What makes the web better?

May 28, 2009 § 32 Comments

When we describe Mozilla, we often talk about the open web and ‘making the internet better‘. Phrases like these are critical to explaining our mission. However, they are also pretty fuzzy. They could mean many different things.

At a recent retreat, Mitchell took a shot at making the idea of a ‘better internet’ more concrete by sharing the following slide:

Photo by John Slater

Photo by John Slater

The idea was to look at what characteristics make up ‘better internet’ by contrasting them against things that make the internet worse. I found this approach super helpful, as did a bunch of others at the event. Daniel Einspanjer suggested that if we could tighten this list it would make a great tool for quickly explaining Mozilla (and good text for a business card). I agree.

With the aim of starting a conversation and refining this idea, I decided to riff on Mitchell’s slide at a talk I gave earlier this week. My version looked like this:


I kept most of the concepts that Mitchell had, spun a little bit to work with my own style and tone. I also added in ‘hackable’, which could also be ‘remixable’ or ‘bendable’ for people who don’t want to say ‘hack’. Whatever term you use, the ability to hack, bend and remix things to suit your own needs seems pretty important to innovation and vitality on the web.

What I like about lists like these is not only that  they help us describe what Mozilla is and what we are trying to build. It’s also that they could give us a simple tool for testing particular ideas, projects and web sites. If we had version of this list that we all agreed on, we’d be able to ask things like: “Is that web site / software / organization making the internet better?” That would be a helpful thing to be able to do.

Here is the question I want to ask: What characteristics *do you think* are critical to making the web better? What three or four words would you use? What are the opposites of these words? What does this kind of list look like in your language? Brainstorming on this would help a ton with some of the Messaging Mozilla’s Mission stuff that is going on. It might also help Mozilla people make better business cards :).

§ 32 Responses to What makes the web better?

  • The Mighty Buzzard says:

    feature filled vs. responsive

    Just because you technically could write something using ajax doesn’t mean you should. It’s slow as hell and drastically less responsive than a locally run application.

  • Captain Canuck says:

    timeless vs contemporary

    Tools that are able to adapt to change are more useful than those that don’t. This should be a great concern considering Moore’s Law.

    Also, practicality should be a higher priority than the need-for-speed. A few milliseconds off a browser’s speed shouldn’t make or break your decision since that small amount of time is negligible.

    Another point you could use to talk to people about Mozilla’s take on the world would be money. I’m sure that even if we weren’t in a recession, money would be on top of everyone’s head at least for the capitalist part of the world. Thats not to say that Mozilla’s view on our world doesn’t also correspond to the beliefs to non-capitalists though.

    Its Free! How can it be any simpler than that?

    BTW: whats that word Mitchell is covering? Right now it seems like she whats to debate between International vs. International.

  • Brian Rosenfield says:

    Did Mitchell choose to be on the manipulative side on purpose?

    @Captain Canuck: “International vs. Internationalized”. The slides were up a bit earlier, and no it makes no sense.

  • […] Posted in mozilla | 3 Comments » […]

  • voracity says:

    Your slide is exactly what I believe is right. I think that’s the first time that’s happened.

    @The Mighty Buzzard: That’s heavily dependent on what you’re talking about. Yes, there are some applications that currently work better as desktop apps, but that number is falling. (Gmail already is far better for my purposes than any email app I’ve ever used, but desktop spreadsheets still rule by far.) Also keep in mind that web apps tend to be better in terms of rapid development, maintenance and hackability.

  • Captain Canuck says:

    @voracity: I completely disagree with the ease of hackability of web apps since they are server based and not client based. [Insert RMS speech].

  • Mitchell Baker says:

    The line was “international” vs “internationalized.” I was trying to convey the idea that a lot of the web is translated or localized or “internationalized” from English and that encouraging / enabling leadership from many local cultures / languages is important.

  • About the words in the «web we want» part, the only problematic was hackable. I never know if the meaning of hack is a lost battle right now or something we have to continue to use (at least i think is a lost battle in spanish countries, because we have to explain a lot more). Maybe «generativity» or something like that it’s better, but you have to explaining too. Remixable it’s not the right one, i think, because it’s not only
    something to remix, you could create it something completly new. And at this part, the concept you use in one of the interviews here, about not
    have to asking permission to make something in the web it’s very important.

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  • Gerv says:

    That slide is hard to improve on 🙂 You might replace “hackable” with “remixable” if you had a non-techy audience.


  • voracity says:

    @Captain Canuck: Actually, when I said hackability, I wasn’t talking about Free software. They aren’t remotely equivalent. (I can hack my car to my heart’s content, even though I don’t have the original designs.)

  • Captain Canuck says:

    @voracity: No I mean that for most server-based services, you can’t really hack.
    I mean there is just so much we could do with things like gmail or twitter or failbook/yourspace

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  • voracity says:

    @CC: I don’t entirely agree. Yes, it’s true you can’t touch the software on the server, but given that your data is stored on the server, that’s a good thing. A native twitter application, for example, would be subject to the same restrictions as the twitter website. And you don’t and never will have control of the software that runs your ISP’s email server and thank goodness.

    I think your real concern (because I have the same one) is that our data is stored on someone else’s webserver and we don’t get any choice in it. To tweet, we use twitter’s server. To google*, we pass our search request to Google’s server. But that’s not really a complaint against web apps, it’s more of a complaint against server-oriented apps. And I agree *this* problem desperately needs to be solved, but it afflicts native applications anyway!

    * (apologies to Google’s trademark lawyers 🙂 )

  • Scop says:

    We are better than:

    * the Politicians
    * the Corporates
    * the Academics

    When we work together

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  • anon says:

    I think Mozilla has already made great strides in making the internet a better place. However there is a tremendous distance to go still. The biggest improvement will be when things like spyware, viruses, and identity theft become much less of a concern. Whoever cracks that nut will truly make the internet a better place. There are far too many casual computer users that are just not aware of the dangers that lurk out there.

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