Products that embody openness the most powerful way to shape the policy conversation

Aza Raskin writing about Mozilla:

Developing products that embody openness is the most powerful way to shape the policy conversation. Back those products with hundreds of millions of users and you have a game-changing social movement.

I completely agree, at least when “product” and “policy” are construed broadly — both include, e.g., marketing and adoption/use/joining of products, communities, ethics, ideas, etc. Raskin’s phrasing also (understandably, as he’s working for Mozilla) emphasizes central organizations as the actor (which backs products with users, rather than users adopting the product, and participating in its development) more than I’d like, but that’s nuance.

This is why I complain about rearguard clicktivism against bad policy that totally fails to leverage the communication opportunity to also promote good policy and especially products that embody good policy, and even campaigns for good policy concepts that fail to also promote products which embody the promoted policy.

To summarize, there’s product competition and policy competition, and I think the former is hugely undersold as potently changing the latter. (There’s also beating-of-the-bounds, perhaps with filesharing and wikileaks as examples, which has product and policy competition aspects, but seems a distinct kind of action; which ought to be brought into closer conversation with the formal sector.)

The main point of Raskin’s post is that Mozilla is a second-mover, taking proven product segments and developing products for them which embody openness, and that it could do that in more segments, various web applications in particular. I look forward to more Mozilla services.

A lot of what Wikipedia and Public Library of Science have done very successfully could also be considered “second mover”, injecting freedom into existing categories — sometimes leading to exploding the a category with something qualitatively and quantitatively huger.

I admit that the phrase I pulled from Raskin’s post merely confirms (and this by authority!) a strongly held bias of mine. How to test? Failing that, what are the best arguments against?

13 Responses

  1. maiki says:

    I am not sure how to test it, but the inverse appears to be true: closed products, especially in the hands of policy-makers, encourages more closed policies and products. Apple is the easy target, but any time in a technical role will reveal plenty of exposure to the lack of portability between old and new products.

    I am only thinking of hardware and software, but I’ve thought of vendor lock-in in other vectors in the past (but nothing is coming to mind in the creation of this comment ^_^).

    Do you really think it is merely nuance that central orgs have to drive openness? I tend to think that (central orgs are important, like Moz and WMF) these days, and my thought exercises are often pitting that against the presented idea of user freedom by copyleft folks; that is to say, it made sense when computer scientist wanted to hack printer drivers, but now “user” freedom seems more important to orgs that act on behalf of their constituency.

    The messaging could use updating is that is the case. I can’t think of that angle being explained, so maybe it isn’t good PR?

  2. maiki, yeah, it seems intuitively right both from technology and policy experience: monopoly abets monopoly, and monopolies do whatever they can to hold on and expand through both product and policy; the reverse ought be true too.

    Comment on central orgs is nuance in context of point that free/open stuff is the most powerful way to shape policy. How/by who that free/open stuff is designed, produced, shared, etc is super interesting and important, but this specific context tangential.

    Though they are deeply problematic I’m on record in support of huge orgs for freedom — — for better or worse, humanity has lots of experience in that mode of production, so we know how to do it efficiently/at scale, and as proprietary entities certainly do that…

    On large orgs, I just read that PLOS has 170 employees — — bigger than I’d have guessed, and I think similar to WMF. Mozilla must be close to 1000 now. I wildly speculate all could usefully be 10x their present sizes.

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