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Ben is Vice President of Global Products at Walmart.com, where he works closely with his long-time friend Dion Almaer.

Open Web Tools Directory

Several weeks ago, I blogged about the Open Web Tools Directory, another Mozilla Labs experiment we launched to explore making some sense of the huge and diverse web tools ecosystem. Thanks for taking a look at the site, for telling us about your favorite tools and your own projects, and for all the feedback!

We’ve just pushed out another minor update to the directory, including the more updates to the tools database and some tweaks and bug fixes to the user interface. (We’ve still got more tools to add and will do another update next week.)

So what’s next for this project?

At Mozilla, we try hard to do things out in the open and engage the community in the development process very early. We’re a mission-driven organization and that mission is to maximize the Internet’s benefit to the public, so we like to get the public involved as much as we can in telling us what we should be doing.

Can you help us decide what the next steps should be?

The Open Web Platform

To get the conversation going, let me share our vision for this project. I’ll start with the big picture, and work back towards the Tools Directory.

At some point over the last few years, the web browser evolved from being a way to render hypertext documents and has become an application run-time platform. This new emerging web-based platform has been called the “Open Web Platform” with increasing frequency; I like the name and have used it for the past few years and will use it throughout this post to describe the technologies available to web applications (provided to them by the browser and occasionally plug-ins).

Liberation

I’m extremely enthusiastic about the Open Web Platform and its potential to liberate: to liberate applications from the shackles of operating systems (e.g., you must own [Operating System X] to run this application), to liberate developers from the tyranny of learning multiple SDKs (e.g., you must learn n entirely different technology stacks to get your app onto n different platforms), and to free users to customize their applications easily and to share those customizations freely (e.g., the Greasemonkey / “user script” vision). As the web platform gains in capabilities, it frees us from traditional unnecessary barriers that sap our productivity and block our progress. I’d like to expound on each of these “liberations”, but it’s a bit orthogonal to today’s theme, so I’ll move on for now and circle back another day.

(Don’t get me wrong: I fully support empowering application developers to chose the platform that allows them to best express their vision and meet the needs of their customers, and I want people to be able to profit from selling software. But I’m working as hard as I can with thousands of other people to make the Open Web Platform be the platform of choice for as many developers as I can. Because when that choice makes sense, we all win. Big time.)

Fragmentation

One of the reasons folks call the web platform “open” is that it’s beyond that control of any one person, entity, vendor, government, etc. As a consequence, knowledge about the platform is fragmented. There’s not one resource you can leverage quite like the developer networks of other platforms. There have been some attempts by the market to meet the obvious demand created by this void, but it’s pretty difficult to make money selling developer tools or developer-related services. A few companies succeed at this, mostly at a small scale, but much larger numbers of companies fail.

We’d like to do something about this.

Open Web Developer Center?

We think the web could really use something like an “Open Web Developer Center”, a site where you can go to find integrated documentation for the various browsers and specifications that compromise the platform and learn more about its capabilities, where you can find the tools that can increase your productivity and augment your capabilities, and where you can socialize with other developers.

Perhaps most important of all, we want a place where that helps more people get engaged in influencing the future of the platform in direct, tangible, and meaningful ways–to help realize the vision of the Open Web Platform as the People’s Platform, of the people and for the people.

The Tools Directory

So the tools directory is a first step towards realizing this vision. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we think the next immediate steps are:

  • Provide great ways to navigate and filter the data. Seeing a centralized mass of tools is useful, but it’s much better to sift through the noise to find just what you want. Crowd-sourced tagging (i.e., folksonomies) are one step in this direction; we’d also like to add features that show you the tools that your friends use, the most popular and highest rated tools, and tools that industry luminaries use. What are useful filters / discovery techniques should we employ?
  • Crowd-source the data. What’s the right mix of data stewardship? Submit revisions and have them reviewed by “trusted editors”? Allow each tool to have an “owner” that modifies the data? Wikipedia-style free-for-all?
  • Efficient and accessible interface. The current UI is certainly… graphical but has a bunch of usability and accessibility problems. We think the right move here is to focus on a more traditional data-centric UI for the main view, but provide one or more graphical “explorers” for a different perspectives onto the data set and a bit of fun and whimsy. We’re making the data open to anyone to consume (we have a JSON-producing MySQL-backed web service we’ll make available soon, once we nail down the API a bit more) so we’d love to see folks create their own explorer interfaces on top of the data in addition to the one we’ll provide.

What Do You Think?

Are these the right immediate next steps for the tools directory? What do you think of the overall vision of the Open Web Developer Center?

I really wish all of us interested in this sort of thing could get together and brainstorm about all this. In fact, we should do just that. Look for another post on this topic shortly.

In the meantime, please do send in feedback, either via our mailing list or comments right here. Thanks!

Comments

31 Comments

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  1. July 23, 2009

    I really like the idea of an Open Web Development Center. I wonder if this could be promoted by a series of ‘Powered by the Open Web’ buttons that apps could use?

  2. July 23, 2009

    MDC should be the Open Web Developer Centre, at least for the web dev parts. There’s absolutely no reason IMO why the entry on XMLHttpRequest, after explaining the standards-compliant spec, shouldn’t tell you how it differs in IE and how to write cross-platform code that works with both.

    Gerv

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