Bruce Lawson's personal site

Three years of Open Web Advocacy work

Three years today, I got a weird message from a stranger, introduced to me by a twitter mututal friend:

biggest issue I think we face on the web today as developers is iOS safari with its stagnation, bugs and apples support of PWAs. I know you’ve posted related stuff but do you have any opinions on where stuff should go from here? this. We’ve organized a group and have been preparing submissions for all the major regulators. Be great to get your help.

It turned out that the message was from an Australian developer named Alex Moore who, along with his brother James, ran a company that that was almost exclusively targetting iOS devices, so finding Safari frustrating as a platform. I figured it would be a fun short project to get involved with while covid lockdowns were popping up left right and centre, so invited my chum Stuart Langridge along too, because he cares about the open web and is the best explainer-of-things person I know. And thus began my involvement with Open Web Advocacy.

Reader, it was not a short project, but it has been fun.

First, we spoke to the UK regulator, the Competition and Marketing Authority. What a ramshackle bunch we must have appeared to them – but my guess is that is what got our feet under the table. When you’ve had endless meetings with Big Tech lawyers and paid lobbyists, it must be pretty easy to work out that we were cut from a different cloth and that we were exactly as advertised: a group of independent web developers who just want(ed) the web to realise its full potential across devices. We simply wanted to be able to offer an app-like experience for the long tail of developers who couldn’t make iOS and Android single-platform apps, because of cost or complexity.

Our numbers swelled, with members all over Europe, Japan, USA, and Australia. Then we briefed the EU, and the Japanese regulator (at very odd times of the day).

The laws and regulations that various territories have enacted will take time to come into effect. Big Tech has seemingly an inexhaustible supply of money to spend on lawyers to gum up processes, make frivolous claims to be exempt from requirements to behave themselves. This is to be expected; for monopolists, any delay means more time to extract rent and increase profit.

But drafting and policing regulations was never OWA’s thing. We were there to advise the regulators on what is certainly a deeply technical and quite esoteric subject.

What I’m personally most proud of is that we got the regulators thinking about the web, browsers and browser engines as real competitors to the single-platform apps that the dominant duopoly would prefer you to write. Previous drafts of the EU Digital Markets Act didn’t mention browsers at all, for example.

Earlier this month, I joined Vivaldi, the independent Chromium browser that focuses on privacy, personalisation and power features (like a built-in mail client and RSS reader, a built-in ad blocker and tab management for the terminally online), so resigned from the board of OWA. As I said at the time, I don’t want any of Big Tech’s army of lawyers pointing at OWA and saying “look! Bruce works for Vivaldi, so OWA are a shill for, er, Big Little Tech!”. Needless to say, I am still whole-heartedly a supporter of their aims, and will amplify their voice.

A big snog and thankyou to all my OWA comrades. It’s been a privilege.

Buy "Calling For The Moon", my debut album of songs I wrote while living in Thailand, India, Turkey. (Only £2, on Bandcamp.)

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