Six months ago, for all the best possible reasons, I rather tore into Mozilla's Drumbeat project. This led to some useful dialogue with the man behind it, Mark Surman. At least, I presume it was useful, since he's still talking to me; indeed, he's bravely asked me to review the progress of the project.
There's been a lot, as Surman's post on the subject details. There's a wide range of projects; there's a Festival coming up a November in Barcelona; and the Open Web Award 2011 has been announced. That's all great stuff: it shows that the project has taken off, and that there's lots of interest from a wide variety of people and organisations. But I think this richness is also a problem.
The Mozilla Drumbeat project describes its mission thus:
Drumbeat is for anyone who wants to lend their skills and creativity to the cause of keeping the internet open. It's a chance to for everyone — not just software developers and testers — to get involved. Who? Teachers. Lawyers. Artists. Accountants. Plumbers. Web Developers. Anyone who uses and cares about the internet.
With Drumbeat, we've planted a flag. A place to gather. A place for you to find collaborators. You can start a project, or join one that's already rolling. If your project gets traction, we'll shout from the top of the mountain so everyone knows about it. And we'll even fund a handful of the very best projects. You can also attend — or start — an event in your city. Events offer a place to work on projects with neighbors, and a chance to paint a picture of what you want the open web to look like in 100 years. Check out featured projects and upcoming events.
That is, this is centrally about keeping the Internet open. That's a hugely important goal, and makes Mozilla Drumbeat a potentially crucial undertaking at a time when threats to the openness of the Internet continue to mount (ACTA, Net neutrality etc.). But looking at the projects, I don't see that element in the foreground; indeed, sometimes the connection is pretty tenuous. This means that Mozilla Drumbeat runs the risk of losing its focus, and dissipating its energies.
There are a number of things the Mozilla Foundation can do about this.
It needs to make sure every project answers the question: How exactly does this help keep the Internet open? And I mean answers explicitly: there should be a short statement in every entry on the main site, whether it's a project or event, dealing with this facet. That will have two benefits. It will concentrate people's minds on the main objective, and ensure that their project has the right focus. And it will give a coherence to the Mozilla Drumbeat site that I find lacking at the moment.
Indeed, I still find it hard to see all these undeniably interesting activities as part of a single project. I think the Web site needs to be revamped quite radically to emphasise the central theme of the open Internet at all times. Perhaps it needs to be structured by what aspect of the Internet will be kept open, not by what people are doing towards that end.
That will require quite a lot of work, and so I'd also like to propose a trivially easy step towards bringing some much-needed focus: do not ever let anyone on the site refer to "Drumbeat" - it should always be "Mozilla Drumbeat". However evocative the word "drumbeat" may be, it is completely untethered – it could refer to anything, and certainly has no obvious, inherent links with the Internet or openness. Every time that the "drumbeat" brand is enhanced, Mozilla's is diminished – and with it the focus on the open Internet. Foregrounding Mozilla in this way would remind everyone who is behind this project, and why, ultimately, they are getting involved.