September 19, 2013 § 12 Comments
People who teach others about the web are key to the future of Webmaker — and maybe even the future of Mozilla. I’m not talking only about teachers in classrooms getting their kids into HTML. Although that’s part of it. I’m talking about anyone who a) is excited about the culture and technology of the web and b) wants to help others get more out of the web they create and communicate on everyday online. We’ve been calling these people ‘mentors’. But, more simply, they are people who love the web want to share their passion.
In my recent post on Maker Party, I asked ‘how do we build a global community of mentors?’ One of the first steps is meeting these people, figuring out who they are and what they really want. We’ve been doing that all summer with Maker Party. And I did a bit personally as I traveled around over the earlier this month. Here are a few of the mentors I met.
Rafael is an IT consultant who used to be a teacher. He knows the web and a little programming. He came to our Manila Maker party just to find out what was up. He ended up winning the ‘best make’ contest with a Thimble comic strip remix. At the end he said: I want to show this to some of the teacher friends. We pointed him to Webmaker.org/teach and told him local MozReps would be in touch. Rafael is the guy with a tshirt over his face.
Joe, learner turned mentor.
Joe is an high school student in the UK. He first got turned onto Webmaker at MozFest 2011. He liked the idea of teaching his less geeky friends about web programming, so he organized a Summer Code Party in 2012. This year he was helping as a Webmaker mentor at Campus Party in London. Joe is also active with DeCoded, an other London tech education group. Joe is the guy in the foreground with the white mentor shirt on.
Abdul is an IT teacher in a high school in Surabaya, Indonesia. He helped us organize a 100 person all day Maker Party in the school auditorium. He teaches HTML and PHP using notepad already, but wants a way to get kids more excited about those technologies. The two pane Thimble editor plus having his kids hack our animated GIF postcard template seemed like a good start. Now he wants to offer Webmaker activities regularly at his school, although would find it easier if there was content in Bahasa Indonesia.
Youth IT Clubs.
In Surabaya, I met with a bunch of high school IT clubs: after-school groups led by the the IT teacher. In the case of Abdul, he recruited his club to run our 100 person Webmaker event. And wants to help them learn to be leaders and teachers themselves by involving them in ongoing Webmaker programs. We already have a great example of working with youth in this way as part of our relationship with MOUSE via Hive NYC.
Lewie, youth mentor activator.
Lewie is in his early twenties. A few years ago, he didn’t know how to code. Now he teaches corporate execs about programming for Freeformers. He also helps find other young people who he can train up and do the same. This is part of Freeformers effort to get young talent creating more young talent, using a 1:1 business model where corporate training funds more training for young people from unlikely backgrounds. The Freeformers have been active users of and contributors to Webmaker. That’s Lewie on the right.
Michelle, partner in crime.
Michelle runs developer relations for one of the two big mobile operators in the Philippines. She is also a great friend of Mozilla’s. She regularly offers event space for things like Webmaker events. And, at the Maker Party, stepped up in real time to offer a small cash prize for the best make. It’s win / win for sure: her company is positioned as part of our effort to build young web talent at little cost. But, there is more there. Michelle is personally excited about what we’re doing. This offers a great deal of validation and motivation to both the mentors and the learners in the room. That’s Michelle on the right.
Kindred spirits and partners, more broadly.
A core idea behind Webmaker is being a big tent for anyone who wants to teach the Web. It’s about finding kindred spirits who want to teach alongside us. The three fellows above are from the local robot hacker community in Surabaya. They came to help with our Hive Pop Up. We worked with dozens and dozens of partners like this as part of Maker Party this summer including Code Club, National Writing Project, Technology Will Save Us, Young Rewired State and all of the members of our Hive Networks. I’m going to do a separate post on partners, but they are a key piece of building a mentor network in their own right.
Benny and Yoe One, Super Mentors.
Benny and Yoe One are dedicated Mozilla volunteers who live in Surabaya. They don’t just work on Webmaker. But they have been incredibly active. They organized the Maker Party and Hive Pop Up in Surabaya. And, more importantly, started to build relationships with dozens of schools and local government to create interest in what we’re doing. They are ‘Super Mentors’ in our parlance: people who have the skills to teach but also want to help us bring in and train more mentors. Obviously, these people are absolutely key to the success of our Webmaker effort. Benny is to the left and Yoe One is to the right of Abdul.
Faye, Webmaker country lead.
Faye is a university student in Manila and a Mozilla Rep. She is also the official Webmaker Country Lead. The MozReps in the Philippines have created lead positions like this for many Mozilla programs to make sure someone is a driver. Being Webmaker Lead means Faye not only organized the Maker Party I was at in Manila but is also thinking strategically about how to improve Webmaker and how to get it out of Manila into remote regions. She is like a Super Mentor with a more official role within the local reps community. We may want to consider having this kind of ‘lead’ role in other countries or other cities. That is Faye in the Firefox shirt on the right.
Bob, Jun and Viking, the elders.
In many countries around the world, Mozilla is lucky to have a community of elders. People who have been a part of the Mozilla community since very early on. A number of these people have been critical in getting Webmaker going in their countries, encouraging other community members like Benny, Faye and Yoe One to get involved. These people also could (and should) play a key role in defining where we go next with Webmaker and how it ties into the rest of Mozilla’s work. This is a picture of Viking. Bob and Jun are on the right in the picture below.
Finally, a key part of the picture is what I just call ‘the posse’. These aren’t mentors per say, although they do often pitch in teaching at Maker Parties. They are active Mozilla community members working on a variety of things who are willing to help their peers who are running Webmaker activities. I found them in all three cities I visited. This is the awesome posse holding fort at the registration desk at our recent Manila Maker Party.
As you can see just from my handful of examples, these mentors (sic) are quite diverse. But they do have things in common. They are passionate about the web. They want to teach or share what they know about the web in an active way. They want to be part of what Mozilla’s doing, either on the face of it or because the big tent brings people to their own teaching programs. And, across the board, they are simply generous and enthusiastic people who want to make the world better for the people around them by sharing the web.
At this stage, these mentors are the most critical audience for Webmaker. This is in part because they are the ones who get it and like it: they are in a great position to help us test, iterate and build it out further with community contributions. But it’s also because they will bring in the next round of web makers. Each mentor who uses Webmaker.org will bring 5 – 50 more users as a part of the teaching they are doing. Summed up: growing our mentor community will both make Webmaker better and grow our user base. IMHO, we should be putting most of our efforts right now on making Webmaker better for — and with — mentors.
September 11, 2013 § 4 Comments
Over the last three months, Mozilla set up a global lab. It’s called Maker Party. And its goal is to do real world experiments that invite people to teach, play with and test the thinking behind Mozilla Webmaker. This lets us learn and improve as we go. In this post I outline the questions we’re asking. In follow-on posts, a bunch of us will look at what we’re learning.
What are we trying to test? At the broadest level, we want to test the idea that we can teach the culture and technology of the web to large numbers of people by tapping into maker culture and people’s desire to create. More specifically, Maker Party is asking:
1. How broad is (web)making? What do people want to make and learn?
The Webmaker program is a big tent: we support people who are teaching the culture and technology of the web no matter what tools they are using. Maker Party events reflect this, with people teaching everything from HTML to robots to paper prototyping. On the other hand, Webmaker.org is currently focused on Mozilla’s tools. Maker Party helps us ask: What do people most want to make and learn? What’s our relationship to the broader maker movement? Depending on the answers, do we expand the scope of Webmaker.org? How?
2. Does our ‘making as learning’ approach work? Does it draw people in?
We built Webmaker.org with the theory that people will learn how the web works fastest and best if we invite them to make something that delights them and that they are passionate about. The starter makes, new UX and the increased focus on remix that started to appear in Webmaker in June are all based around this theory. Maker Party helps us test this theory, both by seeing which aspects of the tools / content / site people were most drawn to and by asking mentors ‘what do you think people are learning?’.
3 What value can we provide people who want to teach the web?
People who want to teach others about the web are our first target for Webmaker. Spanning everyone from English teachers to web developers to teens who want to show their friends something cool, these are our ‘lead users’ They’re willing to kick the tires to help us improve. And they help us grow by bringing in more users (the people they want to teach). They are key to our early success. The question for Maker Party: What motivates these people? What value can we provide them? What can our tools, content and community offer to them that they can’t find elsewhere?
4. Can we grow our reach by working with partners?
Partnership has always been a core part of our ‘big tent’ approach with Webmaker. For Maker Party, we signed up dozens of partners to help us in the lab (and to run great programs for young people. They include: National Writing Project; Code Club; New York Hall of Science; Black Girls Code; Girl Scouts of America; MIT; California Academy of Science; E-Skills; Pycon Canada. Maker Party helps us ask: What motivates these partners? What value add can we offer to the programs they are already running? Are they helping us grow our reach and impact? Are we helping them do the same?
5. How do we build a global community of mentors?
One of the key goals of Maker Party is to grow and strengthen a lasting community of Webmaker mentors. With this in mind, we designed multi-step process that included: 1) recruiting and teaching mentors (Teach the Web MOOC); 2) offering a Mozilla Mentor badge to create a sense of belonging; 3) supporting mentors as they ran Maker Parties; 4) celebrating the best mentors; and 5) creating an ongoing mentor program for people to join post campaign. The questions for the lab: What parts of this worked? Do people want to stay involved? What does a formal ‘program’ for mentors look like? What content, infrastructure and staff do we need?
With over 1,000 Maker Parties under our belt, it’s time to start answering these questions. We have a great deal of real world experience and feedback to throw against the questions above. We also have a slate of formal user testing feedback on webmaker.org that we’re rolling into the design. And we have a growing network of excellent mentors who can help us both reflect and design next steps.
For my part, I’m going to write up reflections on Maker Parties I attended in the UK, the Philippines and Indonesia over the past week. People from across the Webmaker team will also be doing their own posts. And we may do a survey of Maker Party organizers based on the questions above. This will feed into how we evolve both the Webmaker program overall and webmaker.org.
If you’ve been involved, I encourage you to do your own reflections. Blog. Tweet using the #makerparty hashtag. Post in the Webmaker mailing list. We’ve all got a to playing in making Webmaker better.
May 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
Open Badges started as a modest experiment: build open source badge issuing software for ourselves and others. As momentum around this experiment has grown, it feels like the opportunity is bigger: we could build openness and user empowerment into how learning — and professional identity — work all across the web. With Open Badges 1.0 out there in the world, now is the right time to ask: where next for Mozilla and badges?
When Mozilla and MacArthur Foundation first started work on Open Badges about 18 months ago, the plan was to build a badge interchange standard (like SMTP for skills) and a collection of open source software for issuing and sharing badges (Badge Backpack, Open Badger, etc.). We’ve built all these things. And we’ve put up a reference implementation that Mozilla and others are using. This was really the limit of our original plan: build some basic open tech for badges and put it out there in the world.
The thing is: there has been way more excitement and pick up of badges than we expected. Even though Open Badges only launched officially in March, there are already over 800 unique providers who have issued almost 100,000 badges. We are also starting to see the development of city-wide systems where learners can pick up hundreds of different badges from across dozens of learning orgs and combine them all into a single profile. Chicago is the first city to do this (June 1), but Philadelphia and San Francisco are not far behind. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg: orgs like the Clinton Global Initiative and the National Science Foundation are focusing on badges in a way that is likely to drive even more educators to pick up the Open Badges standard, making their badges interoperable with others.
Of course, the fact that educators and policy makers are interested in badges doesn’t represent a victory in itself. It just shows momentum and buzz. The real opportunity — and the real impact — comes when learners and employers get excited about badges. Mozilla never planned to build offerings for these audiences. Increasingly, it feels like we should.
In the Internet era, people learn things online and out of school all the time. Whether you want to make a web page, knit a sweater or get better at calculus, the internet makes it easy to learn on your own or with a group of friends outside of a school setting. However, there is no good way to get credentials or recognition for this kind of learning. And, even if there was, there is no trusted, verifiable way to plug that recognition into Facebook, About.me and other places that make up your online identity. People have no good way to show ‘what they know’ online.
Similarly, employers are increasingly turning to the internet to find talent. They use sites like LinkedIn that let you search online resumes. Or, increasingly, to sites like Gild and TalentBin that use data mining to find potential hires. The problem: these services do not offer granular or variable skills profiles. And, with some of them, there are significant issues around privacy: people are being offered up as potential hires without even knowing that these sites are collecting data about them.
Mozilla could offer a distributed, open source and privacy-friendly solution to problems like these. We could help learners show their skills in all their online profiles and also help employers search for talent reliably. However, to do so, we’d have to build a Firefox-quality offering for learners and employers on top of Open Badges. While this hasn’t been our focus up til now, I’m thinking more and more that this is something we should consider.
In some ways, there is a parallel to Gecko and Firefox. Gecko provides the underlying platform for shaping standards around our vision of the web. But we need a popular consumer offering like Firefox if we want this vision to actually become relevant in the market. Right now, with Open Badges, we’re mostly just playing at the underlying standards layer. If we really want to shape how learning and professional identity work on the web, we probably need to build our own offerings directly for the people who most want and need badges.
Now is the time to be looking at where the opportunity is in this space. Momentum and demand is amongst educators is growing. More and more start ups are appearing in the badges, portfolio and skills spaces. And likelihood that badges will be important for learners and employers is growing. We need to be asking ourselves: how can Mozilla — and its values — shape this space?
With this in mind, Erin Knight is leading an effort over the next few months to look at different badges product options. She’ll be providing updates on her blog. And I’ll be summarizing here as well. If you have ideas on where Mozilla should go on all of this, we’d love to have you involved as we think this through. Comments here on this post are a good place to start.
April 25, 2013 § 6 Comments
A better picture of Webmaker v2 has snapped into focus over the past few weeks. The current plan builds on the ‘Webmaker as a popular way to make and learn on the web’ vision we set out in December. What’s clearer now is our focus on people who already take photos, blog and create online: we give them new ways to make, remix. and improve their craft. We also them access to mentors committed to helping others learn how the web works.
In this post, I wanted to pull out my top 5 list of things I’m excited about in Webmaker v2:
1. Rebooting the brand to focus on makers of all ages
Cassie, Kate, Chris and others already working to reboot the Webmaker brand and UX to really emanate the maker spirit.
The idea is to appeal to teens and above, not kids. Also, to target people who already ‘make’ in some sense. You can see hints of this in their early mockups.
2. Building a gallery to show all the awesome makes
The biggest gap in Webmaker v1 was the lack of a gallery where you can see what people made. Fixing this is the top priority for Webmaker v2.
The site will lead with tiles of the best things people have made. More importantly, the site will be filled with all sorts of different galleries: makes that teach you how to make a similar thing; makes you made; makes on specific themes; makes that are actually curriculum materials.
3. Creating a Make API so anyone can make a gallery
In related news: we’ve started work on a ‘Make API’ that will let anyone pull a slice of Webmaker content to create their own gallery or service.
At the simplest level, this is a win as it gives us a common publishing model for both Thimble and Popcorn. But, in the long run, the Make API could be something more radical: it’s way for people to store, describe, slice, dice and share any blob of HTML from across the web. Ultimately, it could help people to take control of all the things they make online, no matter where they’ve made them.
4. Deepening learning w/ challenges + badges
Webmaker v2 will include peer reviewed badges based where: 1) we describe a skill; 2) someone submits something they made that demonstrates that skill; 3) a peer or mentor reviews the submission and awards the badge (or not).
This is exciting because a) we can badge for skills defined in the Mozilla web literacy standard and b) people can submit ‘makes’ made with any tool (e.g. Scratch). This second piece is essential if we want to open things up widely on the making as learning front: people don’t just want to make things with Popcorn and Thimble.
5. Making it easy to make hacktivity kits using Thimble
For Webmaker to succeed, we need any mentor in our network to be able to write or remix Hackable Activity Kits.
Currently, that’s difficult as our learning materials are all hard coded web pages that need someone with commit privileges to check in. We’re going to change this by making it possible to create these kits directly in Thimble and then creating a special gallery for these pages. The result: a constantly updated community run gallery of learning materials.
These 5 things — and everything in the Webmaker v2 product vision — represent a big leap forward. When we started 2013, we had a fragmented offering with no single sign on, no gallery and no publishing model. We’re moving to a place where we not only have a unified offering but also something that is flexible in terms of how people publish and how they learn. New features and improvements will roll out weekly over the course of the summer, starting June 15. If you want to track progress on Webmaker v2, follow this scrumbug and this Tumblr blog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
September 25, 2012 § 6 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.
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.
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:
- Build a foundation: Thimble + Popcorn as way to test our making + learning thesis (2012)
- Build with the community: add in badges, get community adding content and code (2012+)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.