawing attention to it.

  • Trackbacks don’t seem to be coming through, so I thought I’d just post a summary and a link to some thoughts on the questions raised above:

    As David Ascher notes, there are all these different messaging platforms that people are using to send and receive information: Twitter, Facebook,, text message, plain ol’ e-mail, etc. And the organizations I work with are asking themselves “How do I send the right messages, to the right platforms, for the right people?” “Does Jane want her news via SMS, e-mail, Twitter, or…?” So I would put in a plug for part of the new model that David describes to include the needs of “publishers” (whatever that means these days).

    Full post:

  • lordalan says:

    For me, I want to see Lightning properly integrated so there is a half decent Outlook competitor, preferably with Exchange support too.

    Then, the task should be to integrate some of the IM and Twitter type apps and SMS too. A common data store for users’ details (more than a simple addressbook) and perhaps federated search so you can not only search what’s locally stored but also on-line stuff on your titter account for example.

    I for one do not think email is dead or dying. My business communications have a strong bias toward email with some IM (via Skype) and telephony. I remember when the soothsayers were telling us that telephony was dying – I don’t see that right now.

  • Bucky says:

    There are a number of chicken-and-egg problems regarding clients and servers involved in the email experience.

    For example: I’d like to configure an addressbook source that I can use at work and at home. Most email clients support LDAP sources, and have done so FOREVER, but only the unusably-buggy Evolution client has read/write access.

    Chicken: LDAP read/write access. Egg: ISPs offering LDAP address books (pretty much useless without read/write access).

    Also with regard to address books, and in reference to the other Internet messaging clients, my Thunderbird addressbook has no place for an avatar–even though the IDEA of such a thing goes back to the X-Face message header. And nope, no support for the standard jpegPhoto field of the standard inetOrgPerson LDAP schema, either.

    Chicken/Egg: The LDAP thing again.

    My ISP has webmail which lets me manage my email in multiple folders, just like an IMAP client, BUT allows me no IMAP access.

    Why is this so?

    Hint 1: What does Thunderbird do if you’re over quota, try to delete an email, and it is set to move your email to the Trash folder before deleting?

    Hint 2: What does Thunderbird do if you’re over quota, try to send an email, and it is set to store sent mail in the server’s Sent mail folder?

    Hint 3: Where does Thunderbird show me the thermometer indicating my storage quota?

    Give up? It’s about support costs. It’s TOO EXPENSIVE for ISPs to support email clients which are so unforgiving to marginal users.

    Chicken: IMAP/Sieve access at ISPs. Egg: Clients which do not treat the user as a hostile party.

    If you ask me for an email client which does a better job, I admit that I can’t think of any. If you ask me for a WEBMAIL client that does a better job, I’d have to say that Horde IMP has a fuller feature set than Thunderbird.

    Soooo although I also would have to say that I don’t see email dying. I DO see webmail overtaking standalone email clients in terms of available features.

  • ds says:

    Really need an application that integrates my Twitter and email in one place. With threaded conversations and that keeps track of my contacts and how they can be communicated with and their preferences etc.Needs to take account of both the broadcast nature of tweets and the one to one of DMs in Twitter and email and the one to list nature of email etc. The level of fragmentation is making life difficult. If text messages were brought in as well this would be outstanding.

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