Why Open Internet Standards Are So Important To Your Future with Bron Gondwana

Digital Citizen

Episode Notes

Have you ever wondered how the Internet works, how it’s governed, or why some devices and services work together and others don’t? In the final episode of this season, Fastmail CEO, Bron Gondwana answers these questions and more, so you can learn how standards make the Internet better for everyone.

Get a crash course about open standards, how they work, and why we need to support organizations that use them. Bron and show host Fastmail’s CTO, Ricardo Signes, talk about JMAP, an open standard for email that Fastmail’s developers produced, which is moving email forward.


Additionally, before and after the show hear Rik and Fastmail’s COO, Helen, talk about how the internet came to be what it is today and what the future of the Internet may look like.

▶️ Guest Interview - Bron Gondwana

🗣️ Discussion Points

  • Bron is the CEO of Fastmail and has been working with email for over 20 years.
  • There are all kinds of standards in the world, including the very language we use to communicate meaning to each other. Most standards in the real world function as a rule of law, but standards on the internet are more agreement and consensus-based.
  • Standards work a lot like language, they evolve and are built onto over time. Most of the standards work that Bron does is in an organization called the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which has been around for the past 50 years. Many of the devices you have in your home have IETF standards built into them.
  • Email has been an open standard since the 1970s. Chat is an example of the opposite, with no open chat standards becoming dominant.
  • Your open standard has to be as good as, or better than, the closed solutions in order to compete. Many standards have failed to gain traction because people have to discard what’s already working for them. Your standard has to be an evolution that adds value to people’s lives.
  • If you’re not a market-dominant organization, embracing and innovating through open standards produces global change while still letting users interoperate with each other.
  • For non-programmers, it’s important to choose software and devices that use and support open standards. Using open standards is future-proofing yourself and your work and puts you outside of the whims of a company as they change over time.


  • Being a good digital citizen is similar to being a good citizen in general—leave things better than you found them.
  • JMAP is exciting because it is built on top of other modern standards like JSON and HTTP. Because most programmers are already familiar with them, it makes the barrier to entry easier to traverse. Technology and open standards have enabled a boom in opportunity for people to build products and companies they believe in.
  • Open standards allow global communications to work. One thing everyone should be doing is thinking about whether they are locking themselves into services that restrict their choices and control the access to their data to a single, private platform.
  • When deciding what services to use, choose services that use open standards.
  • If you’re building software, use open standards and help other people make choices that are good for future digital citizens.

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Episode Transcript

RICARDO SIGNES: Welcome to the Digital Citizen Podcast. I’m Ricardo Signes, the CTO of Fastmail, the email provider of choice for savvy digital citizens everywhere.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: And I’m Helen Horstmann-Allen, COO of Fastmail. We make email that you can feel good about, driven by our values, and one of those values is being a good digital citizen.

RICARDO SIGNES: That’s what the show’s about, the idea of digital citizenship. If you want to learn actionable ways you can make the internet a better place, this podcast is for you.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: So, who are you talking to this week, Rik?

RICARDO SIGNES: I talked to Bron Gondwana, he’s the CEO here at FastMail, and he’s also our friend and coworker. He’s a leader in email, open internet standards, and open source development. If you use email at all, you’ve probably benefited from something that Bron has done in the standards community.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: What did you two talk about?

RICARDO SIGNES: Open standards created the internet and let it grow into what we have today. So, standards themselves might be weird, but the fact that they exist is a huge deal. And it’s pretty interesting because it describes how the internet came to be, what it is, and what the future of the internet will be.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: So, does that mean you know…what is the future of the internet?

RICARDO SIGNES: Oh, I mean, it’s hard to say. That’s why they call it the future. But I hope that for email, it’s JMAP, which is a new standard, an open standard for email that Fastmail’s developers produced, and it’s faster and more secure and better for mobile use than the previous standards. But the internet’s a lot more than email. I hope the future of the internet is open. That’s going to be decided though, by the choices that everybody else is making all the time about what apps they use and how they interact with the rest of the people and the companies on the internet.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: I mean, open standards brought us to where we are today and have enabled so many companies to thrive on the internet. Why doesn’t everybody just use them then?

RICARDO SIGNES: They can be kind of a pain to develop. An open standard has to be used by a lot of people who agree to use it, which means you need to get agreement from a lot of people, and that’s a lot of work. It can feel faster to go it alone, at least in the short term. But on the other hand, if you use open standards, you do get this interoperability and all these other people who agree with you and want to use it together. It’s a tough trade-off for people who build stuff, and Bron will talk about that.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Great, well, I can’t wait to hear your conversation.

RICARDO SIGNES: I’m here with Bron Gondwana. I know who you are, but how about you give everybody else an introduction to you?

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah, sure. I’m Bron Gondwana. I’m CEO at Fastmail, which is a privacy-first email provider. We’re focused on offering the best email products to people everywhere. I’ve been at Fastmail for over 16 years, and I’ve been working with email for over 20 years now. I’m the chair of the email and calendar working groups at the IETF, which is the Internet Engineering Task Force, and I’m sure we’ll talk more about that today. I’ve also been deeply involved in the Cyrus IMAP email server, which is an open source email system that powers Fastmail amongst other things. I’m also a husband and a father to two teenage children and a cat. And in my copious remaining free time, I teach group fitness classes, and I sing in a choir.

BRON GONDWANA: Of course, I know you pretty well as well, Rik. We’re both executives at Fastmail and we talk every week, so this is just normal. Rik and I met in Portland on the last day of my very first ever OSCON, which is a massive tech conference in the USA, and it was my first time standing up in front of a really large room of people. I’d done talks to maybe 50 people or so, but OSCON’s one of the biggest open source conferences in the world, and there were more than a thousand people in that room. So, at OSCON to socialize the idea of JMAP and look for other companies who might be interested in collaborating with us, I spent the whole day in the conference, gave my lightning talk, did a five-kilometer run, and then a couple of days later met with you over beers.

RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah, and it’s hard to believe it’s seven years ago now. So, those seven years ago, when we were at the open source convention, you were talking about JMAP and we’ll come back to talk about JMAP, but it’s a standard for email and for other kinds of data. When we say it’s a standard, what does that mean? What does it mean when we’re talking about a standard?

BRON GONDWANA: There are all kinds of standards in the world. You could even say language itself is a standard. The words we’re using right now to communicate with each other have an agreed-upon meaning that allows us to communicate and get meaning to each other. Without that, we wouldn’t be able to communicate at all. So preparing this podcast, I’ve done quite a lot of thinking about standards, obviously. I wanted to start with power connectors because they illustrate two great things about standards, number one, how powerful standards are. You can take an electrical appliance, plug it into pretty much any other socket in the country, and it will just work. You can even take an appliance that’s 50 years old, assuming the wires haven’t decayed to the point they’re dangerous, and it’ll still work just fine. You can plug it into sockets in a brand new house that was built much more recently than the appliance, and it’ll work exactly the same.

BRON GONDWANA: But yet, as they say about standards, there are so many to choose from. There are tens of different power connectors around the world and power’s a legislated standard, standards operate under the force of law. There’s a bunch of things in that space, electricity, construction, automobiles, food, medical research, and that’s not really my space or the open standards that I want to talk about today, but that’s one whole area of standards. We work much more in the internet standards area where it’s much more open and flexible. There’s no protocol police that say how the internet must work, it’s more just an agreement that’s built up. So, here at the application layer, things like IMAP, which is the Internet Message Access Protocol, and that’s the protocol that we’ve spent most of our time with in the past until JMAP came along.

BRON GONDWANA: In many ways, the standards world mirrors the early days of the software world. Commercial operating systems and software cost many thousands of dollars and came with restrictive licenses, so hobbyists built their own around it.

RICARDO SIGNES: Right, so a hobbyist could go and build the software they want. And since they’re not trying to corner the software market, they’re writing the software for fun or to solve a problem for people, not to necessarily turn it into a huge profit, they can just give it away. They can say, “Here’s the source code to my software, do whatever you want,” And you can take that and you can make changes to it to solve exactly the problem you want. This is the same thing that’s going on with standards now, also.

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah, like as with open source, open standards are freely available for anyone to read and implement, and so they’re freely publishable, freely redistributable. Obviously, unlike open source software, you can’t really freely modify an open standard, because otherwise, it won’t interoperate anymore. You’ve got your own language, but often that difference between being open and being closed will help with adoption because everyone can build upon it. People are more likely to use an open standard if one is available and is good.

RICARDO SIGNES: Because open standards anybody can get and they can build on them, and they’re not going to change them, but they can build on them. Where have they come from? Who writes the open standards?

BRON GONDWANA: Tons of places. Like I said, the great thing about standards is there is so many to choose from, and there’s so many places to get standards from as well. Again, to compare with things like the electrical standards, the more official and written into law standards, there’s also organizations which validate that devices conform to those standards. Standards are a lot more than what’s just written in the specification, they’re what’s deployed out in the real world.

BRON GONDWANA: Probably the most obvious example of that is the User-Agent string, which your web browser sends with every single web request. So every single user agent from every full browser in the world, contains the word Mozilla. Because many, many years ago, the Mozilla web browser sent Mozilla as part of their user agent, and web developers started checking for that “Mozilla” because there were powerful features that only the Mozilla web browser had. As other web browsers copied those features, they wanted to be able to show the better web pages as well, so they put Mozilla in their User-Agent string. These days, the User-Agent strings a massive monstrosity that has all sorts of numbers and words in it that can’t be trimmed down in any way, because there’ll be websites out there checking for it, and they’ll fail to work if you remove this stuff.

BRON GONDWANA: So this kind of built up over time naturally in the same way that languages build on words and build on slang. So, you start with a word becoming common usage, and eventually, it winds up in the dictionary because the language has evolved. Standards work in the same way, it’s always a problem. If a big enough website or at the other end, a big enough browser does something that’s different from the standard, but works, your choices are to detect that behavior and work around it or you provide your users with a substandard experience until it’s fixed at the other end. If you can persuade them that they’ve got it wrong and to fix it in a timely manner, at all. So, you’re basically stuck with bad choices either way and you want your users to be happy, so you will change to match it.

BRON GONDWANA: One fix for sure is better test cases, but no one really purely develops against the standard, they always test with the most popular endpoints as well. And often they reverse engineer, as well as even the best-written standards document, people will still be testing the real-world implementations, and given the choice, they’ll go with that. No one really writes to the pure Queen’s English of the standard, they write to the dialects that they see out in the real world. So, most of the standards work I do is at an organization called the IETF, Internet Engineering Task Force, which has been around for 50 years. And they grew organically by trying to document the protocols on the newborn internet that was operating at the time.

BRON GONDWANA: IETF publishes documents that are whimsically called: Request for Comments. There’s quite a lot of them, over 9,000 so far, varying quality, varying success. Some are wildly successful, and they’re baked into basically every internet-connected device out there, so you’ll have many devices in your home that have IETF standards baked into their behavior. Some of them completely missed their mark and are totally unused, or they’ve been replaced by something better, either within the IETF or elsewhere.

RICARDO SIGNES: So, 9,000 is a lot and that makes me assume that anything that I want to do on the internet, I can do with some kind of open standard. Like if I’m not going to use Facebook Messenger, I want to use some open standard for that, there’s some standard I can use. Am I always going to find a standard for what I want?

BRON GONDWANA: There’s tons of other open chat standards. Funnily enough, nobody much uses them, and everyone’s stuck in the individual walled gardens of one chat system. There’s tons of articles that have been written about why this happens. When you control both ends, like Facebook does with their client and server or Google with their client and server, it becomes very tempting to add new features that your users love. And those new features will, at best, work less well on the legacy interoperable protocol that doesn’t include those capabilities. Open standards are great for small organizations because if everyone’s following them, then you’re on a level playing field with the big guys, and your product can compete fairly.

BRON GONDWANA: But of course, if you’re the biggest, then having the best experience only available in your own products is very nice, and it’s a little anti-competitive moat to keep everyone else out. Even better if it’s not actually deliberate or you can plausibly deny that it’s not deliberate, you’re just adding nice features. Microsoft used to call this embrace, extend, extinguish. But “hey, it’s just a cool new feature that users’ll love,” and nobody wants to wait years for all the standard bodies to get around to building by committee some compromised protocol that does half of what your users want. You own both ends, just ship it now. And we wind up with, there’s not much choice in open chat. There’s walled gardens, there’s SMS and of course, there’s email.

BRON GONDWANA: And there’s some interest in building a chat system that bootstraps from email and is backwards compatible, which solves the barrier to entry problem. If you can send an email and then upgrade that into a real-time chat session, then you can communicate with anyone in the world, and they still have the spam checking on that initial communication, so maybe one day. But yeah, back to Facebook Messenger. In the last year, it’s been integrated with Instagram Messages, so that’s not an open protocol, and they’re owned by the same company. It would really, I think, take regulatory pressure to force interoperability there. Google’s a bit more of a mixed bag. They’ve been quite good with open standards in some areas and quite poor in others. For chat, I mean, they’ve had what, eight different chat products? And none of which can even talk to each other, let alone the rest of the world. So it’s always a bit mixed there, there’s competing pressures.

RICARDO SIGNES: Okay, you said a lot of interesting things, I’m going to call out one or two. Experts get together, and they write open standards, and this is kind of like open source software because it gets given away and everybody can build on it and benefit from it. Unlike open source software, it can’t be freely modified and this makes sense, right? If you took a standard and you change it, it’s not a standard anymore, it’s not going to interoperate. So, once you have a standard that you like, what do you do to improve on it? You haven’t locked everybody in the whole world in, there’s federations or different groups of people using it. How do you go about making a better version?

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah. So, there’s really two pathways. Either you start from the existing documents, and you add features in the standards body first, and then everyone implements them as necessary. And the other way is just to ship software with non-standard protocols and then standardize them afterwards. Anyone can publish a standard, you just need to write it up as a document, and there’s some great examples of things like that happening. Markdown, which is a very popular text format, was really just written first and then put out in the world and it is slowly becoming standardized. There’s still multiple incompatible versions of it, but the world is moving towards a standard Markdown format. And even JSON, one of the most popular formats on the internet, was widely used long before it became a standard. So, it was the notation format that JavaScript used and it became something that was useful to people, and so it is now standardized, but well before it was standardized, it was in wide use.


BRON GONDWANA: But yeah, unless your idea’s already widely adopted, it’s much more likely to gain traction if you do the work through a trusted body, like the IETF. So, people who find it get not only this is a standard, but one of the values from the IETF is that you’ve had just many eyes of experienced people on your work and it’s a known copy that’s not going to go away. An IETF RFC becomes a document that exists in one place and doesn’t get edited afterwards, so you know that you can rely on it being there and you can rely on others being able to find it.

RICARDO SIGNES: Right, and you can say you rely on this one published known immutable standard that’s held up. You said also earlier that one of the reasons a company might skip out on open standards and go their own way is about time to market, right? Getting their feature done and out the door, you don’t want to have this, I think you said something like a committee who’s slowly plodding towards a half solution, they just want to ship the thing.


RICARDO SIGNES: But if you want to do open standards, because you believe there’s benefit to everyone having a standard and you want rapid progress, how do you square that circle?

BRON GONDWANA: Largely by doing it in parallel. The IETF very much prefers running code and more than one implementation of it, so find others who are in the same space as you and work with them to test and build out the standard. And also publish drafts of your specification early and often, and start discussion on it within the IETF, and more globally within the world as well. Sometimes, with the IETF, there will already be an existing working group where that work will naturally sit, so you can bring it to that working group straight away.

BRON GONDWANA: Sometimes, you have to ask the IETF to create a new working group for your area, if it’s not something that’s already happening. They won’t always say yes, of course, but if there’s expertise and interest amongst other people at the IETF, then it’s likely you’ll find others who will work with you on it, and then that work will be accepted. As we discovered at Fastmail, prepare to have your work changed and improved along the way.


BRON GONDWANA: When we brought JMAP to the IETF, it was much less regular and worse in some ways than it is now. So, it’s been an interesting experience, but also a really good experience.

RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah, so you and I are really lucky that we work in email because it’s been an open standard since the 70’s. Its openness is deeply established. Everybody uses open standard email because it’s the only email there was from the beginning, not only of the commercially available internet but of the internet. And earlier we talked about chat and how no open chat standard has really established a foothold or at least is not currently winning. This has got to be the case with a lot of other problem areas, where there’s closed source solutions for internet applications or websites that people enjoy, where there could be, but isn’t an open standard, an open solution for people to use. Is there a roadmap? Is there a common practice for how to break into a space where somebody has a closed source solution or monopoly? It seems like it could be impossible to get into that.

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah, there’s definitely not one roadmap that works for everyone in every situation, but the main thing I’d say is, make sure your user experience is as good or better as the closed solution. When I’m saying user experience, that’s everyone. The standard has to be easy for developers who are building new software to use, and it has to enable great experiences for the end-users as well, so find a compelling advantage to your protocol.

BRON GONDWANA: Frequently, that’s just compatibility between different systems. A lot of examples of standards that have either been very slow to take off or have failed to gain traction at all, because you have to throw away everything you’re currently doing to use them. So, providing that on-ramp and making it very easy for people to start using your standard, as well as what they’re currently doing. Then, your standard has to offer them enough benefits that they will naturally choose to use it. Your standard has to be an evolution, and it has to add value to people’s lives.

RICARDO SIGNES: Do you think that we see people who have a closed space produce a standard and say, “Now we’re going to make this interoperable.” Is that something that happens or is that a fairy tale?

BRON GONDWANA: I mean, to go back to the, if you’re big enough that you don’t need to interoperate with anyone else, then you’d prefer not to have standards because the competitive advantage is that nobody else can interoperate with you, and so people have to use you because you’re where all the users are. If you’re not that big, then standards are a great benefit to you as an organization, because then others can interoperate with you and your users can interoperate with other systems, so that’s always the tension. So, as there’s significant competition in a space, then you’re going to want to have open standards, and you’re going to want people to use the protocols that you know well because your systems already work with them. You don’t have to redesign things and build new systems to talk to those protocols.

RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah. Okay, so for programmers, like you and me, and I still consider myself a programmer, although I don’t do a lot of it every day, it’s clear that we have questions for us to think about. If we’re writing software, we need to think, am I going to use an open standard for this or am I going to make something up? But most people are not computer programmers, most people aren’t writing software and aren’t thinking about whether they’re building something directly that is immediately consuming an open standard. So, what should they be thinking about? Having listened this far in the podcast and understood what open standards are and how they might affect the interoperation of things on the internet, what should the average person, or at least the non-programmer be thinking about in their decision making?

BRON GONDWANA: Well, I would say try and choose software and devices that say that they support open standards and buy from companies that do support open standards. Obviously, you and I would say that since Fastmail does a lot of contribution to open source and open standards. Since 2014, we’ve been working very hard to produce JMAP, which is an improvement on IMAP. JMAP’s the JSON Meta Application protocol, has an RFC number and it’s exactly the kind of extend or replace that we needed for IMAP. Does the things that users want from modern email protocol, like the ability to send and receive with the same credentials, efficient immediate updates with push technology, calendar and contact support, and a regular format that’s easy to pass as standard tools.

RICARDO SIGNES: It’s very good.

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah, it’s easy to underestimate that value of being able to work with, reliably. So for non-programmers, I’d say if you’re using open protocols, then you’re future-proofing yourself, in the same way that you can plug a 50-year-old gramophone into your power outlet. If your system uses open protocols, then your data will still have a chance of interoperating, even if the whims of one company change or they fail. Companies can go away. There are interesting things, yeah, legally happening right now, with Right to Repair. So, the Right to Repair legislation’s happening around the world, but you can’t repair something if you can’t even get documentation on how it’s supposed to work. So, if you use open standards, then the documentation’s right there.

RICARDO SIGNES: When your data is stuck on a system and you can’t move it, that’s saying a lot when I say, “I don’t want my data stuck.”

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah. I mean, email standards are great in that emails from 30 years ago still load and work correctly, mostly unless they’re full of old HTML, obviously some stuff… It’s interesting, my father-in-law works with printed documents from a long time ago, a 100-plus-years-ago, and so he has been transcribing a lot of these into Microsoft Word, and he has things that -


BRON GONDWANA: He’s using fonts from 20 years ago and the new versions of the fonts use different code pages so that his old documents don’t load correctly with a modern document format anymore because there’s no fixed format there. So, that’s been a whole interesting thing there, trying to load really old documents. And again, it’s not a standard format, it’s the format that one vendor created and so he’s stuck and there’s no clean upgrade path for these documents. It’s go back and re-edit them.

RICARDO SIGNES: I can’t, it just makes my heart sink. Looking at old technology, maybe not 100-year-old printed documents, but email is a great old technology to look at. We mentioned it’s been around since the '70s and the birth of email really…

BRON GONDWANA: It’s amazing what we consider old in our world.

RICARDO SIGNES: That’s true. But it’s been an open standard since then, it’s way in the past, and since then there’s been many other standards for many things to define the internet. One of the things that I like talking about on this podcast is how online culture works. You can’t know how to change the internet, how to make a better internet unless you know how it works. That doesn’t have to mean the protocols, it can just mean the social realities of the internet. But I think in this conversation, the question is, how has the idea of these open standards contributed to the social fabric of the internet to how the internet works? What’s your take on it?

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah, I mean, it’s been a bit of a symbiosis. The Wild West nature of the early internet led to a lot of experimenting, and standards came out from those experiments. A key rubric at the IETF is that the value of a proposed standard is rough consensus and running code. Rough consensus doesn’t mean everyone agrees, but it means everyone’s concerns have been considered and understood. For most users, the big thing about open standards is it gives them the ability to use a single web browser for every website in the world. Could you imagine a world where you needed to have a different program to access every single website, download something and install it on your computer just to look at one site?

BRON GONDWANA: Kind of, we’ve started moving that direction again with apps where every app was its own separate program that you download and install on your device. And so there’s always that tension between, do you have that fully controlled experience or do you use something more open? And for users, definitely, the ability to access most things just through a standard web browser has made an amazing difference to what’s available and what can be done on the internet, and what’s discoverable.

RICARDO SIGNES: Do you think that the movement towards apps is tied to a movement away from open standards? Are those two things inextricably linked?

BRON GONDWANA: I think there’s definitely a tension between them, that you can do more in a native app than you can with a website, but then web standards develop to provide the features that most common apps want. It used to be that you couldn’t do audio or video in a web browser, and now here we are recording this podcast, using technology that’s running entirely in just a standard web browser. This has been added to web browsers because there was demand for it, and it’s been standardized. We’re talking over a standard protocol here.

BRON GONDWANA: So, it moves forward in stages. Things will happen in closed ways because it happens faster, and then as experience builds with it, it will be standardized. So, I think we do move in the direction of better things over time. And open standards will tend to win because of the interoperability and the longevity of them, and just the availability. If you’ve got a choice between a closed standard and an open standard, the open standard’s right there, anyone can tinker with it and start building. A closed standard won’t get that same degree of adoption, just because it’s harder to use and harder to get.

RICARDO SIGNES: Let me ask you one last question, one last question. I know that you already think about the question of digital citizenship. Being a good internet citizen is one of Fastmail’s core values, it’s stuck right there on the website, and we actually do talk about it. What do you think that everybody, not just us at Fastmail, not just programmers, should be thinking about in general to be better digital citizens?

BRON GONDWANA: Yeah, I think being a good digital citizen is quite similar to being a good citizen in other contexts. Leave things better than you found them, be informed about how the world works and how your world runs, how you can contribute. You can support open standards and tell all your friends as well. You can even lobby your politicians to favor open standards, favor the Right to Repair, choose to publish more open data and open standards about how your community works, so that people can build upon them.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Wow, I really enjoyed listening to that interview. I’ve heard you two talk about this before, but that was really in-depth. But Rik, why do you think open standards are important? And how’s JMAP going to change email?

RICARDO SIGNES: Well, I don’t know how JMAP’s going to change email, but I’ll tell you what I think is the most exciting part of it for me. JMAP is really interesting because it provides an opportunity for new email clients and new email servers to be written that don’t have this baggage of standards from the '70s and the '80s and the '90s. But actually, that’s not the thing that excites me most. What excites me the most is that because JMAP is built on top of other modern standards that most programmers know about these days like JSON and HTTP. It means that you can write software the way you’re used to writing all kinds of things, to talk to much less interesting data in your life, to talk to JMAP.

RICARDO SIGNES: It says anybody who wants to write simple, easy programs can write those for the most important data in their life, or at least some of the most important data in their life. It makes the barrier to entry for controlling your own data really, really low. It makes it easy to do. And that to me is really exciting, the idea that I or any other programmer can build tools to help make their life better. The fact that it’s an open standard means I can take those tools anywhere I want. As for what happens in the larger world, I don’t know, but I hope that it’s great. What about you? What do you think is the big impact we’re going to see from JMAP and other open standards work?

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Well, I’ve been running businesses online, built on open standards since 1995, right? In the last 25 years, I’ve seen such an amazing boom in opportunity for so many people to build companies they believe in, build products they believe in, and I know just how many of them were built on top of open standards. I think it’s exciting that we get to participate in building the future of those open standards for email, in the field that we’re in. But it’s also exciting that people are excited about it, right? Open standards can feel like these basic building blocks of the internet, but nobody really needs to think about like, “Do we need to invent a new Lego?” But that’s not true, right? Lego’s constantly adding new blocks to the set and for us to be building a new building block for the future of the internet is really exciting and important work.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Everybody likes to joke about the end of email, but I’ve been hearing about the end of email since 1999. There’s a reason that so many people are still using email, and it is because it’s an open standard, it’s available to everyone. So, I think that that’s an exciting opportunity for the future of the business we’re in too. So, what do you think the key takeaways of the conversation were Rik, for everyone?

RICARDO SIGNES: Right, I’ll go with this. Open standards are a guideline to keep technology open, so they can interoperate and so people can implement things that work together with other things other people implemented. That means developers can access technology that other people have built and they can build on top of it, and that brings more exciting stuff to internet users. Open standards are how global communications work. When you have open standards you can talk to other people on the internet, like using email or using video chat, right? We’re having this call over open standards on the internet.

RICARDO SIGNES: Being a good digital citizen is similar to being a good citizen in the real world. For when you have a responsibility to yourself, to protect your rights by maintaining your ability to make choices, like to change the services you use in the future without losing all your data. One thing everybody should be doing is thinking about whether they’re locking themselves into services, meaning that they can’t take their data with them, the software isn’t going to work with other things. And now they’ve restricted their choice because they’ve bought into something that is a walled garden. But being a digital citizen is also a question of responsibilities you have to other people. If you have built your own success on the open internet, do you have a responsibility to the people who come after you to provide them with the same benefit? I think you do. I think that you should leave the same opportunities for them to succeed that you had. And the way to do that is by continuing to support the standards and the standards processes that helped you get to where you are.

RICARDO SIGNES: A couple more things you can do, when you’re deciding what web apps, what services you’re going to use, see if you can tell if it’s using open standards. It’s not always straightforward, but companies who are really invested in open standards, tend to crow about it. And it tells you that you’re setting yourself up for future choice and future success, no matter what happens with the product that you’re picking now. If you’re building software, remember that standards exist and building with them gives you a bunch of benefits, not just for you, but for your users and for other people as well. Talk to other people, talk to people who are making choices about technology in their lives, to help them make better ones.

RICARDO SIGNES: It’s not always going to be the case that there is something built on open standards. Some systems have open standards that nobody uses, which means you’re not actually benefiting from using it. But often there is a choice and we just don’t think about it, we don’t know that choice exists and having input to your decision-making process, or giving other people input when it’s welcome in their decision-making process, will help people make choices that set them up for future success on the internet.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Wow. Well, I’ve always been excited about the work we do on open standards here at Fastmail, so I hope that this conversation was really enlightening for lots of other people. And I hope that you can take these actionable steps towards your own better digital citizenship.

RICARDO SIGNES: I hope people can take this advice and get something out of it. And as for any more advice that we’re going to have in the future, this is the last episode of our regular season, but we have another bonus episode coming pretty soon. Please rate and review us on your favorite podcasting platform, we’d love to hear what you think about the show. We’ll share some of your reviews in our bonus episode of the podcast next month, so keep a lookout for that.

HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: In the meantime, if you have feedback for us, go to digitalcitizenshow.com/survey to tell us what you think.

RICARDO SIGNES: Thanks for listening to Digital Citizen. Digital Citizen is produced by Fastmail, the email provider of choice for savvy digital citizens everywhere. Our producer is Paul Colligan. Our assistant producers are Haley Hnatuk and Lenore Hart. Special thanks to the incredible team of people behind Fastmail. Digital Citizen is hosted by me, Fastmail CTO, Ricardo Signes. You can subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast player. For a free one-month trial for Fastmail, you can go to fastmail.com/podcast, and for more episodes, transcripts, and my takeaways, you can go to digitalcitizenshow.com.