All posts in internet

The Internet Says Goodbye

Humans are a Community-Centric

We evolved to rely on community to survive. From moment we stood on two legs, we have derived our identity, culture, and beliefs from the people around us.

Our communities started as tribes. With agriculture, they became villages and cities. But as communities adapted and grew, they remained rooted in physical proximity. We were together, so we could build a fire to gather around. We could construct a market, temple, or wall. We could protect each other from harm.

The Internet is Changing the Nature of Human Community

Increasingly, our communities are not made up of people physically around us, but those we connect with online. It takes only a shared passion to create and foster meaningful relationships on the web. Whether or not we’ve met in the real world, the internet is globally becoming the predominant tool we use to communicate.

Like physical communities, online communities share their whole lives together. But what of the cultural aspects of community? There are few online analogs to the customs and traditions that united our physical communities. Do we need them, now that we’re not constrained by proximity?

Culture Needs to Evolve for the Web

The culture that surrounds our online communities is still fledgling. As the first waves of internet users embraced social networking, too often online interaction was defined by cruelty and abuse. The addition of younger demographics brought bullying to a new platform, sometimes with deadly consequences. Anonymity often fueled the flames.

Lawmakers, educators, and parents have tried to curb the web’s unsavory cultural aspects. Their efforts have fallen short and will continue to do so. That’s because online culture isn’t a problem that can be solved through offline regulation. It’s a problem that must be solved within the communities themselves. We can curb abuse over time, but doing so is insufficient: we must also build communities that support and nurture.

What should community support look like on the internet? How can we show compassion when we’re digitally connected but separated by distance?

One of the clearest examples of offline community support is response to death. Our physical communities bury bodies, scatter ashes, erect monuments, and embrace the mourning. The shared rituals help us accept and move forward.

Can a Digital Community Support Each Other through Tragedy?

It can. It already has.

The internet itself – the people who build, protect, fight for, and love this new global interconnectedness – is its own community. I’m a part of it, and you likely are as well.

We lost two beloved members of our community recently. The positive responses to these tragedies could help frame a model of how online communities can support each other through grief.

swartzhead

Aaron Swartz. 1986-2013.

Aaron was many things: a programmer, hacker, activist, founder, and friend. He fought for the freedom of information with all his intellect and creativity: both were plentiful. His tragic suicide occurred amidst a grand jury indictment. Accused of violating federal hacking laws by downloading millions of academic articles in order to make them freely available, he was facing up to 35 years in prison1.

How did the internet community respond to Aaron’s tragic death? With action. Last month, Brian Knappenberger released a crowdfunded documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, about Aaron’s life and death. In January of 2014, Lawrence Lessig led a walk across New Hampshire in Aaron’s honor2. Yesterday, Lessig’s MayDay Super PAC reached its five million dollar goal, bringing action to the cause Aaron and so many of us believe in: removing the influence of money from politics3. We lost Aaron, but we promised not to lose his war.

Aaron’s Community Lesson:

Advocate for the dreams and passions of those we love.
Respect their memory by carrying forward their vision.

rebeccahead

Rebecca Alison Meyer. 2008-2014.

Eric Meyer is a beloved member of the internet community. His work and advocacy over two decades towards better web technologies and standards is renowned. Last month, Eric and his wife Kat tragically lost their six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, to cancer4. In the wake of the tragedy, the internet community sought ways to show its love and support.

One tribute stood out. Rebecca had a favorite color, and it was purple. Specifically, it was the shade of purple expressed by HTML hex value #663399. In her honor, a proposal was made and accepted to add a name to color #663399 in the CSS4 specification: “Rebecca Purple.” Just as sympathy flowers are grown from the land of the bereaved, the internet made a tribute in the very material it’s made of.

Rebecca’s Community Lesson:

Support each other in ways that are meaningful to your own community.
Show caring in ways that reflect the individuality of those we love.

In Conclusion

The digital nature of our communities does not make us any less human. Minimizing communication to text and emoticons does not (and will) not minimize the spectrum of our emotion. If we intend to live more fully online, we’ll need ways to support each other just as our cultural traditions have done.

Culture will surely look different for each online community. Let’s be explicit about its creation. Let’s not think of ourselves as individuals with computers, but as communities who use computers to connect. Let’s find new ways to support each other though life’s storms.


  1. Info-Activist Aaron Swartz Facing 35 Years in Prison for Alleged JSTOR, MIT Hack. Publishers Weekly. 
  2. Lawrence Lessig Walking Across New Hampshire In Memory Of Aaron Swartz. Huffington Post. 
  3. About the MayDay PAC 
  4. Photo: In Memoriam: Rebecca Alison Meyer. Myerweb. 

Firefox and Flux: A New, Beautiful Browser is Coming

Tomorrow, on April 29, something amazing is coming to Firefox.

It’s not an interface adjustment or tweak.  It’s not a bug fix.  It’s a complete re-envisioning of Firefox’s user experience, and it’s been brewing for the past five years.

Firefox on Linux, OSX, and Windows

Firefox on Linux, OSX, and Windows

Good to Great

This new Firefox, Firefox 29, was borne out of a series of incredible, detail-obsessed designers and engineers understanding that taking products from good to great requires more than a series of incremental improvements.

Good can be achieved through incrementalism.  Great requires, at times, overhaul.

Firefox 29 contains extensive improvements that were planned back when Alex Faaborg, Madhava Enros, and myself were the only designers at Mozilla.  Back then, Firefox was beginning to buckle under the weight of its inconsistent code and interface.

Realizing the Need for Overhaul

It’s common enough for large codebases maintained across years to develop inconsistencies.  But, Firefox’s nature as an open-source community project contributed to idiosyncratic user experiences.   Menus and dialogs used different tenses and tones.  Add-ons behaved unpredictably.  Customization was handled differently throughout the browser.  Over the past few years, we’ve been working to improve many instances of inconsistent behavior, such as replacing modal dialogs for tab-modal ones, standardizing notifications, and using a uniform tone-of-voice.

Making improvements here and there is often what user experience designers at an organization are expected to do: fix what’s broken, slightly improve what isn’t, and generally don’t get in the way of engineering effort.  But, this method can only make an existing product slightly better, and the gaps it causes reveal themselves in time.

A sinking ship can’t be patched endlessly when it needs a new hull.  This is when user experience design is most effective: when it envisions the system as a whole.  When it steps away from the trees and sees the forest holistically.

Firefox needed a new hull, and the bulk of that hull is arriving on Tuesday.

Others have been blogging about Firefox 29’s beautiful redesign, so I’ll just mention the highlights.

Consistent Customization

Customizing Firefox is now entirely predictable and much more fun.  Rather than digging into Preferences windows and dialogs, you can make Firefox the way you like via dragging-and-dropping buttons wherever you want them.

A Customize panel – itself customizable – displays the tools you want available in a single click but don’t want cluttering your interface.

Firefox Customize Menu

Firefox Customize Menu

Simple and Streamlined

Gone are the bulky angles and edges of tabs and menus.  In Firefox 29, you’ll see streamlined, almost aerodynamic, curves giving emphasis to your current tab and subtly understating the rest.

Streamlined Tab Shape

Streamlined Tab Shape

Themes and Personalization

Making Firefox visually your own is not only easy, but gorgeous.  Lightweight themes look fantastic in 29 with a light interface overlay on whatever image inspires you while you browse.

Lightweight Theme Applied to Firefox

Lightweight Theme Applied to Firefox

Obsession with Details

It’d be hard to describe all the changes coming to Firefox in a single post, but I hope you’ll find that we left no stone unturned.  Firefox 29 is all about details: the glows, the colors, the animations all reflect our desire to make the entire experience seamless.  A special hat tip to our visual designer, Stephen Horlander, for his painstaking eye for detail.

It's All About the Details

It’s All About the Details

Tomorrow’s launch day will, perhaps, be our biggest yet.  It’s certainly an emotional day for myself and the others who have worked on this release for years.  I can’t wait.  I hope you love it.

Facebook is acting like your mother, and she’s very disappointed in you

I hate online ads, in part because they are anti-user experience. Good user experience enables users by giving them positive interactions with the content and tools they want to access, while advertising steers them away from what they want to access. While user experience caters to users’ wants and needs, advertising attempts to hijack them. User experience focuses, advertising distracts.

Fair enough, we’re intelligent people and know that pinching the monkey won’t win us an iPod. But lately, I’m even more disturbed by Facebook’s acutely targeted advertising. It goes beyond critisizing your purchases and begins to critisize you. Mossop pointed out to me last week that Facebook is analyzing your profile and selecting ads which more than suggest a product, suggest you should be living your life differently. I checked my own profile, and here’s what I found:

Lots of engagement rings. Nowhere in my profile have I mentioned an interest in getting married, but I’m a female over a certain age and I fall in Facebook’s targeted social bracket. Facebook thinks it’s about time! Facebook wants grandchildren!

The trend here is disturbing – that as advertising becomes “better,” it begins to sound less like an annoying child and more like a judging peer group. You know you’re fat, because ads are telling you about diet plans. You know you’re old, because ads are telling you about wrinkle cream. We’ve heard complaints that advertising gives us unreasonable expectations from body image to income, but in the pre-digital age these expectations were leveled at no one in particular. With the internet, these ads are targeted at you – your life, your problems, and your choices. If we continue to not care how much companies like Facebook and their advertisers learn about us, the projection here is grim – that advertising becomes a more increasingly personalized, feeding on our insecurities and urging us to conform through consumption.

I’m not trying to be alarmist here, but only say that we must care about where our data goes. The game here is becoming more interesting, because the nature of the internet and even free speech is at stake. Yesterday, the Guardian wrote that the South Korea, a democracy, would like to more heavily police the internet and essentially terminate its anonymity (link). Steps away from anonymous data are harmful ones. Gabe’s dickwad theory aside, the anonymity of the internet is a wonderfully subversive thing – it can guarantee freedom of speech for those otherwise without it. Mitchell Baker has been posting recently about why Mozilla should think about and respond to data (introduction, related topics, what Mozilla should do). Here, she write that Mozilla’s principles of enriching lives, providing security, and giving us control of our online experience “are at risk if individuals have no control over the creation or use of the data that describes us.” How to protect users while still steering away from proprietary data will be a difficult problem to tackle, but we’re in a good place to start the discussion.