Notes on Web Weaver UX

This post is outlines some of my thoughts on the Web Weaver user experience. This post also doubles as my vision for what the newly announced Firefox Personas could and should become. Consider this the first of many iterations.

Inspirations:

Scenario:

You and your mom are in the witness protection program because you’re on the run from.. the mob. You are starting your lives from scratch. You and your mom have new identities and a new computer! It’s time to set it up.

First you install your favorite open source web browser. Once installed, you click on it and are faced with the initial run sequence.

Thx for installing Mozilla Firefox! Would you like to login with an existing Persona  or create a new one?

You click the “Create new Persona” button.

Would you like to use the Wizard? (No)

—-

Where would you like to deploy your Persona? Options:

  • Mozilla.org
  • Google App Engine
  • Windows Azure
  • Appfog
  • Rackspace
  • Amazon EC2
  • Heroku (CLICK!)

—-

Heroku requires an email address to (blah blah blah.. don’t have one yet. Let’s hit back and click on Mozilla.org. No, wait.. Appfog!)

—-

Installing…

—-

Name: (redacted)

Security: Create Password (*************)

Repeat Password (oh, alright..)

—-

Would you like to link your Persona with this web browser? (yes!)

—-

Would you like to sync your personal data with this web browser? (uhh.. sure.)

—-

Congratulations! Here is your Persona’s public facing url: http://redacted.appfog.com/

Visit from a linked web browser to access your data and modify your settings.

Would you like to install some apps from the Mozilla Marketplace? (no)

—-

(Back to home page; http://redacted.appfog.com/home)

Now it’s your mom’s turn. You log out of Firefox, and sit your mom down at the computer.

You click the “Create new Persona” button.

Would you like to use the Wizard? (She clicks yes)

Name: (Not your real name!)

Security: Create Password (*   *   *       *   *       *)

Repeat Password (*   * *        *   **        *)

Congratulations! Here is your Persona’s public facing url: http://persona.mozilla.com/redacted

Visit from a linked web browser to access your data and modify your settings.

We have taken the liberty of installing a few default applications. They are available on your app dashboard.

Would you like to install some apps from the Mozilla Marketplace? (yes!)

And.. she’s off to a fresh new (and hopefully secure) computing experience made seamless by her Mozilla hosted Web Weaver.

Some additional notes:
  • Your mom uses a Boot2Gecko based phone. You use Android. In both cases, your Web Weaver should be the only accounts you need to login to your phones in order to sync your data.
  • Your Web Weaver is your identity server. BrowserID, OpenID, WebID, etc etc.. whatever popular convention dictates is served up.
  • Because your Web Weaver serves up a public page, that page should be an installable web app. That page also represents you. Hello decentralized social network! (Thank you Mozilla!)
  • Because you are now an app, you have an API that can be extended by any app you install. Your Web Weaver manages your API URI scheme. Think http://redacted.appfog.com/home/api/facebook/post and http://persona.mozilla.com/redacted/api/pinterest/get
  • Alternatively, any and all services provided by the Web Weaver can be delegated. Best practice for app development moving forward should require applications ask for service delegation back to themselves if they want to have a ‘traditional’ web app architecture circa 2006-2011.
  • People are now first class citizens of the web.
  • By combining Mozilla Persona and Firefox Sync together into a single project with Apps conventions tying it up into a pretty bow, the Apps initiative essentially moves the web from object-orientated development toward Agent-oriented development. Web Weavers+Web Browsers=User Agent, Apps=Software Agents
  • Oh look! User Agents + Software Agents + Hardware Agents = distributed Social Graph, distributed Application Graph + distributed Internet of Things graph.
  • What is the UX around group identity creation and management?
  • What are the key services a Web Weaver needs to have by default? (Notifications, Web Intents/Activities sync, Settings management front-end.. etc)

I’ve identified the Web Weaver as the missing requisite piece to solving global scale problems within the urgent timeframes we face. It is therefore my intent to make sure that this product class is fully defined, specified (specificationified?) and in some form shipped by the end of this year.

Web Browsers and Web Weavers

The very nature of the Web Browser is changing at breakneck speed. Because of html5 and cloud synchronization services, Web Browsers are beginning the trek from thin client to thick client. In order to compete with the user experience of mobile os platforms, apps are quickly becoming first class citizens of the web. Soon, apps will be an inextricable part of the Web Browser experience.

Some really cool stuff is about to happen. Unfortunately, the open web is in peril (again.. just like princess peach). If the web is becoming a web of apps rather than documents, then the open web must be about links between open data sets. Instead, we have data silos.

Web Browser data in the cloud is silo’d (think Firefox Sync, Google Chrome sync, iCloud, etc). Uers app dashboard data will also be stuck behind these high walls. The social graph is still stuck in 2007, and we haven’t even gotten around to graphing anything else on the planet.. let alone in a decentralized manner.

Identity is also (finally!) moving into the browser, but not as a first class citizen like Apps will be. This is a tragedy because the Web Browser is supposed to be the User Agent to the web.. not the app agent to the user.

I’d like to start a dialogue on how we can take the best of what is happening in computing right now and converge upon a new product class that rethinks the User Agent.

I’d like to call it the Web Weaver. Lets see if it sticks.

So, what is a Web Weaver? It’s the persistant User Agent in the cloud that acts as a counterbalance to the Web Browser. You can think of it as a personal web server that ties your digital world together into a single experiential whole.

The Web Weaver is also an app! It represents you when you’re offline. It syncs your personal data between all your software, hardware and social connections when you’re both on and offline.. It stores and manages your social graph. In fact, it stores, manages and perpetually extends your graph of graphs.

I may have parts of this equation wrong. Perhaps the Web Weaver doesn’t store all this stuff. Perhaps storage is an extension. In which case, the Web Weaver delegates functionality and acts as the service routing mechanism between applications within a users personal web ecosystem.

Most importantly, the Web Weaver is cross-compatible with every Web Browser and other Web Weavers. This means you can have multiple Web Browsers and multiple Web Weavers running, syncing, and presenting a single coherent identity to the rest of the web.

The Web Weaver isn’t the center of your digital experience, it’s your outer cellular membrane.

Let me be clear, I am not proposing a new software dev project.. there are projects all over the place that are headed in the Web Weaver direction. My goal is to surface where this could all be going so we can get there faster.

Here are some products that are already bound toward Web Weaverdom:

Many of these seem like wildly different product offerings, but there are commonalities between them that seem to hint at key convergence opportunities between them all in the near future.

I’ve identified the Web Weaver as the missing requisite piece to solving global scale problems within the urgent timeframes we face. It is therefore my intent to make sure that this product class is fully defined, specified (specificationified?) and in some form shipped by the end of this year.

let’s prototype some decentralized social web infrastructure

Apps are quickly become first class citizens of the web. I think this is great for end user experience (in the short term), but not so much for web development as a whole.

Here’s why: while object oriented programming is the dominant software development paradigm, applications are increasingly being developed within the context of dynamic and complex ecosystems under continuous development and change. Object orientated programming is giving way to an environment more conducive toward an Agent-oriented model of programming.

Mozilla’s open web apps project essentially turns apps into full blown objects that can be interacted with programmatically. I believe however that the ‘App’ is becoming the core unit of an open agent-oriented computing environment.

If Apps are the beginning of a functional model for a software agent ecosystem, where do the human agents come in? I  have a theory that if we “Appify” humans, the web will inherently become more people-centric. Let’s test this theory, shall we?

I’d like to recruit some of you to help me rapidly prototype a model for decentralized social networking based upon Mozilla’s work on open web apps.

Some goals I would like to aim toward:

  • Propose that the Mozilla Apps project is moving us toward for an open and organic ecosystem of intelligent software agents.
  • Explore how emerging HTML5 standards can facilitate movement toward peer-to-peer social networking protocols
  • Adapt Apps into a prototype for human agent UX, decentralized/federated network formation, modeling and management.
  • Adapt Apps UX elements for contemporary social network UX conventions
  • Further explore this idea of “people as apps” or rather, people and apps as intelligent agents within a single common ecosystem.

Here’s what I think is needed to make this exploration effective and worthwhile:

  • Forking not only Apps code for adaptation, but developer documentation to further the technical sides of this discussion
  • Webmakers familiar with Mozilla Apps and python to start prototyping this thing. (Mega bonus points for Sproutcore/Ember.js, Foundation and Backbone.js hackers who come to play!)
  • Help writing user stories and creating mockups for both web developer and end user experiences.
  • Lots and lots of advice from every angle! Comment to let me know what I’m missing here and what you can add. How do we get this started?

tracking Mozilla

Most people know Mozilla as the company that produces Mozilla Firefox, but they do so much more beyond product development and tech innovation. But let’s focus on the tech innovation for a second.

The pace at which the web evolves is accelerating. This creates problems with adoption on the side of consumers as well as software developers. In the past few years, the pace of browser development has become a major bottleneck to innovation. To solve this problem, Google stopped telling people about new versions of Chrome so they could update it every few minutes (kinda like facebook.) This strategy of web-speed browser innovation was adopted by Mozilla via the Firefox rapid release cycle. A new version of Firefox is now released every six weeks.

This means that web developers downstream have more and faster access to new tools and capabilities than ever before. Let me restate this: because of Google Chrome (a shoutout to webkit fanbois!) and Mozilla Firefox, web innovation is about to explode like never before.

Take a moment to let it sink in.

So here’s a list of significant projects  and discussions happening right now at Mozilla.

Web Platform Projects

  • BrowserID – You know how logging into Facebook logs you into everything else? This is a great prototype for a better web experience, but it’s a privacy and security nightmare! BrowserID will fix that by moving your identity back into your hands.
  • Apps – Building upon Google’s work with Google Chrome Apps and to potentially turn every website into an app, and the entire internet into an app store. (If we appify our online profiles, every person will have an app that is also an app store. Woah…)
  • Mobile – Firefox everywhere! Android, iOS, Windows Phone..
  • Boot to Gecko (B2G) – The preliminary work for booting into a pure web operating system.
  • WebAPI – Expands the capabilities of the web in exciting ways.
  • Web Activites/Intents –  Potentially the most disruptive project on this list. Mozilla’s working with the Google Chrome peeps on this one.
I’ll be exploring how some of this comes together and changes our lives in future posts.
Community/Media Projects
  • WebFWD – Mozilla’s technology incubator. And definitely check out the biotech startup they’re incubating.
  • Partnership with the Knight Foundation – Multiple projects. This is huge.
  • Popcorn.js – Everyone keeps framing the future of video as AppleTV vs GoogleTV vs xBox Live. It’s all the same ‘ol bringing the web to TV and/or TV to the web. BORING! What happens when web and game development tools merge the real-time web and data visualization into video production tools? Nothing we’ve ever experienced before.. that’s for sure!

Notable Mozilla Community Discussions (the most important links in this blog post)

Mozilla 2012 – Draft Strategy Deck from Mark Surman on Vimeo.

All this is really awesome stuff! However, I see a few blaring gaps given some of the other trends I track. And since I can’t help myself…

  • Group Identity Standards – Actually, is anyone on the web tackling this? We need to figure this out before the the decentralized federated social web solidifies or else we’ll have a huge headache on our hands. Besides, OpenID+OpenGroupID+oAuth + magic = a permissions system for the web. (chmod 664 Mailchimp.com) (Let’s move social web standards into the linux kernal!)
  • More partnerships – It’s the 21st century. Organizations are like code. Reuse reuse reuse! http://thesmallbusinessweb.com/ for example could represent an opportunity to disrupt the Google Apps dashboard via open web apps + web activities/intents + group identity.
  • Cloud computing – There’s so much going on here.. beyond Firefox Sync, how does cloud computing impact Mozilla’s mission? How can cloud computing infrastructure management change given Mozilla’s current tech roadmap?
  • Hardware – Now that Mozilla is flirting with operating system development, it’s time to explore the whole technology stack. What happens when we redesign the BIOS around the assumptions of local area+world wide cloud computing infrastructure? (And where’s my offline Facebook stream? The Australian outback will be revolutionized by social mesh computing!)
  • Virtualization – If Mozilla’s activities cover operating system development, hardware development and the cloud, what does virtualization bring to the mix? What exciting things can happen when we have high performance B2G virtual machines that move between local hardware and the cloud without us even noticing?
  • Internet of Things – Sensorwebs are in, but they’re not accessible to the masses. Mozilla should go hard on Arduino. Google has the Android Open Accessory Development Kit. Screw that! Let’s jump past this by absorbing its’ scope into WebAPIs roadmap. Figuring this out brings us close to federated augmented reality land! (3d printed robots powered by xbox kinect and Amazon’s kindle EVERYWHERE!!)
  • Processing – At the intersection of art (Knight Foundation), education (HiveNYC, School of Webcraft, etc), the internet of things and computer science learning is the Processing programming language. Mozilla should support the development of an arduino sdk based on processing.js and curricula/games around Processing in general. Check out these three posts on the Modk.it blog to see why I think this is so essential. You just can’t beat kids visually programming firmware via cloud based IDE! (2018: The global economy is saved by a robot uprising orchestrated by 10 year old homeschooled web makers who have taken over the wastelands formerly known as “Wall Street” and “Academia. In other news, Calvin Klein releases controversial node.js-based fashion line backed by ‘rehabilitated’ chinese WOW gold farmers.”)
  • I’ll stop here for now. Consider yourselves lucky.
Sooo.. how does all this impact tech literacy? And how can we use technology development roadmaps to inform roadmaps for community development and educational efforts? Most importantly, how can we turn this into a two way feedback loop? I’ll be blogging about all of these ideas in more detail over the coming weeks/months.

web development as local economic development

I’ve spent the last few years searching for a conceptual framework that ties people-centric practices for personal growth and innovation to a larger strategy for global economic development. The goal’s a bit lofty but you only live once, right?

Many people have recommended I write a book, but there’s no time for that. There’s far too much to do! So instead, I’m going to put what I’ve learned into practice and start blogging like a madman in the process.

This post starts a bit higher level, but I promise it ends with focus and action! Spoiler alert: Mozilla is the focus. I’m the action. 😉

Background: Information Economy

Occupy Wall Street and economists alike are paying attention to the wrong metrics. The currency of the 21st century isn’t measured in dollars and euros, but in data. Specifically the abilities to generate, own and process raw data into meaning. Today’s internet favors not the 1%, but practically the .0000~1%. Just about 100% of the information economic wealth in the world belongs to just a handful of large organizations. (Blah blah blah..)

Before we can address monetary inequity, we must first shift the tide of existing data inequity. This is a key civilizational challenge that requires action primarily in the areas of technology development and education. Most importantly, these two must develop hand in hand.  The key is access + control.

The “information economy” isn’t a real thing though. You know what’s real? Attention economy. Those who own/control all the data ultimately reap all the efficiencies information technology enables. Attention is time and time is money. More and more of us have less and less time and less and even less to show for the time we do have. Today’s information inequity leaves the vast majority of the population out to dry.. meaning out in the market without the information necessary to embody the ideal rational agents of economic theory.

More Background: Urgency and Agency

Economic inequity is a global problem that America has adversely contributed to while remaining blind to the direction we’ve been leading the world over the past century. This is beginning to change as trickle-up attention economics has led to the Walmarts, Facebooks and Goldman Sachs of the world to own virtually all the data. (Money is a measurement of value. That means it’s data too.) American’s are finally starting to take notice enough to take action. The lack of a sense of urgency is something I’ve been very worried about.. until recently. Occupy Wall Street is one sign amongst many that we’re finally waking up. We’re not out of the woods just yet however. Next we need to cultivate Agency otherwise our newfound sense of urgency just goes to waste.

Agency is defined as the ability for an “Agent” to act within the world. Check out all the wikipedia pages about “Agency.” I’m talking about all of them. Regardless of perspective (psychological, sociological, computational, legal economic, bad-ass spy-shit, etc) we all need to become Agents.

I’m an Agent. You’re an Agent. I give you Agency. You give me Agency. We give others Agency. Social networks/computer networks amplify agency. Agency grows through collaboration. Agency grows through the accumulation of wealth. When wealth is hoarded, everybody (including the owner) loses agency. Agency is the ability to turn potential energy (resources) into kinetic energy (action).

We have lot’s of work to do.

I’ll be talking a lot more about Agency in future blog posts. In the meantime, your homework is to start thinking of yourself as entrepreneurial Free Agents.

Challenges and Opportunities: Data

I’d like to put forth the idea that before we can truly begin to solve the great problems of our time, the challenges surrounding data ownership practice and policy must be figured out.

Cloud computing is both the greatest threat and greatest opportunity here. So far, cloud computing has created information silos unlike any that have ever existed. This means all the wealth flows to whomever has the biggest clouds attached to the smartest sensor webs and noise filters. We need to redemocratize the proliferation of information. Let’s not wait until 2013.

2012 is the year to bust the information silos. This is as much a cultural challenge as it is a technological. Both must be overcome simultaneously. What does this mean? Every individual should not only own their data (policy) but be able to store it in their personal data lockers locally and/or in the cloud (practice). Furthermore, everyone should be able to make accessibility of their data as private or public as they choose (technology standards). Last and most importantly, no matter how public, private, local, or cloud-based your data may be, apps/organizations/friends/etc should respect your expectations when accessing your data to make useful and potentially awesome stuff happen (culture). This solves the access problem.

What about the control problem? Having access to data isn’t enough. We need to be able to turn it into meaning. Build relationships. Tell stories. Contextualize and create our realities. This is the fun part.. and while I may be unapologetic about my ego, I’m not so presumptuous to say that I have any real idea what this should look like! This is the part of the vision we need to construct together. ‘Nuff said.

This is a massive undertaking. And if we succeed, business as usual will pretty much be over everywhere. The rate at which businesses can potentially be disrupted will grow exponentially. Even more businesses will go under. I must also add that job losses could even skyrocket for a bit. We MUST use this fact to our advantage if we don’t want the 21st century to suck.

An environment in which data flows like water is scary. It’s scary for individuals.. but it’s even scary for businesses. It makes us feel insecure. But we will survive this. The lynchpin to solving the threats we face in these times is ultimately the inequity of information economy. It all comes down to access and control. The technical challenges of this vision for the internet are simple compared to the cultural challenges. Access to information isn’t even half the battle. The vast majority is a matter of cultural literacy.

So the sooner we pull the full real-time dataportability and decentralized geosocial internet of things bandage, the better. We need to up the disruptive potential of the internet to full throttle so that we can just as rapidly shift our civilizational focus toward the real challenge at hand: bridging the exponentially widening digital culture literacy gap.

This leads to the next section.

Challenges and Opportunities: Security

Going full throttle on the disruptive capacity of information technology innovation is counterintuitively essential.

Of all the shocks to our global system in the recent past and approaching future, this shock (which we are already experiencing in painfully rapid slow-motion) is the only one that offers the opportunities for economic growth that will lead to security (personal, local, national, global, galactic, take your pick). In order to fully democratizing the innovative potential the world wide (geosocial) web (of things) offers us, we will need to continuously innovate around the ideas of curation and filters. Curation and filtering aren’t just about sifting the waterfall of information represented by our twitter and facebook newsfeeds… it’s about personal security as well in a very visceral sense. Door locks and vaccines are filter technologies. Project portfolios,  nutritional diets and city planning are forms of curation. Hiring good trustworthy people from a flood of applicants involves both techniques.

Access to increasingly abundant information combined with better filtering and curation control mechanisms lead to the the identification of creative opportunities that add value. This is where market capitalism kicks in and money starts flowing.

If done right, economic development is the best investment leading to security at all levels. The disruption of businesses and industries may FEEL insecure, but in aggregate creates greater overall economic  opportunity for those willing and able to take it. (Uh oh.. there’s that literacy gap again..)

Challenges and Opportunities: Education Reform and Makers

The Maker Movement is being well documented right now. If you don’t know about it, you need to. I’ll be talking extensibly about makers in future posts.

Research tells us that the best learning happens when we are personally engaged in what we’re learning. Curiosity drives learning, and the requisite playfulness is driven by the desire for fun. Play is the natural learning state. I’ll also be talking about this in future posts. It’s one of my mantras.

Play is the natural learning state.

There’s lots of talk about ‘gamification’ going on right now. We don’t need to gamify education. We don’t need to gamify anything in fact.. because everything is already technically a game! (Just ask economists, cross-sections of academia, video game designers, and anyone between the ages of 12-24).

To be honest.. if everything is already a game, it’s not a very fun game all around. It’s time to change the game. Literally. (Google: systems thinking and game theory)

There’s enough activity going on right now in the area of education innovation to fell a great many trees and (possibly) fill whole kindles! So I’d like to direct your attention to one organization that could potentially bring all the elements I’ve discussed so far together: the Mozilla Foundation.

The most publicly visible signs of transformation within Mozilla come from the shift toward a web-speed rapid development cycle for Firefox. By joining Google Chrome in bringing agile development to the web browser, the web is changing faster than ever. This comes at a time when the openness of the internet is under threat from all sides. In response, Mozilla is rapidly building toward a new strategy of public engagement based upon creating learning environments in which makers flourish, grow and replicate.

What makes Mozilla unique among other organizations trying to innovate within education is that Mozilla has been and continues to be a key player in building the future of the internet. Their current technology roadmap hints at a not-so-distant future in which the web is THE primary operating system upon which our society runs. We’re not just talking technology, we’re talking about upgrading our societal operating system (google: Douglas Rushkoff.) By making commitments to education and makers, Mozilla is rapidly increasing the scope of their operation to solve the global literacy gap: the first step toward upgrading the rest of our global infrastructure.

Economic Development = Cultural Innovation + Technological Innovation

The header of this section says it all. And you know what? Mozilla is an organizations that could potentially tackle both sides of this equation at a global scale. They’re missing one key element though: Local.

Economic Development = Global focus+ Local focus = Glocal focus

Globalization. It’s a thing. Glocalization. It’s also a thing. It’s time to bring things full circle. Localization.

This is where Airship Atlanta comes in. Local economic development is what my crew and I are all about! In a globalized world, it’s pretty much a given that successful local economic development efforts have global impact. This requires building bridges between local creatives and global infrastructure builders to enable global creativity that’s locally based and local infrastructure that’s globally based.

And so it is my ambition to see Atlanta begin a process of rapid economic development. Immediately! (If you don’t mind.)

Let’s see what we can do in a year.

I do declare that Atlanta’s future is to build the future of the web. In doing so, Atlanta’s economic development will become a resilient seed for global economic development.

This is my challenge to everyone else in the world trying to solve global problems: act as though the place you live is the capital of the world. I will be. Focus on building relationships and businesses based on service that encourage personal development just as much as local economic development. Find and engage the Mozilla Foundation, its network of partners and global organizations like them at intersections of the technological, cultural, local and global.

I’m not done, but this blog post is.

My next few posts over the course of this week will be focused on the opportunities I see emerging at the Mozilla Foundation that represent an expedient for Atlanta’s economic development.

Rebooting NetSquared Atlanta

NetSquared Atlanta American Cancer Society HostA few years back I used to organize a monthly meetup called NetSquared Atlanta which is an offshoot of Techsoup’s Net2local program. It went on for about a year and we had an absolutely wonderful host in the American Cancer Society.

There have been multiple attempts to start the group back up over the years but so far these attempts haven’t gelled.

So it’s time to try again!

My aim is to create a space where social change agents, techies and nonprofit professionals can come together and build an action network based on collaboration and innovation.

My plan is to organize three months of programming (August through October) and see where it goes from there.

I’m looking for co-organizers to get this off to a strong start, so shoot me a tweet @captaincalliope if you’re interested. And be don’t forget to join the NetSquared Atlanta meetup group!

NetSquared Atlanta Attendees Introduce Themselves

I’m collecting links relevant to organizing Net2local programming and Net2Atlanta events below.

About NetSquared

Net2local Community

Net2local Event Organizing

Net2Atlanta’s current web presence

Miscellaneous