Freedom At The Endpoints

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about Drumbeat, and what the Open Web actually means to me. This morning, I came across an article by Katherine Mangu-Ward titled Transparency Chic which reminded me about a few of its most important aspects.

Transparency Chic discusses a Firefox addon called RECAP which helps make U.S. Judicial Records as freely-searchable as everything in Google by taking any of the free information browsed through PACER, the Federal court system’s clunky web-based database that charges eight cents per page, and submits it automatically to a free Internet archive.

One of the foundational principles of the Internet RECAP reminds me of is Jonathan Zittrain’s notion, explained in The Future of the Internet, that the endpoint matters. Cell phones, console gaming systems, and PCs are some of the destinations of the information and functionality that the Internet is built to transmit. Yet only the PC unilaterally provides its user with an extraordinary amount of control to alter any aspect of its behavior through third-party software. If it weren’t for this fact, and if it weren’t for the generativity enabled by Firefox exposing its internals to addon developers—that “freedom at the endpoint”—a subversive-yet-legal tool like RECAP simply couldn’t exist and be so accessible to so many people at once.

Of course, this isn’t to say that freedom at the endpoint doesn’t carry with it a slew of safety concerns, like viruses and malware—but these are problems we want to be able to solve without losing the freedom that makes our endpoints as innovative as they are. Drumbeat should raise awareness about this notion because it’s a freedom most of us take for granted, and it’s one that could easily disappear if stewards aren’t there to protect it.

6 Replies to “Freedom At The Endpoints”

  1. Good point, Atul. There are lots of ‘people take the web for granted’ messaging opportunities — freedom and innovation at the end point is a key one. I wonder how we turn this into a message that people grok easily and relate to at an emotional level? And, whether there is a tie in to some of our product messaging either on the hackabilty (jetpack) or you computing (people, weave, etc.) fronts?

  2. Hmm, good question.

    On the one hand, I think that a documentary that focuses on these kinds of issues could be really compelling at both an intellectual and an emotional level, if the right person did it (Jesse? Ken Burns? :P). A lot of folks who like documentaries actually like them because they provide them with a window into something that they don’t normally know anything about–for instance, Wordplay was an excellent film about the NY Times Sunday Crossword, which plenty of non-crossword fans saw and enjoyed.

    Another thing that comes to mind is the notion of somehow “rating” or “approving” new devices that come out, e.g. some sort of “Open Web Approved” seal that can be put on products if they satisfy a certain criteria. Not sure how well that would really work, but it’s a thought.

    I’ll keep thinking about this and get back to you if I come up with anything better. 🙂

  3. Atul : great article, as always. I love the idea of a documentary. Too bad it’s not the kind of thing I can work on. FYI, Paul Rouget (evangelist in the Mozilla Paris office) is working on something related to this (and the general notion of hackability). We should see something coming on hacks.mozilla.org one of these days.

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