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mercredi 11 mars 2015

Why I'm joining Cozy Cloud (hint: personal cloud matters)

Cozy Cloud

TL; DR : I am joining the leadership team of a very cool French startup called Cozy Cloud as Chief Product Officer. My book about online privacy and mass surveillance is almost finalized. The world needs Cloud solutions that enable users to have control over their data.

I’m joining Cozy Cloud as their Chief Product Officer.

It did not take me long to find a new very cool job. Cool, because it’s really aligned with my values. I suspect that most of my English readers haven’t heard about Cozy Cloud, so let me explain. In short, Cozy is a Free Libre Open Source piece of Software that runs on a personal server (such as a Rasbperry PI 2) and its goal is to offer a personal Cloud so that user can enjoy the benefits of the Cloud while retaining control of their data.

My role at Cozy Cloud will be to increase the number of users of the platform, engage with apps developers so that they build apps for the platform and also to find new contributors to the product.

Another cool side of this job is that the team is small, self-motivated and technically amazing. The energy they put into the project made me accept their offer. (They’re also very nice people).

My book (in French) on privacy and mass surveillance is almost done

What does it have to do with my new job? It’s simple: when writing the book, I thought about Information Systems that would Give Back Control to Users (in French, it becomes SIRCUS, which sounds a lot better than in English). Such systems must respect the 7 following principles:

  1. Open source software, so that we know what’s running and what’s happening to our data
  2. Server control, ideally with self-hosting
  3. Encryption, as the network cannot be trusted
  4. A sustainable business model (not based on targeted advertising, as it encourages services to profile users and gather as much personal data as possible)
  5. Great UX. (Worth repeating)
  6. Standards-based and inter-operable
  7. Unique value proposal for the user that differentiate the offer from centralized silos.

This one looks like a mystery until you study what Cozy is working on. The fact that users control the server enables completely new ways of using personal data. One can imagine mashing up phone bills details with an address book. Instead of having a long list of numbers called, we would get a list of names. This is just an example, but tons of other use cases can be imagined around electricity bills, bank statements, quantified self data and such…

The world needs cloud services that respect users

It became even more obvious when I was working on my book: centralizing personal data in huge silos in order to generate targeted advertising is not sustainable. As users, we’re trading our invaluable personal data against cheap service (Facebook costs roughly $5 a year per person). On top of that, centralizing data makes mass surveillance economically feasible. And we know how bad this can be.

This does not mean that we should all get rid of cloud services. They’re useful. We just should not have to trade all of our data to enjoy them.

Some perspective

In 2003, 13 years ago, I co-founded Mozilla Europe in order to launch Firefox because it was very clear that the Internet Explorer monopoly was killing the Web.

In 2015, it’s obvious that big proprietary cloud silos are a threat to our personal data and liberties. We need an alternative.

Is it reasonable, with a small startup to decide to challenge the Google, Facebook and other huge services? No it’s not. But it’s tempting and we could succeed. IT’s just like in 2003 when I told people around me that a non-profit with a handful of employees was going after the 95% market share of Internet Explorer by giving away open source software. It worked.

I’m walking in Oscar Wilde’s footstep in this respect:

Wisdom is to have dreams big enough not to lose sight when we pursue them.

mardi 3 février 2015

Au revoir Mozilla

TL; DR: I’m leaving Mozilla. I’m writing a book. I’m a coach. I still plan to change the world with Open Source and Free Software and the Web.

The paragraph above sums it up pretty well. In case you’re interested in a little more details, here they are:

I’m leaving Mozilla

I have decided that starting mid-February 2015, I won’t be an employee of Mozilla anymore, but I’ll keep being a Mozillian and I’ll continue working with Mozilla as an advisor.

I remember being summoned in the Netscape Europe General Manager’s office early January 1998 to discuss a surprising announcement about what would be called the “Mozilla project”, which would host the now opened source code of Netscape Communicator. I totally fell in love with this idea which I was familiar with since I had met Richard M. Stallman in the mid-80’s in Paris as I was an Emacs user. I started right away helping the Mozilla project with PR in Europe and giving talks locally. I vividly remember one of these talks at ENST engineering school in Paris. The crowd was super excited and I felt like a rock star :-)

And the rest is history… Here are a few memorable moments:

I started managing Netscape Client developer relations in Europe from 2001 to 2003 where I helped launching the OpenWeb community project. In July 2003, AOL/Netscape/Time Warner decided to give up on the Mozilla Project and employees working on it where reassigned or let go. Soon after, Peterv and I get in touch with Mozilla community members (hi Pascal & Pike!) and we decide together to create Mozilla Europe, a non-profit to develop the European side of Mozilla.

In February 2004 at FOSDEM, in Brussels, we announce that the legal structure has been created and we launch the www.mozilla-europe.org Website (now retired), first localized Mozilla Website!

In November 2004, Firefox 1.0 is launched and is an instant hit. On the US side, Mozilla Foundation starts to see some revenue coming in thanks to T-shirt sales then the Google deal. It now can afford to financially support Mozilla Europe. In April 2005, after 21 months of unemployement, I finally receive a paycheck! Considering the state of my bank account and my stress level, it’s pretty good news!

By end 2011, it’s becoming obvious that growing Mozilla in Europe cannot be done through an independent legal structure. We decided to fold down Mozilla Europe’s legal structure and have its activities transferred to Mozilla Foundation and its subsidiaries. It’s a new chapter for the European board of Directors, but many projects that were initiated by Mozilla Europe are spreading throughout the world. for example MozCamps, Mozilla Reps and localization of products and Websites all started in Europe and are now global.

I’m writing a book

There is an issue that’s annoying me for several years: online privacy and mass surveillance. I started conversations within Mozilla around this at a time when the word “privacy” was not in the Mozilla Manifesto. I wrote blog posts on this topic. I have read thousands of articles, several books, compiled hundreds of links on my blog. I have invited the TOR Project for a work week at Mozilla in Paris. I have started a set of conferences around Internet Decentralisation to avoid surveillance. I was very happy to see Mozilla announce the Polaris project with TOR and I hope this is just the beginning for Mozilla.

But this is not enough. I think this is a very important issue that threatens democracy. I think that one of my talents is to explain complicated technical stuff to non-geeks. I have therefore decided to write a book on this topic, a book for a broad audience.

The issue for me is that it’s not compatible with a full time job at Mozilla. I had to make a choice and I have decided to focus on writing my book and leave Mozilla as an employee.

Open Source, Free Software and the Web

When in comes to on-line privacy and mass surveillance, people can have 3 different responses:

  1. Becoming Luddites and rejecting technology. I don’t think it makes sense as we’re in the middle of the digital revolution.
  2. Apathy and resignation. I think most people with end up choosing this path, thinking that loosing their on-line freedom and privacy is “inevitable” and maybe “not that problematic”. But I do know it’s avoidable and that yes, it’s really problematic. This is actually the theme of my whole book!
  3. Creating solutions that serve the users and which are controlled by them.

Of course, I’m going for the 3rd option. I am certain that the Web and Free & Open Source software can play a central role in solving the problem of vanishing on-line privacy and increasing mass surveillance. I will keep contributing to projects in this field, including Mozilla, but this time as a volunteer.

The Decentralized / Indie Web, combined with Open Source and Free Software, along with cryptography and innovative business models (other than targeted advertising as we know it) can crack the nut.

I’m a coach

In 17 years with Mozilla, I have grown a lot and learned a lot. One of the best things I’ve learned is coaching and personal development.

In March 2012, I was invited to participate to a training called LEAD (Leadership Exploration and Development). It was a revelation to me. I was then offered to become a trainer for a similar personal development program called TRIBE . TRIBE is offered to all Mozillians, staff of not. This was a fantastic experience for me that enabled to grow. At the same time, I have been trained on the Co-Active Coaching (CTI) method and I am now a coach working with several clients. It’s an amazing experience! I plan to keep coaching a handful of people for the foreseeable future.


As I write these lines, I’m filled with gratitude for all that Mozilla has given me. It gave a meaning to my professional life. It gave me the opportunity to have an impact on hundreds of millions of people. It helped me learn new things that have changed my life for the better. It made me meet with amazingly smart, hard-working and generous people. I won’t name names, but you know who you are[1], with special thoughts for Mozilla volunteers. You’re my heroes, and I certainly plan to keep being one of yours.


[1] All right, I still need to: Mitchell Baker, Debbie Cohen, John Lilly, Peterv, Jb Piacentino, Pascal Chevrel and thousands of others.

lundi 3 février 2014

I'm a Mozillian

Today, in San Francisco, a Mozilla Monument is officially unveiled. I took pictures of it when I was in California a few weeks ago:

SF Mozilla Monument by day

My contribution to Mozilla started 16 years ago, in January 1998, a few weeks before the Mozilla project was launched, an event that has changed my life in many ways. A colleague of mine (I'm looking at you, Barry!) asked me a couple of questions on email, and I'd like to share the answers publicly:

"Why are you a member of the Mozilla Community?"

I was a Netscape employee in Paris back in January 1998, and my job title was "Product PR manager". Trained as an engineer, my role was to explain to the media what this Internet thing was about. Best. Job. Ever. Then Netscape announced that due to competitive pressure, it was making its Web browser (Netscape Communicator 4.x at the time) free. This was easy to understand for most. But there was something else to be announced: its source code was going to be released in the open, for people to contribute to it, the Open Source way. Most people stopped understanding that sentence right when reading "source code". No kidding. Nobody had an idea what it meant. And for those who knew, "Open Source" did not ring a bell. It happened that I had some background in Open Source or, more precisely, Free Software. I had met with Richard Stallman in the past and was a long-time user of Emacs ten years earlier.

For many people around me at Netscape, often salespeople or marketing people, this Open Source/Free Software thing was nonsense: it was too technical to be understood and the bottom line was that... it did not contribute to the bottom line.

For me, it was the possibility to invent a revolutionary new future, to build a piece of the Internet, to create a new way to work, to help make the world a better place. I immediately fell in love. This love is still growing strong today.

"Name a fellow Mozillian who inspires you"

So many Mozillians inspire me. In November 2011 at Mozcamp Berlin, I gave a talk that started like this: "You are my heroes". I meant it back then and I still mean it today. So instead of giving one name, let me list a handful of people, even if the three of them will probably hate me for naming them:

  • Peterv, my fellow co-founder of Mozilla Europe and long-time friend. His wisdom and calm are inspiring for me. Without him, I would never have started the Mozilla Europe adventure.
  • Mitchell Baker, for her commitment to Mozilla (did you know Mitchell was fired from Netscape and remained for a long time at the helm of Mozilla as a volunteer?) This is just an example to her commitment.
  • Debbie Cohen, for what she's doing with programs such as LEAD and TRIBE to Mozillians. This is transforming the organization and makes it a lot better. I don't think I've ever heard anything like this happening in other Open Source projects.

"How being a Mozillian has changed your life?"

My life would not be what is is today without Mozilla. I just can't imagine my life without Mozilla!

SF Mozilla Monument with Tristan Nitot's name

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