Mozilla Gets the Message

The story of Mozilla has been extraordinary. From Netscape's dramatic announcement in 1998 that it would be open-sourcing its browser code, through the doldrums of the early years, when nothing ever seemed to come out of the new Mozilla project, followed by the creation of the independent Mozilla Foundation, the early successes, right down to today's situation where it stands as the clear and serious pretender to the browser throne. But that's not all, now: Mozilla is moving on.

One manifestation of this is the increasing number of ambitious projects that are coming out of Mozilla Labs. These include Ubiquity:

a time-saving Firefox extension that simplifies common web activities by letting you give commands to Firefox

Weave, which aims:

to broker rich experiences while increasing user control over their data and personal information


an application that lets users split web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop

and Jetpack:

an API for allowing you to write Firefox add-ons using the web technologies you already know

Here's the latest, Raindrop:

Raindrop is a new exploration by the team responsible for Thunderbird to explore new ways to use open Web technologies to create useful, compelling messaging experiences.

Raindrop's mission: make it enjoyable to participate in conversations from people you care about, whether the conversations are in email, on twitter, a friend's blog or as part of a social networking site.

Raindrop uses a mini web server to fetch your conversations from different sources (mail, twitter, RSS feeds), intelligently pulls out the important parts, and allows you to interact with them using your favorite modern web browser (Firefox, Safari or Chrome).

Raindrop comes with a built-in experience that bubbles up what conversations are important to you. You can participate in the experience by writing extensions that use standard open Web technologies like HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Or, use the lower level APIs to make your own experience. You have control over your conversations and how you want to play with them.

As with all explorations hosted by Labs, Raindrop is an open source project and everyone is welcome to participate in its design, development and testing.

This is really good news for a number of reasons.

First, it extends Mozilla's work in trying out new ideas in the Labs context. Although that's becoming a matter of course now, it wasn't a few years back. That seems to me to be a tremendously important sign of vigour.

But perhaps even more significantly, it represents an attempt to re-think email. I'm a big fan of Thunderbird, but there's no denying that it is tied to an older email-based model that is increasingly deprecated, at least by younger Net users. Mozilla is right to explore ways of re-inventing this important area. There may well be a new kind of program that is needed to pull together the increasingly frayed thread of messaging. Whether Raindrop is that program is not the point: it's a start. It's shows that Mozilla has got the message about messaging.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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