This morning I met up with Aza Raskin, an interesting chap:
Aza is Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs, and is keenly interested in all things that make computers and the Web better for humans. Aza gave his first talk on user interface at age 10 and got hooked. At 17, he was talking and consulting internationally; at 19, he coauthored a physics textbook; and at 21, he co-founded Humanized. Two years later, Aza founded Songza.com.
Since joining Mozilla, he's worked on Ubiquity, Fennec, and numerous other projects. In another life, Aza has done Dark Matter research at both Tokyo University and the University of Chicago, where he graduated from with honors in math and physics. When not working (ha!) Aza enjoys playing music and punning.
Even though his job title is Head of User experience, we talked mainly about another of his responsibilities, Jetpack:
Jetpack is a newly formed experiment in using open Web technologies to enhance the browser, with the goal of allowing anyone who can build a Web site to participate in making the Web a better place to work, communicate and play.
In short, Jetpack is an API for allowing you to write Firefox add-ons using the web technologies you already know.
As with all Labs experiments, Jetpack is an open source project and everyone is welcome to participate in its design, development and testing.
What particularly interests me about Jetpack is that it is trying to turn more people into Firefox addon programmers by making it as easy as coding a Web page. Key to this is the ability to re-use other people's Jetpack work – classic open source stuff.
But I wondered how the licensing side of things would be handled, given that various licences will be available, with all that this implies for incompatibilities between them.
That seem to be one area that's still under development. Another is security, since you need to be able to make sure that code you are re-using doesn't do rather more than you bargained for (think cross-site scripting malware writ large). Raskin said that this was an area they were working hard on.
One other idea he mentioned might feed into this: building aspects of your “social graph” (yuck, how I hate that phrase) into the browser so that you can draw on your friends' expertise and their recommendations. This seems to me to be a very powerful idea, since it effectively sieves some of the information deluge we are confronted with daily, and solves problems about what to trust.
It also has interesting implications for Facebook (and for MySpace while it's still around, which may not be long judging by its extraordinarily rapid decline.) When other platforms start building in some subset of your social networks, I wonder what role that leaves Facebook et al. - teen playground?
Intriguing stuff, and it's great to see Mozilla working on these areas. As Raskin noted, almost uniquely his team is under no pressure to deliver something soon, unlike most startups; instead he and they can concentrate on getting it right, even if takes longer.
Against a background where the recent experience of the Twitter team has shown that the browser-based, cloud computing model has not just weaknesses, but a domino-like interlinked set of weaknesses that can lead to catastrophic security failures, it's comforting to hear that someone is trying to do things properly.