Tinkering together

February 13, 2013 § 3 Comments

‘Making is learning’ is a big theme for Mozilla this year. It’s at the heart of Mozilla Webmaker. More importantly, it’s the north star idea guiding the grassroots mentor community we’re building around the world. We want millions more people to get their hands dirty with the web. And we expect they’ll learn something as they do.

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I realized today that we need to add two concepts into this theme: tinkering and social. This thought came from a good discussion on the Webmaker mailing list that starts with the question ‘is making learning?’ Rafi Santo both asked and began to answer this question:

The short answer: yes, but it’s complicated. The longer answer is that the best maker-driven learning is never just about the making. It’s about all the things that happen around the making. That initial spark of curiosity, the investigation and early tinkering, the planning and research that follow, the inspirations and appropriations from other projects, the prototypes, the failures, the feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, the iterations upon iterations towards a better make.

He then went on to say:

I’m willing to say that someone is always learning something when they’re making, but they learn best when it entails the sort of process, community and well configured structures of participation.

In part, the discussion around Rafi’s post is a debate about tag lines. Should we rally people under a ‘making is learning’ banner? Or should we be more subtle like ‘making as learning’ or ‘make to learn’? We’ll probably do the later.

However, there are also two important substantive points worth pulling out from the conversation: a) it’s the process of making that drives learning and b) the best learning happens when the making is social. Both of these points are critical to the success of Webmaker.

The process point may be obvious. It’s not just what I made, it’s the journey of the making. But it’s worth calling it out explicitly. Mozilla Rep Emma Irwin writes in response to Rafi’s post:

This spoke to my own learning in programming. I think I learned (and got confidence) more from debugging and being stuck than simply making. The sense of accomplishment of overcoming things that seemed really hard at first have motivated me more than anything. I think those experiences are why I am crazy enough to think I can ‘teach’ now.

Designing tinkering and iteration into Webmaker is critical. A first step is creating content built from the ground up for remix. And, then to support that with tools that let you tinker and play with that content, and share it again with your friends. The idea is to use remix as an onramp to tinkering with the web.

You see an early example in Jacob’s awesome Valentine’s video project on Webmaker.org. The thing about this video: it is designed to be forked. It wants you to add your own photos and change the text. It’s an invitation to tinker. It’s an early invitation, to be sure: we clearly have a lot to learn about how to do this well. But it’s clear to me that this kind of design for tinkering is ‘thing #1′ of key things Webmaker needs to pull in from this conversation.

Rafi’s other big point is about social: we learn best when we make together. Making together can mean a lot of things. At events. In school. With friends at home. In IRC. On Facebook. Etc. What all of these things have in common is that I can see what you are making and you can see me. We can critique each other. We can help each other. We can fail together. We can iterate together. And we can laugh together. Which makes learning funner, faster and deeper.

Making it easy to ‘make things together’ is ‘thing #2′ that Webmaker should pull from this conversation. Making it easy to riff on content on Webmaker.org and in places like Facebook will be a part of this. But, as Rafi hints in his post, the most important factor here won’t be tools and web sites: it will be people. This is why the building a global mentor community is such a huge priority. Everyone needs a place where they can just show up to make and learn. A place filled with people. And a place you can find in 100s of cities around the world. Building on Hive and ReMo, I think Mozilla can create this place. It’s what we want our mentor community to be.

Anyways: thanks Rafi, Emma and others for getting this conversation started. It’s the kind of leadership this nascent Webmaker community needs. And it’s a great way to dig into what do we really want to build together with Webmaker.

I need help explaining ‘why?’

January 16, 2013 § 10 Comments

Last month, Anil Dash wrote The Web We Lost. It struck a chord: making the case that there has been t a subtle but massive shift on the web. Not simply a shift from open to closed. It’s more nuanced. Rather, a shift a web that is more human and craftlike to one that is more mechanical and industrial. My words, not his.

As I read it, I was struck by a) how Dash’s post is very much at the heart of why we’re doing Mozilla Webmaker and b) that we’ve done a very poor job ourselves of explaining that why. Which is the reason I’m reaching out to you. I’m working with a bunch of people to explain why anyone should care about web literacy. I need your help.

Myself and others on the Webmaker team came up with this ‘five liner’ to explain the why of what we’re doing.

1. Our goal: help 100Ms more people become makers who understand and tap the full power of the web.

2. Why? The web has fueled massive creativity, productivity and wealth. We want this to continue.

3. When the web was young: people looked under the hood, figured out how it worked and made things.

4. This ‘just figure it out and make it’ is harder to come by today. The hood is harder to open. Learning as you go is not so easy.

5. Mozilla want to turn this upside down. We want to make it easy easy to open again, to learn how things work and to tap the full power of the web.

It’s rough, for sure. But, if you look at the middle three points, you get the idea. The web has given lots to humanity. That happened because it was open and learnable. Now it’s more closed and hard to learn. Which, by implication, puts all the stuff we’ve gotten from the web at risk. Or something like that.

Over the coming weeks, Paula, Ryan, Geoff and I are going to refine the explanation above and add meat below each bullet. As we do this, we’re looking for help on three questions:

a. For the bullets above, what evidence or examples would you add to bring these points to life? E.g. the private sector has seen 13% rise in productivity due to the web.

b. What other top level arguments would you make for massive web literacy? Why should people care about 100s millions more people understanding how the web works?

c. Most important: how do we deal with the YouTube/Facebook factor? I.e. people are already ‘making stuff’ on social media. What are we talking about that is different? What does ‘the full power of the web’ really offer?

Cracking this nut is important to us. The ideas of ‘web literacy’ and ‘making as learning’ are going to be part of big campaigns we and others do this year. Succinctly explaining why these things matter is going to be critical to success.

Any ideas or comments you’ve got, not matter how hair brained they seem, are helpful. Please leave comments below. Or add to this etherpad.

Webmaker 2013 Plans (wrap up)

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Matt Thompson just posted the Mozilla Webmaker 2013 plan slides from our last board meeting. As he summarizes:

Webmaker teaches the art 
and craft of webmaking to anyone who wants to make something on the web. It starts with projects: users make (amazing) things, 
learning about the technology and culture of the web as they go.

In 2012 we built the Webmaker brand, product and community.
In 2013 we’ll refine, recruit and get more people using it.

Big picture goal for 2013: Turn our basic Webmaker offering into 
a product people love. Refine it, recruit mentors and get more people 
using it.

These slides represent the culmination of the Webmaker 2013 planning work we started late last year. More importantly, they are the foundation for the next generation products and community we’re building. There are already a number of good blog posts about what we’re building next here, here and here.

Webmaker 2013: product + community

December 4, 2012 § 13 Comments

Webmaker is both a product and a community.‘ This is the conclusion that a bunch of came to last week as we were looking at goals for Webmaker 2013. We need a product that delights, gives people value and builds up demand for content that could only be made on the web. We also need a global community of people excited to teach about the open tech of the web and the creative freedoms that it offers We need to build both of these things.

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Based on this discussion and many others, I’ve worked up a first cut description of what Webmaker 2013 might look like. It includes: a product and community description; audience definitions; goals and objectives; and top level metrics. Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss these more broadly and then refine them.

The idea that we want to make a product that people love is at the core of Webmaker 2013. With that goal in mind, I’m proposing a number things that change what we’ve made so far:

  • The product will be positioned as a way to ‘animate the web’. Popcorn-powered videos, slideshows, etc. have caught people’s attention. We will make these our core differentiating feature.
  • Thimble + Popcorn Maker + Xray Goggles will become more tightly integrated. Your Popcorn video will come wrapped in a Thimble paged editable with Goggles.
  • Webmaker.org will become a) showcase for best content people make and b) jumping off point for remixing and learning.
  • As part of this, we’ll make flexible gallery tools for ‘me, my friends and my themes’. The galleries themselves will be highly hackable.
  • Also: we will start to look like a distributed social network, pushing your content into Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and always including a remix button that pops you out to Webmaker.org so you can learn, tinker and (re)create.
  • Hive + Code Party will merge into an ongoing global community of mentors with local roots. This will be core to the movement building side of Webmaker.

Assuming we go in this direction, we’ll need to again evolve the way we describe Webmaker to the world. Long time Mozilla engineering genius Johnathan Nightingale has been known to day that ‘Firefox combines both rocket (awesome browser) and payload (user choice and web standards)’. We could think of Webmaker in a similar way:

Rocket: Apps to author web pages that move: videos, slideshows, etc. that combine content and code from across the web. The tools solve a problem: they make it way easier than it is today to mix your phone, web and social media content together into a compelling, moving collage that you can share with friends. Also, the content that pops out the other end is magnetic, edgy, useful, new. It looks unlike anything people are making today because it’s made by combining real, live and, sometimes, constantly changing content from across the web. People will love this stuff. And no one else has it (yet).

Payload: Ultimately, this gets people to expect a remix button for everything. People start by making videos, slideshows, etc. that could only be made with the open technology of web. The videos, etc. pull material via URLs + APIs. They pull from your phone, your social networks, everywhere. They make it easy to see, edit and drop in code. Over time, people realize Webmaker content is remixable, view sourceable and can change as the web changes. Also, the tools and the content you make show you how the web works as you make things. There are ‘remix’ and ‘how to’ buttons on every piece of content created using Webmaker tools.

These tools can be hugely popular. I believe that quite deeply. But, like Firefox, with its millions of early adopters who installed a new browser on a friend’s computer, we also need a community and a ground game. I propose that we leverage our existing work on Hive and Summer Code Party to build a global community of mentors, teachers, techies and evangelists. It might be described this way:

A global community of makers and mentors excited to show people what you can do using the creative and technical freedoms of the web and (and open tech in general). They use open tech and a maker attitude to teach everything from art to science to citizenship. Sometimes, they use Webmaker tools. Sometimes they use Scratch. Sometimes they hack with toys and hardware from the junkyard. And everything in between. This community is built on the event and local learning network models that we’ve begun to develop with Summer Code Party and HiveNYC.

The important thing about this community is that, like Mozilla Festival, it’s not just about our tools. It’s about something bigger: using the maker spirit to teach and inspire. Mozilla has an important role to play in connecting this maker spirit back to the web and showing how you can live an online life that taps the creative and technical freedoms of the web to their fullest. This Mozilla side of making — and the Webmaker products — should both fuel and draft in the wind of the broader maker movement, just as Firefox did with open source a decade earlier.

As I say, all of this thinking — plus the detailed goals and objectives I’ve written up for Webmaker 2013 – is a draft for feedback. I’ve set up a bunch of threads on the Mozilla Webmaker mailing list to discuss different aspects of this plan. That’s the best place to go if you want to join into a discussion on these ideas. Of course, comments here on my blog are also welcome.

Explaining Webmaker crisply

September 25, 2012 § 8 Comments

We’ve been honing our description of Webmaker recently. Partly, this is so we can explain Webmaker to the world. But it’s mostly aimed to clarifying what we’re building and who we’re building it for as we move into the next phase of development.

Mozilla Webmaker helps to make, remix or tweak a webpage or video and also teaches you how the web works.

At a recent meeting in Toronto, Erin Knight led a set of discussions on this topic. I came out of these discussions with four big takeaways:

1. Webmaker is a peer to Firefox and FirefoxOS.

Mozilla has big priorities right now: the web on the desktop; the web in the mobile environment; and web literacy. We need to start positioning Webmaker in this context, showing how Mozilla’s three big bets / priorities all tie back the same mission.

Also, we need to make the link between the value of a phone you can re-program because it’s made from the web (FirefoxOS) and the value of knowing how the web works (Webmaker). Getting web phones into the hands of millions of skilled and creative people is the key to a next wave of innovation on the web.

2. We should describe Webmaker by simply explaining what you can make.

We need to describe Webmaker more simply and concretely. We’ve been able to say ‘Mozilla wants to create a generation of people who know how the web works and can reprogram it.’ But describing what we’re building to make this happen has been difficult. We took a shot at fixing this in Toronto:

Mozilla Webmaker: a quick way to make, remix or tweak a webpage or 
video while learning how the web works.

While this isn’t quite right yet, it opens up an important new direction: we should be explaining what you can make with Mozilla Webmaker. This creates a more tangible picture in people’s minds and helps them understand how they can engage. I’m hoping others can come up with better wording than what we have above, but based on the general approach of saying what you can make.

3. Our audience is people with something to share.

Up to now, we’ve been a bit fuzzy about who we’re targeting with Mozilla Webmaker. In Toronto, we narrowed in on ‘people how have a maker attitude and something to share’ as a core audience.

There are two pieces to this. The first is is about an approach to life: one that involves tinkering, remixing and iteration. The second is about having made something that you are proud and excited about, something that you want to share or show to other people: a picture you took; a video you made; a game you’ve modified; a big idea you’ve dreamed up. We build the needs and desires of this audience into our design process as we work on the next phase of Mozilla Webmaker.

 4. Educators are also a key audience.

During the last thee months, almost 700 people organized Mozilla Webmaker Summer Code Party events. Whether they gathered 100 people or simply brought a few friends around a kitchen table, these people have played a critical role in getting Mozilla Webmaker off the ground. And they have done so because they care about inspiring and educating others about the creative potential of the web.

Personally, I hadn’t really thought about this group as one of our key audiences before. But clearly they are. These are the first people to ‘get’ what we’re trying to do with Webmaker and to feed back in to help improve it. Like the early adopters who first installed Firefox on other people’s computers, these grassroots educators and evangelists could be the core of our global community. Over the next couple of months, we need to figure out ways to more actively help them and bring them into what we’re building.

These four insights aren’t particularly radical. They fit with where we’ve been going with Mozilla Webmaker for the past year. However, I do think they make it easier to explain what we’re doing. They also offer increased clarity on what we need to be building and who we need to be building it for over the next six months. Erin is going to do her own post on this aspect of the Toronto discussions, looking at how we practically pull all the pieces of Webmaker into a more cohesive offering.

Webmaking, one year in

August 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Mozilla Webmaker idea has come a long way. This time last year, it was just that: an idea. The Mozilla Drumbeat team met late last July to discuss where to go next. While on vacation, I wrote up notes from that meeting and began a series of blog posts about what became Mozilla Webmaker.

During this year’s vacation, I took a look back at last year’s notes. Here is the summary section:

a. We set up Drumbeat to figure out how to extend our mission beyond Firefox (and beyond software).

b. What we found: Mozilla has an opportunity to build the next generation of web makers. This opportunity is huge.

c. At it’s core, this is about helping makers and creators understand, use and extend the building blocks that make up the web.

d. It’s also about creating a new kind of learning institution and new web tools that invite creativity, tinkering and invention.

e. We can — and should — do these things. They will help us keep the Mozilla spirit alive even as the web changes.

It felt good to look back at these notes. I’m proud of how we’ve focused and refined these ideas. We’ve really doubled down on this original thinking and brought it to life. In particular, I’m proud of where we’ve gone with the idea of ‘new web tools that invite creativity, tinkering and invention.’ Creativity apps for the web could become one of Mozilla’s biggest sweet spots over the coming years: Popcorn and Thimble have given us an early glimpse of this.

It does feel like we left one very important thing out of the bullets above: community and contribution. This really struck me as I re-read my notes. In our early work on the Mozilla Webmaker concept, we did good job of nailing the ‘why’ (create a web literate planet) and the ‘what’  (tools and learning programs the fuel creativity on the web), but we focused much less on the ‘how’ (by working with people around the world who share our vision).

Of course, a great community has sprung up around Mozilla Webmaker. Well over 1,000 of you helped shape our early thinking and ran events as part of our Summer Code Party. But this omission from our early framing does make me wonder: have we put enough emphasis on contribution and community?

My guess is ‘probably not': we could be doing a better job of finding, supporting and providing value to people around the world who want to help create a web literate planet. Personally, figuring out how to up our game in this area this is my number one priority this fall. I’m going to post more as I dig into this. In the meantime, I’m very much open to suggestions and feedback on this front.

Making tools for webmakers

July 2, 2012 § 7 Comments

We want everyone to tap into the full creative power of the web. That’s the point of Mozilla Webmaker. Part of  this is about people: building a global community of webmakers. But another essential element is building tools that both invite people to make cool things on the web and that help them learn how the web works. Last week, we released early versions of two of these tools: Thimble and Popcorn. This post offers background on these tools plus musings on next steps.

A month or two back, Free Software Foundation Chief Counsel Eben Moglen said: “We made the web easy to read, but we didn’t make the web easy to write. Facebook took advantage of this gap.” This is a useful way to look at the challenges the web now faces.

Over a billion people are now on social networks. They use these networks to create and share (awesome!). But they do so only on the terms social networks offer them. Most people have neither the tools nor the skills to tap into the unbounded creative potential of the web (e.g. I want to change how this app works, let me hack it). This seems like something worth fixing.

The goal of Mozilla Webmaker is exactly this: to move people from being users of the web to being makers of the web. While part of this move is about new skills and attitudes, another part has to be about tools and content. Specifically: tools and content that make it easier to create using the full power of the web. Easier to customize a blog template. Easier to add a data layer to a video. Easier to hack a game. And so on. As Mozilla begins to build tools like this, I see three big buckets of things we need to get done:

  1. Build a foundation: Thimble + Popcorn as way to test our making + learning thesis (2012)
  2. Build with the community: add in badges, get community adding content and code (2012+)
  3. Make the app world hackable: add in JavaScript, game hacking, app hacking (2013+)

Of course, this isn’t just about Mozilla: we’re already working with Tumblr, Codecademy and many others who are also building tools that encourage making and learning. But Mozilla does have a clear role to play here, especially around tools that build in the design principle of ‘making as learning’ from the beginning. This is our focus.

Step 1 – Build a foundation

Quickly ship tools that test our webmaker thinking: this was our plan with Thimble and Popcorn. Earlier this year, we agreed we needed to try out our ‘people learn by making’ thesis soon and in the real world.

With this in mind, we designed very simple tools with a collection of ‘hackable’ projects at the centre. Each project is a web page or interactive video template that gives people a) a starting point for making something and b) instructions that help you learn while making.

In Thimble, for example, each project is a single, simple HTML page. All pages include code comments that suggest what part of the page you might hack and what techniques to use. Eg. <!– This is a comment. These comments tell you what to do. The next section is a <H1> header. Edit the text within the header tags to change what words are on the web page. –> Thimble currently includes about a dozen making + learning templates that teach basic HTML and CSS while letting you make a meme, kill zombies or remix an animal from the London Zoo.

In Popcorn, the focus is much more on learning the mechanics of the web while also learning how to tell stories in new ways. The core element of a Popcorn project is a video wrapped in an HTML page template. You are invited to tell your own story by manipulating the video and the template. For example, with the Robots template, you design your own Robot invasion movie by adding in Google maps (learn how APIs work + target the robots at your home town), by changing the words the robots say (learn about variables and speech synthesis), or by adding in pictures of people and places the robots will target (learn about links and embedding). Similar templates exist where you can make your own web newscast or create a VH1-style pop up layer on top of your video.

Popcorn and Thimble share a common design philosophy. They start from the premise that remix and making are central to how people have always learned the web. The web is an open, view source world where it’s easy to see a technique in action and then copy it. We’re trying to make that even easier and more explicit by offering tools and pre-made projects that help people learn by making. We think this approach is especially promising for the 1 billion+ people on social media who clearly like to express themselves on online but have no plans of becoming a capital P ‘programmer’. For these people, the starter content we’re offering will be much more important than the tools themselves.

Our goal for this 1st step in the Mozilla Webmaker tool roll out: test this making + learning thesis. See if people like what we’ve made so far. Evaluate whether they are learning anything and what they are learning (see ‘badges’, below). We’ll do this testing and evaluating over the next six months while also shipping improvements plus new content for Thimble and Popcorn.

Step 2 – Build with community

Our next big priority needs to be building Mozilla Webmaker with a community. There are two parts to this: a) building basic tools that offer value to people who want to make, learn or teach and b) creating an architecture of participation that makes it easy for people to contribute content and code. We’ve already started on a) (see above), now we need to get moving on b).

We’ve got a few early wins. Some of the best Thimble projects came from the hack jam we held with NESTA in London about a month ago. Popcorn already has a base of open source code contributors. And, of course, we’ve got well over 500 people who have stepped up to organize a #mozparty this summer. These are big contributions already.

What we don’t yet have is a systematic way for more people to get involved, especially on content, code and localization. As an example: we want to get to a place where large numbers of people contribute Thimble and Popcorn projects for other people to make / learn on top of. I believe that this sort of community-made content will be key to the growth of Mozilla Webmaker. Unfortunately, we don’t have a good way for people to do this yet.

As a first step towards fixing this, we’re going to create an easy way for people to propose Webmaker.org and Thimble content simply by posting it to a Mozilla wiki. We’re working on the specifics right now, but the ideas is that people can review / refine / discuss stuff there, and then we can port the best stuff to our main sites when it’s ready. Obviously, we need something easier and more robust over the longer term: a gallery or repository where anyone can post content ideas into the Mozilla Webmaker universe. We also need easier ways into the code side of our projects. These are both things we’re thinking through with the aim of making progress this year. We’re very open to your ideas.

We also need a way to see who’s who in the community: to know what people are working on; to find people with particular skills; to find people with similar interests. This starts with simple communications tools like the new webmaker mailing list and the #mozparty Twitter hashtag. But we need something more robust and something that works across alot of platforms if we want Mozilla Webmaker to scale.

This is where Mozilla Webmaker badges come in. By the end of 2012, we plan to offer badges to recognize the skills that people have learned and that recognize contributions to the community. The skill badges will include things like “I understand HTML basics” and “I’ve helped 5 friends learn CSS”. We’re still working out the specifics. The contribution badges will recognize those who have helped others and those who have contributed learning content and code. This will give people within the Webmaker community an easy way to signal each other — to know who knows what and who is into what. More importantly, it will also give people a way to show what they learned and for us to monitor what and whether people are learning.

We’re starting work on this 2nd step right now, building a more systematic architecture of participation in parallel with our efforts to test and improve our first set of tools.

Step 3 – Make the app world hackable

Our third big step for Mozilla Webmaker tools has to be ‘teaching real programming‘ – getting people to the point where they can create or remix a game, app, etc. We chose to start Mozilla Webmaker with a focus on HTML and video so we could test our making and learning thesis using basic content that almost anyone on the web can make. But, our ultimate goal is to let people control, configure and create all corners of their digital lives. Games. Apps. Social networks. Civic participation sites. Science projects. And so on. At some point, that means teaching programming, or making programming easier to do.

It’s in this last phrase where one of our big questions sits: do we teach ‘real code’ like JavaScript, or do we adopt / develop a simple tool for producing JavaScript etc. like Meemoo or Blockly?

Our plan for 2012 is to explore both paths. We’re working with Codecademy to get their content on Webmaker.org and to encourage people to use their courses as part of #mozparty. This gives people a ‘learn real code in the abstract’ option. We’ll likely do the same with Meemoo, Blockly and other promising tools: write them up on Webmaker.org; encourage people to use them; and then ask people to feedback on what they observed. This is a good way to promote the work of allies who also want to teach the world to code while at the same time investigating whether there are gaps a tool like Thimble++ could play.

There are already a couple of places where I think Mozilla-made tools — and Mozilla’s learning philosophy — could add value in the ‘learn programming space’. One opportunity is in the realm of hackable games: HTML5 games which are designed from the ground up to be modified. People could be invited to change the game mechanics and or to bring in content from across the web. E.g. imagine grabbing your friend’s picture from Facebook and mapping it onto a rock in Angry Birds. Another opportunity is in mobile apps, especially those designed for rich on-the-fly HTML5 content creation. Eg. imagine a Popcorn-enabled Boot-to-Gecko phone that pulled in all kinds of contextual content and data on the fly, feeding a ready to edit package of content back to your laptop via the web. We’ll explore ideas like these this year at a blue sky and maybe even prototyping level to see what’s possible.

My guess is that this 3rd step in the Mozilla Webmaker tool effort won’t really move into high gear until early 2013. There are a number of experiments planned for later in 2012, but these are mainly about seeing what’s possible and giving us enough insight that we can develop a solid roadmap for our work in this space.

Admittedly, this is a pretty big dream. Mozilla Webmaker is ambitious on purpose. We need this kind of ambition if we want a world where we all understand and can shape our digital lives.

But we also need a plan to turn ambition into reality. We made the beginnings of a plan when we launched Mozilla Webmaker earlier this year (you can read it here). I’ll post a review of where we’re at with this plan sometime in later July, including how what we’ve learned from tools like Thimble and Popcorn is helping us evolve the plan.

In the meantime, there is one thing we know for sure: Mozilla is way too small to take on the Webmaker vision on its own. As I said above, we need to a) figure out how we can provide something valuable to others who want to teach the world to code and b) get at least some of these people working with us directly to create the tools, content and community for webmakers. Finding ways to work with people who share our vision (is this you?) is the number one priority of the Mozilla Webmaker team right now.

Which leads me to two closing asks: let us know if any of the work we’re doing on Mozilla Webmaker tools can help you + let us know if you want to help. It’s not always easy to find your way in. We know that and can help. The best place to start is on the Webmaker mailing list or our weekly community conference call. You can also just post a comment here or send me email. Just show up, put up your hand and say ‘I want help / how can I help?’ Someone on the Mozilla Webmaker team will be there to help you figure it out from there.

Planting seeds for webmaking

June 21, 2012 § 12 Comments

Mozilla Webmaker takes its first big step this weekend: asking people to help out. And, just as important, asking how we can help others working for the same cause.

Mozilla’s Summer Code Party kicks off on Saturday, June 23. Our ask is simple: teach someone how to make something on the web. This could be teaching your kids basic HTML with Thimble or Tumblr. Or it could be learning JavaScript with friends on Codecademy or at a CoderDojo. The only thing that matters is that you are making and learning with friends.

Why? Because getting together with people to make and learn is essential if we want to build a generation of webmakers. It will fuel the community we need to reach our big goals. And, more immediately, getting people together will help Mozilla figure out how to work well with partners and to identify potential community leaders (is this you?).

The good news: many of you have already stepped up to help. There are already 394 Summer Code Party meetups and events in 320 cities and 67 countries scheduled for this summer. And, if all goes well, people will continue to do more and more events over the course of the summer.

Also, we’ve had a great response from partners who share Mozilla’s philosophy and goals: helping people learn how to create cool and powerful things on the web. Tumblr. CoderDojo. The London Zoo. Codecademy. Young Rewired State. Creative Commons. The San Francisco Public Library. NESTA. DoSomething.org. Code for America. Campus Party. And dozens more.

We’re stoked to have these partners are involved, and we also hope we can help them by connecting them to new communities and promoting their work. Helping partners succeed is critical to the success of Mozilla Webmaker overall.

Of course, we’re still just planting our first seeds this weekend. Mozilla’s Webmaker tools are still very basic (I’ll say more about our long term plans soon). And, we’re still in the early days of figuring out how to organize the community around our making and learning goals. But you have to start somewhere. You have to plant seeds.

Which leads me to a second ask: help us grow these seeds. Mozilla Webmaker is premised on the belief that we can build a global community of people who share our goals. We chose Summer Code Party as our first big step because we know we need to start building this community early: to figure out how to organize things; what tools people need; and how we can help others working on similar projects. So, jump in. Push us. Help out. Ask for help. Also, be patient. Growing things takes hard work from alot of people. And it takes time.

Mozilla Thimble preview

June 6, 2012 § 12 Comments

Later this month, we’ll be releasing Mozilla Thimble. Thimble is a simple web page editor combined with a series of ‘projects’ that help you learn the basics of HTML and CSS. The idea is to get people to learn basic web coding by just diving in and making something. Thimble projects make that easier by giving people guidance and a head start.

Thimble will go live just in time for our Summer Code Party campaign that kicks off on June 23. We want people using Thimble at their ‘kitchen table’ events, so I thought I should give people a preview of what’s coming.

The first thing you’ll see is a gallery of Thimble projects. The initial projects are designed to grab the interest of 8 – 14 year olds and to invite them to start making. We’ll be rolling out projects for older teens and adults later in the year.

As a part of this ‘interest grabbing’ approach, a number of the projects have been developed by organizations that already work with young people. This one is from the London Zoo. It teaches basic HTML and a bit about endangered species at the same time.

The Thimble interface itself is a simple side-by-side web page editor based on Code Mirror. The left pane is the code, and the right pane is the page preview rendered in real time.

The project pages are a mix of instructional comments and actual page elements. In the London Zoo Awesome Animal Builder project, the aim is to create your own species by combining image files from real endangered species that the Zoo wants you to learn about.

Here I was able to change the background of my species picture by changing the CSS class. As the code comments explain, I can choose between ‘ocean, rainforest or desert.’

If you’re new to HTML and CSS (that’s who this is aimed at), we’ve put in a bunch of features designed to help you if you get stuck with tasks like this. For example, you can click on any tag to get info on what it does.

Also, we’ve included pop-up hints that help you figure out what the right syntax is for a particular element.

After changing my CSS class (above), I then started moving different PNG files from different species into the frame with the question marks at the top of the page. These files are all given to me lower in the page along side info about the real endangered species. All I have to do is cut and paste the image URLs in order to build my animal.

And, voila! After moving a few more image URLS I now have a completed animal. I’ve also learned a) how headline tags work in HTML, b) the idea that CSS can be used to change the look of a major element of a page and c) that images in a web page are just references to a file somewhere on a server.

These may sound like small things to learn — but it’s exactly these small things we want people to start with. There are other projects in the gallery that deal with more advanced HTML and CSS topics. And, in a later release, anyone will be able to submit a project page to teach whatever aspect of web development tickles their fancy. Our hope is that Thimble can become a ‘Wikipedia of webmaking lessons’, which would be an awesome resource for the world to have.

Of course, our Mozilla Webmaker ambitions are much bigger than just teaching HTML and CSS. PopcornMaker will be a major resource for helping people make and learn about interactive video on the web. And, later this year, we’ll start experimenting with ways to teach people Javascript, most likely through game modding and making.

Early next week, we’ll release a preview version of Mozilla Thimble to people who are organizing Summer Code Party events. Most of these events are small and short — just you at your kitchen table or in your living room teaching two or three people a bit about how to code for the web. If you want to organize an event like this (and see the Thimble preview), sign up here on the Mozilla Webmaker events site.

Want feedback: PDF movement talk

June 5, 2012 § 6 Comments

Next week am talking at Personal Democracy Forum in New York. My goal is to get people thinking about the big picture of the open internet movement: where product, policy and teaching the world to code connect. Also, I want people to start imagining the long game. I’m excited.

The talk is now at the point that I’d like some feedback, so I’ve posted my outline below. It’ll go through at least 2 – 3 more iterations as I make the slides and refine the narrative. Comments on notes like this always help a ton.

Movement Making:  What punk rock, Scouting and the Royal Society can teach us about  movement building. Plus: quick, practical thoughts on keeping the open ethos and technology of the web alive for the next 350 years.

[blank slide]

At 15, I found my first cause. A cause that sticks with me to this very day.

[mark as a teenage skinhead]

At the time, I called it punk rock. It was about creativity, experimentation, edginess, laughter, freedom, comradarie, surprises. It was magnetic, and it was fun

[add 'creativity + freedom' to the same slide]

Over time, two things truly stood out for me about this cause: creativity + freedom.

Ultimately, that’s what the punk DIY ethic is about: the idea that anyone should be able to do or make anything they can imagine without asking permission from others.

As I soaked happily in this creativity and freedom, I started to look for ways to bake this ethos into the world around me. This is when I first started paying attention to technology.

[slides of punk + tech]
[ad for a four track tascam recorder + punk concert]
[photocopier + maximum rock n roll cover]
[sony portapak + still from a protest video]
[2400 baud modem]

I suspect that this quest to bake creativity and freedom into the world — and to bend technology to this end — is something that almost everyone in this room has embarked upon in one way or another. It is at the core of our cause. It is essential.

[picture of a network + words 'freedom + creativity]

This quest is more important today than it ever has been, because it ties back to the internet and what it becomes.

Creativity + freedom are core to the design of the internet and fused into the internet culture that we have built. But there are many people who do not share our love for creativity + freedom, who have a different vision of the internet. One based on prescription + control.

This matters to more than just the internet itself. The internet is now so central to all aspects of our lives, that, as goes the internet, goes humanity.

[text slide: as goes the internet, goes humanity]

The internet we end up with in 100 years will very much shape everything that is possible and everything that is. If you care about:

  • Privacy
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Commerce
  • Friendship
  • Love

… then you should care about how the internet turns out, because it will impact all these things.

With this in mind, I want to explore how we succeed at our quest, how we explain our vision of creativity and freedom, and how we bake it into society for a very long time.

[mark's business cards w/ i <3 open web on them]

These days, much of my time is spent thinking about how to explain this ethos of creativity + freedom to 100s of millions of people.

As you may have noticed, we haven’t cracked that yet. We’ve talked about an open web. We’ve talked about innovation, and openness, and choice. All of it seems so abstract and far away.

[picture of lego blocks]

The closest I’ve come is using the metaphor of lego. I open with a line like: The world (wide web) is made of lego. And I want to keep it that way. And then I use my 10 year old son Ethan to explain what I mean.

[picture of ethan holding a lego]

My pitch goes something like this:

[text on screen with ethan for most of this]

This is my son Ethan.
He loves to make things with lego.
He also loves the web, a lot.

[screencap of rebecca black / fridays]
[screencap of chad vader / fridays]
[back to ethan and lego]

Ethan’s world is a mashup.
It’s a mashup by design.
Tim Berners Lee wanted the web to work like lego.

[screencap of chad vader / fridays]
[screencap of chad vader, view source]
[back to ethan pic]

The web was designed the be like lego.
I want Ethan to know this.
And I want him to expect it.

[back to just the lego]

There are two critical things here:

[big text = explanation]

1. The explanation: we need a metaphor or a word for everyone everywhere to understand what’s good about the web. Lego has it’s downsides, especially the fact that it’s proprietary. But it does help people understand that the power of the web is that you can take it apart and put it back together, and that you can easily see how something is built. Lego helps people get this.

[big text = expectation]

2. The expectation: if we create the expectation that the world — and the web — are made of lego that all of us can understand and reconfigure, then it will be much more likely that this aspect of the web survives. If future politicians, architects, filmmakers and so on grow up in a digital world made of lego, that will shape they laws they write, the buildings they build and the movies they make. Consciously or not, they will be closer to the cause of creativity and freedom.

[text fades away, just the lego blocks now]

I think we’ll crack the explaining part. Even if lego is not quite right, it gives us all something to riff on.

I’m much more worried about how grow the expectation that the world and the web are made of lego. That we make this feeling mainstream, nearly universal.

[floppy disk picture?]

Eben Moglen recently said: ‘We made the web easy to read, but we did not make it easy to write.’ This is not literally true: it’s easy to write the web, to treat it as lego, to make an app. If you’re a programmer. The problem is that programming remains arcane and in accessible to most people.

Which leads me to the question: how do you take something arcane and inaccessible and make it mainstream?

[picture of a scouting jamboree]

At this juncture, I often point to the scouting movement. And I ask: what was the major social innovation of the scouting movement? One that has been wildly successful to the point that it is a major part of our lives?

[pic from wikipedia of civilian camping in ontario, or scout camping]

The answer: civilian camping.

105 years ago when scouting first began, camping was primarily the domain of land settlers, prospectors and the military. It was an arcane activity done primarily by professionals and the highly adventurous.

Baden Powell used this arcane technique and technology of camping as part of scouting’s efforts to connect urban young people to nature. The result: he helped bring camping into the mainstream of recreation, family life and the economy. And, in doing so, he also helped build the *expectation* that we would have parks, rivers and mountains that are protected for our enjoyment.

[add some stats on camping?]

Imagine if 105 years from now we could say the same for coding: that coding is something that huge numbers of people do for fun and self expression.

If we did that, we would certainly have made great progress towards building the *expectation* of lego-ness into the internet. And, in turn, we would have done a great deal for the cause of creativity + freedom.

[smiling kids in brasil w/ smartphones in hand]

I love the long game. It’s so important here. But let’s set the long game aside for a moment and talk about where we are right at this moment.

As I said earlier, the stakes with the internet today are very very high. The internet has become so central to all aspects of our lives, and quickly the lives of billions more people, that, as goes the internet, goes humanity.

[text slide: as goes the internet, goes humanity]

We are at a juncture where the design decisions we make in the next decades will influence:

  • Privacy
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Commerce
  • Friendship
  • Love

… likely for centuries to come. And many of these decisions are tied directly to our vision of the internet.

[mosaic view source vs. ipad app store human]

We are currently faced with two visions of where the internet should go.

The app store vision: where creativity, innovation and commerce happen on the terms of a handful of technology companies, and where privacy exists or doesn’t at their whim.

The view source vision: where the digital world is made and expanded using lego blocks we can all understand and use, and where privacy is a choice that all of use have at our fingertips.

[ipad disappears on the next slide, 'creativity + freedom' comes on screen]

It should be obvious to you which vision I support. The view source vision. The vision that is about creativity and freedom. This is the vision of the internet that I have. This is the vision of society that I have. My guess is that many of you share this vision.

[image?]

The practical question: what do we need to do right now to ensure that our vision wins, to bake creativity and freedom into the internet and the world? Also, what time horizon should we focus on?

[text: 352 years]

The answer to the time horizon questions is simple: 352 years. But let me get back to that. The question of immediate tactics is harder, but I know we can crack it.

[b2g + meemo + soundcloud pic]

The first thing we need to do is run like hell to build creativity + freedom into to core of internet products that everyone uses every day.

When Moglen said: “We made the web easy to read, but we did not make it easy to write,” he went on to point out that Facebook, Apple and others have taken advantage of this, serving up creativity on their terms.

We need to make the raw lego blocks of the web just as easy to create with as Facebook or iMovie. And, importantly, we need to make them both more powerful and more fun.

[sopa girl pic]

The second thing we need to do is defend ourselves. On so many fronts, we are winning. The web is winning. Creativity + freedom are winning.

The predictable result: those who believe they have something to loose if creativity + freedom win have gone on the attack. They attack with SOPA and ACTA. With national firewalls. With arcane yet nasty copyright laws. With quite clear intent, these people want to break the internet. Or, at least, to ensure that our vision of the internet does not survive.

The punk rock kid in me says that policy and politics are a tactic of last resort, possibly futile. But the realist in me knows that we must stand up and fight where people propose to pass laws that will break the internet. And, I can say, Mozilla will stand up against such things even more strongly than it has in the past. We cannot and will not let people destory what we have all built together.

[pic of kids learning to code]

The third thing we need to do now help 100s of millions more people tap the full creativity + freedom, and to pull this into their every day lives.

As a tag line: I believe we need to make coding as mainstream as camping.

This is why I so often point to the scouting movement as an example: it is possible to transform the arcane and the professional into something that huge numbers of people want to learn and do. And, into something that connects people to something deeper.

Practically, this means making it easier and sexier to use code in every day creativity. In fashion. In filmmaking. In school. In journalism. In hip hop. Everywhere.

Which is not about making everyone a coder or engineer, but rather about bringing the power, the freedom and the creativity that coders and engineers experience in the digital world to everyone who has an idea, a dream, something to say.

[text: 352 years]

So those are some practical ideas for how we fuse creativity + freedom into our world:

  1. create internet products that work like lego
  2. defend the internet from people who want to break it
  3. build a generation of people who speak code as fluently as they speak words and numbers

But, what about that time horizon? As I said, I like to take the long view on things like this. Which is one of the reasons 352 feels like a good number.

[picture of the royal society mace]

A couple of months ago I was staring at this mace.

It’s the mace that Charles II gave to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge when they first set up shop 352 years ago.

I was at the Royal Society to talk about their recent report on computer science education in UK secondary schools. On top of our main conversation, I was struck by the idealism of the people I was meeting with.

These were people who believe deeply in the ideals of science, in the royal society motto of ‘take nobody’s word for it’, and who get up everyday to advance this cause.

[etching of early scientists running an experiment]

What’s amazing is that this is an organization that has stood for this ideal for over 350 years. And, they have been quite successful — along with many others — in spreading the idea we call science. And making it last. And they did so primarily by showing what we possible using the ethos and techniques they believed in.

A big part of the Royal Society’s early history was friends gathering to do experiments together and to observe the results. These were basically meetups for fringe philosophers, radicals. But with these meetups and eventually a cadre of thought leaders called fellows, the ideas spread.

[picture of the royal society building today]

The point here is not to give the royal society all the credit for the success of science. That would be silly. But rather I want to show how planting a few small seeds with friends can build institutions that can keep a cause alive for a very very long time. In this case, 352 years.

[an etching of a network diagram, or something that looks like this]

Which brings me to what I really want to begin — or, more correctly, I think we have already begun — to build today. I build product, and fight bad policy and light up a movement of people who will teach other to code.

But more than anything I want us to create an an ethos of creativity + freedom that people will still treasure and defend 352 years from this day. I think we can do that.

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