Who – or rather, which company – is holding all your email?
Photo by Louis Abate
If you couldn’t login tomorrow, do you have a copy of your email? Many webmail services, like Gmail, make it easy to download a copy of your mail using POP or IMAP but if you use their web client, it’s an extra step you have to think about and do on a regular basis. It’s not something that most people can do easily. Especially if they share a computer with others.
While there’s a good chance, as a reader of this blog, that you are a do-it-yourself kind of technical person and use Thunderbird or Evolution to read your mail on your own computer, most of us don’t. Most of us trust our webmail to be there when we need it. We are trusting a single company to hold and take care of years worth of personal correspondence.
We need a way to backup our data, data like our email, to a trusted place.
P.S. I use Thunderbird to backup all my mail from my email web service providers to my computer. It’s not what it was designed for but it works for now.
At Kids on Computers, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting computers to kids that have no access to technology. Many of these places (rural Mexico, Africa, India) have cell phones before they have phone lines or even power. (The second time you blow the power for an entire school trying to set up a couple of computers, you realize how much we take power for granted in developing countries.)
So the new devices coming out right now are really exciting.
These devices, using open source software and open web technologies are going to bring the web – and the world – to more people everywhere.
Disclaimer: I work at Mozilla. At Mozilla we are working on making sure everyone has access to the web and that it stays open and accessible for everyone.
One of the things I love most about the open source communities I’m a part of is that when I ask a question, I just don’t get the answer, I get taught how to find the answer.
A few weeks after I started as executive director of the GNOME Foundation, I asked Dave Neary for someone’s contact information. Actually, it might have been the third or fourth time I asked him for someone’s contact information. He sent me back an email with the contact info I wanted. And a detailed explanation of how he found it. So the next time, I was able to find info like that myself.
I love that when you ask someone in open source a question, they not only answer it, but explain how they found the answer. (I realize some people find that annoying. I really appreciate “learning how to fish.”)
It’s the same empowering attitude that drives people to blog about a problem and how they solved it or found the answer. They are teaching others how to fish.
Photo by DennisSylvesterHurd
Think of the last time you walked up to a complete stranger, stuck out your hand and said, “Hi, my name is …” Depending on how often you do that, it was probably a scary moment. Before you walked up to the person, you had to steel your nerves, decide what you were going to say, and then approach them.
Joining an open source software project is a bit like that. You have to send a mail to a huge list of random people. Or file a bugzilla bug that goes to a ton of random people.
And then imagine the immediate response is “WONTFIX” with no comments. That’s like if the person you got up the nerve to introduce yourself to said, “Not interested.”
I once spent weeks convincing a friend she should help out on an open source software project. She did. And she sent in her work to the mailing list and the first response was full of harsh critique. None of the follow up messages made up for that first message. I never did convince her to push her work forward. Nor to participate in open source again. (She does know exactly what she’d say to that first critic if she ever met him in person!)
What can we do to make sure people trying to shake our hands get a better reception?
When I first started using email, I had a part time job in the computer science department at Rice University. A new grad student joined the department and a few days after he started, I noticed it was his birthday. Knowing he was unlikely to know many people in town, I sent him an email that said, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” all spelled out in big letters made out of asterisks. He wrote me back “Thanks a lot”. Now in my world, “Thanks a lot” was always said “Thanks a *lot*” with a slightly sarcastic twist to it. I emailed him right back to ask him if he really liked it or if he was being sarcastic. He said no, of course, he really liked it.
So if one happy birthday email can be that confusing, imagine what can go wrong with a complicated email about project directions and motivations … Especially when it’s going out to a mailing list that has hundreds of people on it. That’s what most of us in the open source space deal with every day. Some of us do it better than others. Some days we do it better than others. But we all work at it every day. It’s the way we communicate with our friends, peers and co-workers.
Please meet the Mozilla Conductors
A few months ago, several of us at Mozilla had a conversation about how we could best help people learn how to communicate well online. We have new people joining the project all the time and they have to learn how to communicate on mailing lists, IRC and bugzilla. Those of us helping them realize daily what a challenge it can be. As much as we don’t think about it, cc’ing the right people, quoting previous mail messages and keeping the conversation from getting argumentative are not easy things.
We were looking for a way to help everyone communicate better, exploring all sorts of crazy options like classes and consultants, and realized we had the best resources right inside our project. We have people that are really good at fostering online conversations. They’ve been doing it for years; quietly (and not so quietly) leading and directing the conversations and projects they are part of.
So we sent out a bunch of emails, came to a consensus and created the Mozilla Conductors!
Mozilla Conductors help Mozillians with difficult online conversations. We offer advice, suggestions, a listening ear, moral support and, in the case where the discussion is public, occasionally direct intervention. But the goal is to help everyone communicate effectively, not to be enforcers. If you end up in a difficult online situation, you can reach out to Conductors via the mailing list or to any individual in the group to ask for help. Maybe you just need a sounding board or help figuring out how to phrase a particular idea or how to make someone particularly difficult go away. The Conductors will help brainstorm, ask questions, provide ideas and help. And where we are on mailing lists, we commit to helping keep the conversations constructive.
We are not an officially appointed group. We are a peer nominated group. We are a group of people from across the Mozilla project. We are a Mozilla Module.
Please help us make online conversations productive and Mozilla a success!