Dinner with Chris Messina

I just had dinner with Chris Messina.

Well, not actually, but it rather felt like it. Instead, I spent 50 minutes watching his video monologue on the way he sees the future of the Mozilla project and Firefox. But it felt very much like he was bending my ear over a quesadilla at La Fiesta.

Blaise Pascal said (in French) “I made this letter very long, because I did not have time to make it shorter.” This quote came to mind as I listened to Chris. Before I get to the content, I can’t avoid making a few comments on the form.

What better way to make sure as few people pay attention to you as possible? Instead of a short, thought-out, coherent and logically progressive text document, which can be skimmed, re-read, digested, quoted and commented upon, we got a 50-minute twisty ramble through a collection of disconnected ideas. The ramble probably took him less time, but it takes all of us far more. And the more time it takes people to get your point, the fewer will do so. When two people are chatting over a meal, this sort of dialogue is fine. But is it really the optimum way to present your concern to a wide audience?

If this is the way Web 2.0 communicates, then give me Web 1.0 any day.

Also, he starts off saying how important it is that the web be kept open against Microsoft, Adobe and Sun. Er, remind me what technology you are asking me to use to view your video, again?

OK, rant over :-) On to the content. Chris is a great guy, always full of ideas, and he made some good points, but a lot of the different things he said seemed contradictory. Quotes or paraphrases (it would take far too long to skim back through 50 minutes of video for his exact words – see rant above) follow:

  • “You’ve done Firefox 1, then 2, and now 3 is coming – this gradual change isn’t enough” vs. “The way forward is incremental”
  • “It’s not about the browser, it’s about the platform” and “The browser is dead” vs. “Firefox needs to be a world class solution to the future of the web”
  • “I want people to love the platform so much that they’ll say ‘I never use anything apart from XUL'” vs. “People should use the best technology that solves their problem”

Those aside, there’s one misunderstanding that I think underlies a lot of what he said, which is that he suggested that we are paying too much attention to the browser instead of the platform. But that’s a false dichotomy – the browser (and the open web) is the platform. Others are far more qualified to comment on this than me, but which is more likely to succeed – if we go up against Silverlight, Flex and JavaFX with XUL, as just one more competitor in a group of single-vendor solutions, or if we go up against them with the Web – HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, canvas, SVG, Ogg and open standards?

Shaver talks about the web vs. closed systems, and also addresses Chris’s point about tools, in a very timely blog post.

I also think there’s a point about focus. If we listened to Chris, the Mozilla Foundation would be launching a free municipal MozillaWiFi service (in which city?), a version of Google Code (but what about MozDev?), a division to write “awesome web applications”, doing political lobbying for net neutrality (we’re a 501(c)3; as I understand it, we can’t), improving the tools for writing XUL applications as well as focussing on improving the XUL platform and continuing to produce Firefox. Clearly Chris is not a man short of ideas, but it reminds me of the boss who said “But why can’t we focus our resources across the board?”.

I can see he’s obviously frustrated with something, but my suggestion would be that, if he wants people to pay attention to his concerns, he needs to think them through better and write them down.

4 thoughts on “Dinner with Chris Messina

  1. “I want people to love the platform so much that they’ll say ‘I never use anything apart from XUL'” vs. “People should use the best technology that solves their problem”

    I don’t see these as contradictory at all. You could combine them as:
    “I want people to love the platform because it is the best technology that solves their problem so they never use anything else”
    (I know the English is a bit ugly, but you get the point)

    You’re right about the whole video thing being though, I read the whole of your blog post (and other responses to Chris’ video), but I stopped watching the video as soon as I realised it was 50 mins long.

  2. Ian: the two are non-contradictory only if you assume that we could build a platform which solves every problem the best way – which we can’t. Such a thing doesn’t exist.

  3. I don’t think you were too harsh. I rarely watch video (on the web or off) and the thrill of podcasts wore off by the time the name had stuck. Give me well-written text any day. I’m very interested in the future of XUL, so I actually attempted to watch the video, but had to stop after just a few minutes because I still had no idea what point he was trying to make. The fact that the video buffering kept timing out and starting over just made it that much more frustrating.

    How about if we improve Web1.0 a bit, but ditch the worst of the Web2.0 excesses and call it Web1.5?