Mozilla recently published its first-ever full length Internet Health Report - embracing original thinking, the team explored the state of human life on the internet. 

The internet is an expansive, complicated, colourful place: there are over one billion websites and more than three billion users – by 2020, there will be 30 billion connected devices on Earth.

Mozilla’s aim to publish an annual Internet Health Report – an open-source effort to explore the state of human life on the internet – may have seemed like an impossible task. How could a single organisation make sense of privacy laws, cyberattacks and civic technology? How could we be an authority on block chain and ransomware and emoji politics and web fonts? Our solution? Let’s treat the Internet Health Report like we treat the code behind Mozilla products: open source. 

Virgin Unite, Mozilla

From the very beginning, we sought to make the report open and collaborative. By joining forces with lots of people, we could make something bigger than the sum of the parts.

Within the report we explore everything from net neutrality to internet shutdowns to web fonts. The report carries the fingerprints of Mozilla staff and Fellows, but also hundreds of friends, volunteers, allies and readers – over 200 in all.  Here’s how we did it…

Ask for feedback early and often

When Mozilla launched its prototype Internet Health Report in January 2016, we immediately asked readers: “What do you think?” And, “What would you change?”

Readers could add comments and annotations directly on the website, send reactions via a feedback form, or get in touch over email. We also conducted video interviews. In all, Mozilla received over 400 comments and emails. The feedback was diverse. Some readers asked for advice on how they could take action to improve the internet. Others wanted to know more about how data travels between countries. And still others had very specific guidance: “I don’t love the blue and yellow colour scheme.” 

Virgin Unite, Mozilla

Work open

With plenty of advice in hand, our Internet Health Report team – Editor Solana Larsen and Project Coordinator Kasia Odrozek – could have shut the door and spent the next several months tweaking, researching and writing undisturbed. Instead, they did just the opposite.

As we integrated reader feedback, we shared updates every step of the way. We used feedback to determine which issues we’d focus on in 2018 – and then we announced those issues to the world. “Based on your feedback during the discussion process, we have narrowed down the suggestions to a list of almost 30 topics that offer a rounded overview,” Solana wrote. 

Perhaps the most integral part of working open was our roadshow: a trek around the globe where Mozilla’s team demoed rough drafts and invited candid feedback. If the Internet Health Report had a passport, it’d be checkered with stamps. We travelled to re:publica in Berlin, the Internet Freedom Festival in Spain, the Global Voices Summit in Sri Lanka and held digital roundtables.  

Virgin Unite, Mozilla

Collaborative research

We relied on a broad community not only to shape the report, but also to write it. Yes, Mozilla has a global and talented staff – but we can’t be everywhere and know everything and besides, everyone experiences the internet differently.

In writing the report, we spoke with cryptographers in Egypt, engineers in China, researchers in Berlin and activists in Bahrain. We tapped into Mozilla’s network of Fellows, too – experts around the world working on privacy, security, digital inclusion and other pressing internet issues. Fellow contributors include Amba Kak, a technology policy expert in India, and Chris Hartgerink, an open-source scientist in the Netherlands.

Looking back, our approach may seem a bit quixotic – we conducted years’ worth of research and invited the internet along for the ride. But reading through the report, it’s clear that was the right way to do it. We captured different perspectives and, in seeking consensus, developed nuanced viewpoints. As a result, our latest report is a lot like the internet itself: expansive, complicated, colourful.

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