I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ve heard a number of people say that RSS solved too many problems to be allowed to live.
I’ve recently become the module owner of Planet Mozilla, a venerable communication hub and feed aggregator here at Mozilla. Real talk here: I’m not likely to get another chance in my life to put “seize control of planet” on my list of quarterly deliverables, much less cross it off in less than a month. Take that, high school guidance counselor and your “must try harder”!
I warned my boss that I’d be milking that joke until sometime early 2017.
On a somewhat more serious note: We have to decide what we’re going to do with this thing.
Planet Mozilla is a bastion of what’s by now the Old Web – Anil Dash talks about it in more detail here, the suite of loosely connected tools and services that made the 1.0 Web what it was. The hallmarks of that era – distributed systems sharing information streams, decentralized and mutually supportive without codependency – date to a time when the economics of software, hardware, connectivity and storage were very different. I’ve written a lot more about that here, if you’re interested, but that doesn’t speak to where we are now.
Please note that when talk about “Mozilla’s needs” below, I don’t mean the company that makes Firefox or the non-profit Foundation. I mean the mission and people in our global community of communities that stand up for it.
I think the following things are true, good things:
- People still use Planet heavily, sometimes even to the point of “rely on”. Some teams and community efforts definitely rely heavily on subplanets.
- There isn’t a better place to get a sense of the scope of Mozilla as a global, cultural organization. The range and diversity of articles on Planet is big and weird and amazing.
- The organizational and site structure of Planet speaks well of Mozilla and Mozilla’s values in being open, accessible and participatory.
- Planet is an amplifier giving participants and communities an enormous reach and audience they wouldn’t otherwise have to share stories that range from technical and mission-focused to human and deeply personal.
These things are also true, but not all that good:
- It’s difficult to say what or who Planet is for right now. I don’t have and may not be able to get reliable usage metrics.
- The egalitarian nature of feeds is a mixed blessing: On one hand, Planet as a forum gives our smallest and most remote communities the same platform as our executive leadership. On the other hand, headlines ranging from “Servo now self-aware” and “Mozilla to purchase Alaska” to “I like turnips” are all equal citizens of Planet, sorted only by time of arrival.
- Looking at Planet via the Web is not a great experience; if you’re not using a reader even to skim, you’re getting a dated user experience and missing a lot. The mobile Web experience is nonexistent.
- The Planet software is, by any reasonable standards, a contraption. A long-running and proven contraption, for sure, but definitely a contraption.
Maintaining Planet isn’t particularly expensive. But it’s also not free, particularly in terms of opportunity costs and user-time spent. I think it’s worth asking what we want Planet to accomplish, whether Planet is the right tool for that, and what we should do next.
I’ve got a few ideas about what “next” might look like; I think there are four broad categories.
- Do nothing. Maybe reskin the site, move the backing repo from Subversion to Github (currently planned) but otherwise leave Planet as is.
- Improve Planet as a Planet, i.e: as a feed aggregator and communication hub.
- Replace Planet with something better suited to Mozilla’s needs.
- Replace Planet with nothing.
I’m partial to the “Improve Planet as a Planet” option, but I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the others. Not (or at least not only) because I’m lazy, but because I still think Planet matters. Whatever we choose to do here should be a use of time and effort that leaves Mozilla and the Web better off than they are today, and better off than if we’d spent that time and effort somewhere else.
I don’t think Planet is everything Planet could be. I have some ideas, but also don’t think anyone has a sense of what Planet is to its community, or what Mozilla needs Planet to be or become.
I think we need to figure that out together.
Hi, Internet. What is Planet to you? Do you use it regularly? Do you rely on it? What do you need from Planet, and what would you like Planet to become, if anything?
These comments are open and there’s a thread open at the Mozilla Community discourse instance where you can talk about this, and you can always email me directly if you like.
* – Mozilla is not to my knowledge going to purchase Alaska. I mean, maybe we are and I’ve tipped our hand? I don’t get invited to those meetings but it seems unlikely. Is Alaska even for sale? Turnips are OK, I guess.