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.

10 mins of teaching webmaking

April 30, 2012 § 3 Comments

Small webmaking events that you can run in 10 minutes are a central part of the Summer Code Party concept. We’re calling these ‘kitchen table hackjams‘. But, really, they are just you sitting with two friends (or two kids, or two parents) doing a very tiny starter web project. The idea is to have fun and learning something.

We started beta testing this kitchen hackjam concept a few weeks back. I did one with my two sons (Tristan is 12, Ethan is 10) and a friend (Rowan, 10). We sat down to play with the LoveBomb prototype, a tool that introduces basic HTML by inviting people to edit a greeting card.

A learned some good things and bad things about the process. Three highlights:

  1. It’s possible to do a quick webmaking session with almost zero preparation or notice. I proposed the event and we were doing it five minutes later.
  2. You can do alot in 10 or 15 minutes. We’d basically finished the ‘lesson’ in that amount of time. Then two of the kids got bored (my kids) and one of the kids (Rowan) kept tinkering.
  3. For older kids especially, relevant content is key. Tristan gave the ‘toy’ content in the LoveBomb at ‘WTF is this?’ reaction. He’s a regular YouTube game commentator. If he was going to learn HTML, he wanted to be making something ‘real’.

At least half a dozen people ran and blogged about their own kitchen table beta tests. Here is a list of postings that I know about:

If you’re interested, we’re still looking for more testers. There is page on how to run a test. And, also, there is a chance to discuss these on our weekly webmaker calls.

Update. Matt Thompson posted this awesome ‘Webmaker Recipes 101: How to host your own kitchen table hack jam‘ just after this went up. Worth the read.

#mozparty: learning code this summer

April 26, 2012 § 9 Comments

This summer, Mozilla will take it’s first stab at teaching about code. ‘Code’ in both the webbiest sense of the word: we want to expose 10,000s of people to HTML, CSS and JavaScript to help them make things on the web. Or, at least, to give them a glimpse of how the web works.

Kicking off on June 23, we’re calling this experiment the Summer Code Party. It’s an invite for anyone who wants to teach — or learn — webmaking to spend a few minutes building something with friends. Like the Product (Red) campaign, it’s a big tent for anyone who shares our goal of a more web literate planet. Tumblr. Girls Learning Code. Soundcloud. CoderDojo. Creative Commons. etc. Over a dozen partners are already signed up.

The most basic version of participation: do a small Hackasaurus project with two friends around your kitchen table or in your living room. Taking a cue from Jess and Atul’s LoveBomb prototype, we’re developing half a dozen small starter projects that will make this easy. Of course, the hope is that people will do this more than once after they’ve tried it — but even a single kitchen table event is a great way to show people how the web works.

In addition to Hackasaurus projects, we will also offer up a collection of DIY web projects from partners. For example, we’re working with Tumblr to develop some well-commented templates that both help people make their Tumblr look cooler and help them improve their HTML and CSS a little. Other partners will be posting their own small projects on our wiki.

Some partners are taking on more ambitious projects under the Summer Code Party banner. For example, Girls Learning Code is hoping to offer a week long summer camp at the Mozilla Toronto office. This will cover HTML, CSS, Python and Scratch. Other partners will simply plug their existing summer code efforts into the Party, sharing out what people are learning and making with people around the world doing similar things.

Which brings me to how this all fits together: everyone will be invited to share out what they’ve made, both online and at a series of local events in September. The best projects will get badges. And the best local organizers and instructors will get an invite to the Mozilla Festival in London to help us figure out how to improve our webmaking tools and grow out our community.

For now, there are three ways to get involved: 1) Put your name of the list of people who want run a small code party at home or in a cafe; 2) Sign up as a partner or collaborator; and 3) Put yourself on the volunteer list for our June 23 and 24 kick off event. Or, if you want to get even more involved, join one of our weekly Webmaker conference calls. They happen every Tuesday.

Would love to hear ideas, reactions and partner leads. This should be fun.

A scouting movement for the web

April 3, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’ve been thinking about ‘a scouting movement for the web’ for a while: a practical movement focused on skills, creativity and the internet. I finally got around to doing a talk on this idea at last week’s TEDx Seneca. Here is a video of the talk:

The talk starts with a question: what was the most important social innovation that scouting gave to the world? Answer: civilian camping. Before Baden Powell, only the army camped. Camping was strictly for professionals.

A century later, camping is a mainstream amateur activity. Powell met his ultimate goal: he skilled up millions of urban young people as a way to connect them back nature. But he also turned whole generations of people into joyful campers and stewards of the environment.

Imagine if we could do the same with coding and the web? A 100 years from now, we could have a world where making and coding online are a mainstream amateur activity. There would still be professional coders, of course. There always will be. But a huge number of the people making apps, tinkering with robots and writing code would be doing it for the joy of it. Or as a part some other vocation. Or, because they simply wanted to help take care of the web.

There are many practical and immediate reasons to want to teach web making. Skills and jobs and so on. But encouraging creativity and stewardship of the web are equally important. Scouting shows us that building a movement around ideas like this — and teaching a particular skill and technology to whole generations — is very much within the realm of the possible.

PS. Phillip Toronne wrote a piece in Make Magazine on Scouting 2.0. Some good and related thoughts in there.

Michelle + I explain web making

February 20, 2012 § 6 Comments

Want to know what we mean by web making? Or why you (and Mozilla) should care? Michelle Levesque and I did this 20 minute talk at last month’s Learning Without Frontiers conference to answer these questions:

One thing that’s worth pulling out of our slides is the definition of ‘web maker':

a web maker is anyone who makes things using the open ethos and building blocks 
of the web

I’ve been using this definition for many months now, but it often seems to fly past people. I want to underline it here as this web maker audience is central for all the learning programs Mozilla is developing this year.

If you want more info — or if wonder what I mean by the ‘open ethos and building blocks of the web’ — there are lots of old posts by Mitchell, myself and others that unpack this general topic. Here are a few:

You see the pattern in these posts: a) open ethos = transparency, decentralization, participation, remix + b) building blocks = HTML, CSS, Javascript, open source tools and libraries. In my books, anyone who uses this ethos and these tools to make things on the web is a web maker.

PS. here is a PDF of the slides from the talk Michelle and I did. Can also send Keynote to anyone who wants to use these.

Getting practical on web makers

February 12, 2012 § 6 Comments

Big dreams need practical plans. Late last year, we agreed that ‘building a generation’ of web makers‘ should be one of Mozilla’s main goals for 2012. For the last six weeks, people across the Mozilla team and community have been digging into the question: where do we start? I’m writing this post to update people on the plans that are coming out of this.

Concrete ‘web maker’ planning started with the Mozilla Foundation board meeting in mid-December. At that meeting we agreed on the following broad goal for 2012:

Roll Mozilla’s best software and learning resources into a simple ‘kit’ for web makers.

The idea here is that we want to create a single offering — or at least a brand — for people who want to learn and make things with Mozilla. This should roll up things like Popcorn, Hackasuarus, etc. into something easy to comprehend and get involved in.

At the same board meeting, we agreed on five more specific 2012 goals that our web making initiative. They are:

  1. Grow our learning programs for teens, journalists, filmmakers.
  2. Ship great software that invites making + learning.
  3. Build badges and ‘recipes’ to teach web maker skills.
  4. Create web sites and events that drive participation.
  5. Tell the Mozilla story well, inspire people.

You can see a list of detailed objectives for each of these goals listed here on our 2012 goals wiki page. We will be reviewing and evolving these objectives throughout the year.

As noted above, the plan with all of these goals is to build on our strengths: Popcorn; Hackasaurus; Open Badges; Hive; OpenNews; Mozilla Festival; and so on. Mozilla team and community members have been working on roadmaps that lay our practical plans and tie projects back to our overall goals. Here are the most advanced of these roadmaps:

All of these projects are making great strides — but they all need help as well. We need to people to write, code, test and promote what we’re building. If you’re excited by our web maker vision and want to get involved, you should join one of our weekly open community calls. Or, track Matt Thompson’s weekly round ups of web maker activity and then dive in when you see something specific you are interested in.

 PS. Here are the slides from the December board meeting that I mention above. They also include a review of our work in 2011. If people are interested, I can do a screencast of these slides to give more details. Just let me know.

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