The beast has awoken; or, The beginning of Web 2.0

we heard you

Executive summary: In considering the launch of Internet Explorer 7 in the context of the Spread Firefox campaign, I ask whether, now that the slumbering juggernaut of Microsoft has awoken and is learning to be more open-source-like, Firefox and open source advocates generally should continue to promote Firefox as a product or instead focus on promoting the movement and ideology of co-production and gift economics that produced Firefox.

Continue reading “The beast has awoken; or, The beginning of Web 2.0”

Eudora to be reincarnated with a Thunderbird soul

Eudora + Thunderbird

In case you missed it, aging mail app Eudora will be put to pasture after its final commercial release (v7.1 on Windows, v6.2 on Mac) and reincarnated as a modified version of Mozilla’s open source mail app, Thunderbird:

“I’m excited for Eudora to be returning to the open source community,” said Steve Dorner, vice president of technology for QUALCOMM’s Eudora Group. “Using the Mozilla Thunderbird technology platform as a basis for future versions of Eudora will provide some key infrastructure that the existing versions lacked, such as a cross-platform code base and a world-class display engine. Making it open source will bring more developers to bear on Eudora than ever before.”

Michael Calore, of MonkeyBites, adds:

The company hopes that the Mozilla open source community will extend the feature set of Eudora (which is currently commercial software) much in the same way that they have done for Thunderbird. It’s a great development for the open source productivity space. Will it kill Microsoft Outlook? No, but it’s going to make millions of users who prefer alternative email clients very happy.


Eudora is a well-loved if somewhat outdated email client that many people (Qualcomm claims millions of users, which sounds accurate) continue to use just for its unique feature set. Eudora can tell you if emails in your inbox contain inflammatory language before you open them, and it has some robust spam features. There’s a sponsored version of the client, as well, and my guess is that the ad-supported version will go the way of the ghost when Eudora becomes open source.

What with so many AJAX clients out there, including Apple’s upcoming DotMacMail, this development is not entirely surprising. For stalwart Eudora users who have much resisted the allure and blinding shininess of Web 2.0, this could spell the real beginning of the end of Web 1.0.

Outfoxed tries going Lijit

Browser-based trust aggregator Outfoxed has been rebranded as Lijit and launched a new beta site (built on Drupal — which seems to be having some issues… ah well).

Lijit essentially allows you to connect with friends and based on how much you trust them, use them or their connections to filter search results or “advise you” on the legitimacy of any arbitrary website. You can sign up for the beta on the homepage.

Designing for concentric circles of adoption

Water drops by Fabio Prati
Photo © copyright Fabio Prati.

My PiC has yet another great post on identifying who you should be “targeting” when you’re building a startup, product, community or all three.

The Pinko approach demands that you become a member of your community to truly understand their needs and the world from their perspective. In fact, this is the only way for you to really be able to genuinely respond to their feedback and criticism, otherwise you’re always approximating what presume they’re saying…

When I was at and planning out our adoption strategy, I followed very similar principles (though I didn’t have a catchy framework like “Pinko” at the time). By seeing the existing community as made up of concentric circles of enthusiastics and early adopters, my goal was to create a black hole suction of sorts deeper into the inner core community:
Mozilla Universe v1

My theory was that the more folks we could bring into the inner rings of the Mozilla community, the more devoted they’d become and the lower the incremental effort we’d need to exert to pull in more outliers, like their friends, coworkers and family members.

Tara’s argument very much mirrors this approach. By focusing your effort and outreach on a core constituency, just like in a presidential campaign (read: ), you’ll be enticing folks with a truly valuable service that those same folks can then turn around and preach about with more convincing passion, integrity and self-interest than you could… the very reason that the Spread Firefox campaign was so successful; it relied on concentric circles of true-believers to spread the word. For its part it only had to focus on continuing to build a great product and delivery community infrastructure to support its core constituency.

So when it comes to community barn-raising and product development, keeping your design and development efforts geared to a tightly knit core of enthusiasts is the best way to create the first drop that will ripple out to the wider audiences that your VCs are constantly (and damagingly) telling you to go after. There’s simply no better way to effectively and organically build out to a wider audience than taking the concentric circles approach.

SilverOrange looking for a designer

SilverOrange dude SilverOrange, the fine folks behind the Digg design and Mozilla dot org are looking for a new designer.

Personally I’d jump at the opportunity, but as you probably know, I have a source of prior employment.

What might be interesting to note is that my entire foray into Silicon Valley life came to fruition because of a post I read on Steven Garrity’s blog in August 2004 about Mozilla looking for volunteer designers. I replied, got pulled into their backend intranet doing design volunteer work, a few weeks later we pushed out Spread Firefox and the rest, as they say, is history.

So I’m just saying, this could be the opportunity that sets you off in whatever direction the fates have picked out for you.

P.S. And no, this doesn’t mean I’m starting a job board (heh). I’m just doin’ a favor for some friends.

American Idol for apps launches


Bottom line: Phill Ryu’s MyDreamApp contest launches — could the open source community take some hints from this exciting contest?

I got a chance to hang with Phill Ryu and a few other Mac dev types during WWDC and he told me about his soon-to-be-revealed plan for an “American Idol of Software”. Well, he’s let it out of the bag and ideas (and lots of coverage) are already starting to roll in to the project called .

The rules are rather interesting, since they leave the creator only 15% of month-to-month sales, with the rest going to the contest’s organizers:

Payment. If Your Submission is Accepted, You will receive royalty payment via PayPal equal to fifteen (15) percent of the net income of the Apple Macintosh-compatible product developed by MDA based upon Your Submission. Payments to You will commence 30 days after the product makes its first sale and will continue at 30-day intervals provided that the product is profitable.

On top of that, the inventor retains zero ongoing interest in the application’s intellectual property:

Ownership of Submissions. (I) When You send MDA your submission, You are assigning MDA all rights and interests – including all intellectual property rights – in the Submission, and MDA shall be the absolute owner of all rights and interests therein;

For some, these issues aren’t a big deal and if your idea isn’t chosen, well, you keep the rights. Besides, this is pretty standard boilerplate legalese given most contest rules — and with some pretty decent prizes and an opportunity to show off your wares to folks like Kevin Rose, Guy Kawasaki, David Pogue, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, it’s worth given up the IP rights for a chance at stardom… right?

Well, in spite of the hype, on the one hand it is. It’s pretty satisfying to see a bunch of independents and friends pull something together like this (though I didn’t realize how male-centric the Macdev community was!). It takes a lot of work and dedication to make this kind of thing happen, and so in some senses that 85% that they retain is a bet that the best ideas that come in will actually be lucrative enough to offset their efforts in organizing the contest.

On the other hand, and this should come as no surprise, I’d like to see something where the results are open sourced at the end (or at least given the choice of being open licensed), opening up the opportunity for more folks to get involved in the building out of a basic premise (and no, I’m not suggesting another centralized Cambrian House). In fact, I’d love to see the folks pick this one up and, I’m sorry to say this, but rather just than talk about it, put on your own DreamApp contest for the open source community and see what happens — hell, you’ve got the money, mindshare and, really, could use some love as the release of Firefox 2 approaches.

What better way to celebrate the launch of Firefox 2 then to sponsor a web-wide contest that results in something of real consequence for the open source community?

Songbird on the Mac

Songbird on the Mac

They teased us at first, but it does seem that iTunes “inspired” music player Songbird is now available for the Mac as a nightly build (read: use at your own peril).

Built on the same guts as Flock, I’m eager to see what comes of this, though it really seems like Pandora is doing more to revolutionize music listening thus far (don’t miss Airfoil + PandoraMan for the best wireless listening experience).

Oh, and with other apps that add intelligence to your listening habits and enhance your playlists (see, MusicIP, beaTunes and Soundflavor) the landscape in music consumption habits is surely going to change drastically in the next year. I’d love more than anything for Songbird to take a lead in that respect, but to do that, I think it needs to focus on the experience of listening to music, period; it needs to define what the Songbird listening experience is, and be able to answer clearly and concisely why anyone should care. It’s not just that it has a browser built in or that you can buy from 8,000 different music providers. I don’t care about any of that — I do care, however, about how good the music coming out of my speakers is and how much the tool I’m using to play that music has to do with it. The future’s not in featureware, it’s in experience.

Browsers, the future thereof

Doug Engelbart

When I first realized the web as a medium — like artists found clay — I was someone who built websites. I grew up an artist, dabbling with pastels, sculpture, painting; I took lessons in all the classics. Back when I started out on the web, well, I threw my paint against the wall, watched it dry differently; tried watercolor and salt; mixed in color pencil. I created on someone else’s canvas, beholden to the whims of the Internet Explorers and Netscapes.

It wasn’t until I grew frustrated trying to create a publishing and composition tool for regular folks in CivicSpace that I realized that it wasn’t that the brushes or paint that I was using that were flawed — but that the canvas itself could be streched so much further. And so when the opportunity arose to go work on and set the direction of Flock, I jumped at the chance. The thought that I could take a number of the ideas on content creation that I’d been trying to implement in regular webpages into the browser itself was too irresistible to pass up.

And that’s how it started for me — working first on the side of web content developers — and then on the side of the actual rendering context and application. I doubt that I was qualified to work on either, but that’s besides the point, since that’s where I found myself (and artists worth their weight are hardly what I would call experts).

So now, a few months out after leaving Flock, a few heady announcements about microformats, a new Firefox Beta to toy with, a number of webkit-based apps to ponder over and an emerging identity standard coming to the fore, I’m starting to see the future materialize in front of me. From where I sit though, there is a lack of clarity as to what it’s all about, what’s really going on and what’s missing in between to glue it all together and — perhaps most importantly — a sense for what we can learn by focusing on the negative space of our current situation.

I’ve been reading about Doug Engelbart lately and the stuff he was doing in the 60s with his Augment system. He’s now collaborating with my buddy Brad Neuberg on a system he calls “Hyperscope”. I can’t help but see disjoint parallels between his ideas and what’s emerging today. Simply put, there is no grand theory or unifying concept that will bring it all together, just as there’s no single design for a tree — in fact, it takes many to make a forest, and we’re only now beginning to see the emergence of the forest in spite of the individual trees that seem oh-so-important.

And we don’t even have the benefit of LSD. Man, how are we to escape what we already know to imagine what’s possible? Oh well.

Anyway, lemme get down to brass tacks, coz I can tell you’re getting bored already. I almost am, striking out at some kind of point out of this rambling.

When I was at Web 2.0™ (I think) I mentioned to Jason Fried — as I’ve done to others since — my desire to have a webwide conversation about what the future of web browsers should look like. This was the work that I thought I’d started at Flock, but the reality is that they’re a business and not an academic institution and need to pay their employees (a harsh reality that I’m now realizing owning my own company and having a payroll). I left because of this — and maybe for other personal reasons — but primarily because my vision for the future wasn’t exactly compatible with where they needed to go in the short term. Hey, bills, remember?

Anyway, let me put it out there: I don’t get where Firefox is going. I don’t think it’s going anywhere actually. I think it’s strong, it’s stable, it’s a great platform. But it’s not innovative. It’s not Quicksilver. It was a response to IE and now IE7 will come out, co-opt everything that makes Firefox great or interesting and we’ll run through another coupla years of stagnation. Blah.

There is a solution though — you’d be surprised maybe, but you can find it in Safari and I’m dead serious about this. The number of webkit-based apps being released is growing by the week. Pyro, Gcal, Webmail, Hiker (thanks Josh!). There was talk about the future of the merged Internet-desktop as, quite clearly, this is where we’re going — but the choice of user agent is sadly coming down to facility over featureset or robustness. Why isn’t this happening with XUL Runner or Firefox (you figure it out)?

At Flock, this is where I saw things going. I didn’t see Flock as a monolithic package of integrated apps like Netscape or Office — bundled up with unmaintainable software sprawl… but with a solid underlying platform that these secondary apps could be built upon (yeah, Lucene, yeah, Microformats, yeah IM, yeah video and audio and all the rest). Speaking RSS, microformats, Atom and other syndicated content natively, you’d be able to universally star anything for later sharing… you’d be able to upload anything… be able to have any AJAX’d experience offline with a super-cache that could handle the sporadic network connectivity that most of the world puts up with (or that we put up with when we travel). And hell, with OpenID, we’ve even got a way to sync it all up together. Toss in a platform that is built on and around people people people and you’ve got something to really take us forward into the next evolution of Things As We Know Them™.

I wanted Firefox to be my Chariot, Flock to be my Sun.

Such as it is with Open Source, trying to inspire end-user interface innovation is often a losing battle.

(As an aside in parentheses, I think this is biological; I met Tara’s 2-year-old niece this weekend and she mimicked everything we did; thus it’s developmental and inherent — yet the problem remains: how do we bring the majority of user interface innovation to the open source space?)

So anyway — Safari; webkit apps… the future.

For the benefit of everyone involved, whether Mozilla, Flock, Microsoft, Opera, and so on implements any of this stuff… there needs to be some major advancements made in browser technology, both for normal humans and for web… um… painters. This stuff, seriously, is still way too opaque, and way too obscure for most humans for whom “delicious” still means “tastes good”. I want to have that web-wide conversation about the future of the web but somehow, my instincts tell me that the venue to have that conversation isn’t going to be on the web… it’s going to be in barber shops and gas stations and restaurants and the places where normal people really hang out.

If we’re ever going to bear witness to the promise of Doug Engelbart’s achievable vision, it has to be this way. And, to paraphrase walkway wisdom: nothing worth doing is easy. And so I challenge you — those who give a shit — look at what’s out there — and more importantly — what’s not out there — and begin to think seriously on what comes next… on what’s missing… on where this medium needs to be stretched in order to make the most of what’s possible.