Interview with Aza Raskin, Part 2: Making Ubiquity ubiquitous
Continuing BetaNews' interview with the user experience chief of Mozilla Labs, we discuss whether it's possible, even with an estimated quarter-billion Firefox users, to build a semantic functionality network on the strength of volunteerism.
Of the billions of people linked together through the modern Internet, and the tens of thousands of services available to them -- a great many of which are operated by folks who believe they have the capability to serve the Web's principal application -- the number of institutions formed among them that we talk about on a daily basis, that command Web users' everyday attention, and that promise "solutions" to these users' needs, can be counted on two hands.
For a supposedly world-wide web, this is a glaring disparity. Though so much of what has been accomplished in the evolution of modern programming is now done by a group referred to as "the open source community," it is a nebulous entity of multiple factions, any one of which may be capable of fostering truly inventive and groundbreaking ideas. But put them in a room together, and you get a lot of crosstalk.
The Mozilla organization tries to be a sort of hybrid -- an outgrowth of the open source community, grafted onto a leadership body that determines its mission objectives, strategies, and tactics. So far, its most phenomenal success has been the Firefox Web browser. But as a provider of functionality, Firefox is but a framework. The challenge remains to build some level of interwoven, ubiquitous functionality that transcends both corporate and cultural boundaries.
So Mozilla Labs' Ubiquity is almost unlike any other project for building a product thus far conceived. It's the organization's project to consider whether the Web can be used to train a browser such as Firefox to respond to natural language commands, with functions the user expects those commands to imply. The project is being presented directly to its users as an idea that they should conceive, not because the users have this collective skill set that, gathered together, enables them to understand the semantic Web in the way none of them would individually. Rather, it's a mission in search of an objective, in hopes that its creators and innovators will be its users.
It is a weird, wild ride that Aza Raskin has launched. We pick up on where we left off in Part 1 last week, by asking Aza something we'd hoped he'd considered fairly thoroughly: In a world where everyone out there is equally worthy of creating a service that defines how a simple, single-verb function such as "Map" or "Open" or "Choose" or "Evaluate," works...who gets to decide whose definition is best?
Next: When does anyone decide upon a "release date?"