NMM example #2: freedom in the cloud

July 30, 2009 § 4 Comments

Recently, I’ve found myself in more and more discussions about identity, data  and freedom in the cloud. Zittrain did a great op-ed a few weeks back that suggests why: the cloud brings us wonderful social connections and new applications, but it also has its dangers. Personal dangers like data and identity lock in. And web-wide dangers such as limitations on the freedom to innovate. A few people have been talking about this for a while. But, for most people who use the web, this issue is just coming on radar or isn’t there at all.

cloud pic-2

Most of the discussions I’ve had centre on questions like: what does freedom and openness in the cloud look like? Do we have it already? If not, how do we know it when we see it? What’s the litmus test?

These are the kind of tough internet questions that Mozilla community could usefully dive into — with product, and also as part of our engagement with the next million Mozillians. Imagining exactly what this would look like is more difficult than with an issue like web privacy and security. It’s not just a matter of educating people and encouraging them to act. A longer process of convening, thinking and testing out ideas would be needed.

With this in mind, I’ve run the idea of a Mozilla-led initiative on identity, data and freedom in the cloud through the funnel framework I posted yesterday. It’s meant as a thought experiment. This is what I came up with:

top of funnel - explain issues of data in the cloud

1. First step: get 100,000s of people to ask ‘what am I getting and what am I giving up as I move my digital life into the cloud?’ This creates broad awareness of the fact that there is even an issue here. One way to do this would be to tap into BarCamps and other grassroots tech events that already happen around the world. Framing the right conversations and even doing some basic education work through events like these would get the questions of identity and data in the cloud on more people’s radar, including local press. An online component connecting all the local events could be added to thread everything together. This is the top of the funnel: a very broad global conversation that bubbles up new ideas and helps to identify people who want to go deeper in these issues.

middle of funnel - define what we mean by open in the cloud

2. Next: a more focused process to define what we mean by ‘open’ for products and platforms in the cloud. This could take the form of a major global conference that brings in people and ideas generated at the ‘top of the funnel’. It would also gather key web industry players and open source projects who are shaping what the cloud looks like. An event like this would amplify and focus the broader conversation while at the same time generating concrete ideas people can act on. What concrete things? New alliances that make our cloud identities more portable? A new technology hacked together during the conference that makes OpenID easier to use? Simple, clear ideas on actions consumers can take to maintain their freedom in the cloud? It’s hard to know until you do it.

bottom of funnel - massive action that promotes open cloud

3. The final step is the get millions of people taking actions that concretely promote openness in the cloud. From where we sit now, one can imagine things like a massive OpenID sign up and education campaign, or getting people to sign onto some sort of cloud users bill of rights. But these things seem quite small. The idea would be to develop a number of much more substantial actions — and possibly products — that make it possible for people to actually move the bar on the open cloud in a meaningful way. I have no doubt that we can design actions that pass this test, but we need the kind of convening, thinking and inventing described above to get there.

When I put the privacy and security example through my funnel yesterday, it felt pretty concrete — getting 100,000s of people involved in making the web safer and healthier is something we can define and then go do. This identity, data and freedom in the cloud example feels squishier. It’s more like a ‘how-to’ on holding a global conversation that eventually leads to products and massive consumer action. This might make some people uncomfortable. Me, I think it’s okay. If we want to dig into the tough issues that will face the internet in coming years, we need a plan. And then we just need to get started.

Which leads me to some questions: does the process described above feel like something Mozilla could and should do? Are the questions of identity, data and freedom in the cloud something Mozilla should take on? Are there other ‘tough internet issues’ that we could tackle with a process like the one described here? I would love to hear what people think.

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