A word for hack-remix-opportunity-ness?

June 3, 2009 § 26 Comments

As I blogged last week, I see huge potential in Mitchell’s list of characteristics that make a ‘better internet’. If we can nail this list, we will have simple, telegraphic way to explain why both Mozilla and the open web matter. We’ll also have a tool to test ‘is this or that innovation making the web better?’ These are both things we need.

A better internet ...

In addition to blogging about this concept, I’ve also talked to a bunch of people about it. With all of this conversation, most people agree on three of the four characteristics: transparency; participation; and shared control. There is also a fair bit of resonance with the idea of ‘open’ as the bottom line concept, although some people have suggested other ideas.

The real challenge seems to be coming up with a simple word for the fourth concept. Most people I’ve talked to agree on the essence: the ability to create, remix and innovate without having to ask permission. There are tons of words that get close. Mitchell used ‘opportunity’ (good when you explain it, but not immediately telegraphic to a broad audience). I used ‘hack’ (probably unreclaimable for a broad audience). Other suggestions are words like ‘remixable’, ‘permissive’ and ‘generative’. The more I think and talk, the more I feel like none of these work perfectly.


So, here is today’s question: can you think of a single word that really captures this idea of hack-remix-opportunity-generative-ness? Ideally, this is a word that gets right to the point but isn’t an academic or insider concept. If not, do any of the words that have come out so far feel good enough to you? I know it’s only one word, but it feels like an important one.

PS. I’m still planning to loop back on the Mozilla in One Sentence thread. Probably tomorrow.

§ 26 Responses to A word for hack-remix-opportunity-ness?

  • Melanie says:

    How about ethics? Google seemed to get this with their “don’t be evil” slogan (though their ability to deliver on that may be in question). Here’s a model from the professional standards of practice that govern the teaching profession: 1) Care 2) Respect 3) Integrity 4) Trust. http://www.oct.ca/standards/ethical_standards.aspx?lang=en-CA Truly forward thinking organisations must borrow principals and standards from the widest possible sources. Many of the statements of purpose I see coming from webby organisations are conventional webby slogans borrowed from other webby organisations. Similarly, the teaching profession could start to borrow from the webby world! We all have so much to offer each other when we step out of our echo chambers 🙂

  • Melanie says:

    sorry, principles! 🙂

  • ninechars says:

    How about “(re)workable” or “malleable?” I kind of like “the re-workable Web.”

  • Philip Stern says:

    How about one of these …

    – Mashable
    – Sustainable
    – Breedable




  • ninechars says:

    Looking at comments above, I suppose that another word could be “democratic.”

  • Tristan says:

    I understand your dilemma but I stand by “generative”, although “generativity” is not in the dictionary. Hackable has negative connotation in many minds (thanks to the mass-media reporting on so-called “hackers”). I personally love “hack” as a word, though.

    More details on generativity: http://standblog.org/blog/post/2009/05/20/About-Generativity

    I like “remix” too. I think I’ll have to blog on this on my side and link to your post 🙂

  • Zak Greant says:

    Creating, remixing and innovating are all essential cultural processes.

    Seems like the phrase that you should be using is Free Culture (which, of course, already has other advocacy groups lined up behind it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Culture_movement )

  • davidwboswell says:


  • rpl says:

    “the ability to create, remix and innovate without having to ask permission”, in my own opinion, is something like the freesoftware definition applied to the web, so I think in Italian can be “libero” and in French can be “libre” without any misunderstanding.

    Besides that, I think that “public” as “affecting the people or the community” can be that simple English word 😉

    just my 2 cents,

  • Goofy says:

    ductile/ductility ?


    plastic/plasticity ?

  • Dan Mosedale says:

    The concept you’re looking for feels playful and exploratory. I wonder if a word in or around kids toys or perhaps certain kinds of games might do the trick.

  • BartZilla says:

    You are constantly repeating words like transparency, opportunity or shared control, but in reality Mozilla is far from that. I’ll give a few very concrete examples.

    Regarding lack of transparency: Mozilla has numerous business contracts with other companies (Google, eBay, etc.). Details of these contracts are completely unknown to the public — documents are not published. This is important, because these contracts are probably closely related with another issues: lack of opportunity and inability to create, remix and innovate without having to ask permission.

    Since Firefox 3 (*) there is implemented and enabled by default so-called “safebrowsing” v.2, designed and implemented by Google (without input from “the community”, so we have also an example of lack of shared control here). I have spent a lot of time auditing source code related with “safebrowsing” (mainly contents of directories browser/components/safebrowsing/ and toolkit/components/url-classifier/) and I can confirm that it implements this specification (**) (which is no secret, since Mozilla also points to this spec.). Now, what can we read on the site with the specification of the protocol that is used (and enabled by default) in Firefox?

    “Do not use this protocol without explicit written permission from Google. (…) Note: This is not a license to use the defined protocol.”

    Quite different picture than you’ve painted in your post, isn’t it? (“the ability to create, remix and innovate without having to ask permission”…).

    Another example of inability to create, remix and innovate is supporting by Mozilla a closed source software. Mozilla has a contract with eBay to create “partner repack“. It includes an extension with binary-only components: eBay Sidebar for Firefox. Conveniently, it is “recommended” addon on addons.mozilla.org, despite being a closed source software with a very restrictive EULA (for example, it directly forbids “reverse engineering, disassembling or otherwise attempting to derive source code from the eBay Companion” – I guess merely an act of unzipping the .xpi file could be construed as an “attempt to derive source code”).

    So, how could you explain a gaping difference between Mozilla’s stated objectives (eg. principles of Mozilla Manifesto, posts on your blog etc.) and reality (Google’s apparently propriatery protocol in FF, enabled by default; supporting closed source because of Mozilla’s business relationships, etc.)?

    (*) Actually, so-called Google’s “safebrowsing” has been introduced in Firefox 2. It offered two modes of “phishing protection” (with by default enabled mode that regularly updated local database) and description of the protocol was hosted (and it is still there) on wiki.mozilla.org, without any restrictions. Firefox 3 introduced completely antother protocol (and added “malware protection”, ie. another blacklist).
    (**) More or less, since some details are omitted.

  • I’m with David – the first thing that came to my mind was “this may sound a bit bold but isn’t that just – creativity?”
    Take it in the very essence of the word: being creative, enabling to create. Doesn’t that describe it very much?

  • karl says:

    The Web is… organic.

    It is characterized by continuous or natural development. You can grow it, you can garden it, you can modify it. It is an ecosystem.

  • Mitchell Baker says:

    On the “creativity” piece I suppose we could put it in oppostion to something like “control” or “bureaucracy.”

    It still seems an imperfect term for this purpose though to me — the Internet spurs creativity because one can just *do* things. One doesn’t need to ask permission or go through a lot of legal stuff to put up a web server. Same for digitizing a new data format like voice — one can just *do* these things. So the system enables creativity through some other quality that we’re struggling to name.

    That said, it’s a powerful term.

  • voracity says:

    Creativity is great, but won’t work out of context. Anyone who’s used Flash applets will think you crazy if you say that Flash isn’t creative. You need a word that truthfully distinguishes the open web from things like Flash, Java, etc. and hackable does that perfectly, except that it has the wrong connotation.

    I think remixable is the best option. It’s the closest to hackable, is well known and well understood, comes from the (user friendly) music world, and works in different grammatical forms:
    verb: to remix (remixed, remixing)
    noun: a remix
    adjective (ability): remixable
    noun (ability): remixability (too long, unfortunately)

    And remix /does/ distinguish the open web from everything else. You can’t truthfully say that Flash is remixable because you /can’t/ take bits and pieces of a Flash app and merge it into your own (without contacting author to get the source, etc.) and you can’t just start tweaking, changing and enhancing it on a whim. You can do all of that with the open web, just like with music. (And the legal issues are the same, too.)

  • Dan Mosedale says:

    moldable? sculptable?

  • Philip Stern says:

    FWIW, I still like “breedable”.


  • Easy: Promiscuous. 🙂

    Second best, without a doubt, is “remixable,” for all the reasons that are well-argued above: understandable, connected to a movement, etc.


  • as says:


    from my understanding speaks to some fundamentals

  • Dan says:


  • davidwboswell says:

    Re creativity vs. remixable, I think these have a lot of overlap in meaning but they still cover two different concepts.

    I think one of the core ideas of generativity is being able to come up with something completely new (the unexpected bit).

    I think the idea of creating something brand new isn’t quite captured with remixable — to me that concept speaks to reusing parts of existing material and ideas. Maybe the difference here is creating vs. enhancing?

    That having been said, I like using remixable but I don’t see it as a friendlier version of all of the concepts of generativity.

  • […] does significant and important work, both from a technical and public good point of view.  Working on Mozilla means a lot of different things.  You can work on enhancing […]

  • […] to be hackable. Or “extremely configurable” as Mark would say — he’s been  thinking about this in his efforts to build a better Internet. Beth talks about it too — using systems instead of […]

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