April 14, 2014 § 19 Comments
Ten years ago, a scrappy group of ten Mozilla staff, and thousands of volunteer Mozillians, broke up Microsoft’s monopoly on accessing the web with the release of Firefox 1.0. No single mastermind can claim credit for this achievement. Instead, it was a wildly diverse and global community brought together through their shared commitment to a singular goal: to protect and build the open web. They achieved something that seemed impossible. That’s what Mozillians can do when we’re at our best.
Over the last few years, we’ve taken on another huge challenge: building a smartphone incorporating the technology and values of the open web. In a few short years, we’ve taken Boot to Gecko, an idea for an open source operating system for mobile, all the way to the release of Firefox OS phones in 15+ countries. It was thousands of Mozillians — coders, localizers, partners, evangelists and others — that made this journey possible. These Mozillians, and the many more who will join us, will play a key role in achieving the audacious goal of putting the full power and potential of the web into the hands of the next two billion people who come online.
Over the last few weeks, the media and critics have jumped to the conclusion that our CEO defines who Mozilla is. But, that’s not the reality.
The reality is this: Mozilla is all of us. We are not one or two leaders, and we never have been. Mozilla is a global community of people building tools for a free and open web that we can’t build anywhere else. We’re people solving the tough problems on the web that most need solving. Mozilla is all of us taking action every day, wherever we are. Building. Teaching. Empowering. We all define who Mozilla is together. It’s the things we choose to build and teach and do every day that add up to ‘Mozilla’.
While hard, the past few weeks have been a reminder of that. The attention, boycotts, ire from across the political spectrum, and departure of an original founder like Brendan would have devastated most companies, leaving them wounded and floundering with their leadership gone. But, Mozilla is not like most companies. Instead, we’re a global community that rolls up our sleeves to work on a common cause, not a company with single leader. Mozilla is all of us. As Mozillians, we need to remember this. And live it.
That’s one of the reasons I’m happy Chris Beard agreed to step in as interim CEO at the Mozilla Corporation today. Certainly, he knows technology and products, having played a key role in everything from the early success of Firefox to unveiling Firefox OS at the Mobile World Congress. But, more importantly right now, Chris is one of the best leaders I know at gathering people around Mozilla in a way that lets them have impact.
Just one example of where Chris has done this: the famous Firefox 1.0 ad in the New York Times.
The notable thing about this ad is not its size or reach, but that Mozilla neither placed nor even paid for it. The ad was a grassroots effort, dreamed up and paid for by roughly 10,000 people who’d been using Firefox in beta and wanted the world to know that there was a real choice in how people could access the web. Chris was running marketing for Mozilla at the time. As he saw community momentum growing around the idea, he jumped in to help, bringing in more resources to make sure the ad actually made it into the Times. He did what Mozilla leaders do at their best: empower Mozillians to take concrete action to move our cause forward.
Mozilla has a tremendous amount of momentum right now. We’ve just shipped Firefox OS in 15 countries and released a $25 open source smartphone that will bring the web to tens of millions of people for the first time. We’re about to unleash the next round of events for our grassroots Maker Party campaign, which will bring in thousands of new volunteers and teach people around the world about how the web works. And we’re becoming a bigger — and more necessary — voice for trust and for privacy on the web at time when online security is facing unprecedented threats. The things we are all working on together are exciting, and they’re important.
In all honesty, the past few weeks have taken their toll. But, as they say, never waste a good crisis. We’re already seizing the opportunity to become even better and stronger than we were a month ago.
This starts with reminding ourselves that Mozilla is at its best when we all see ourselves as leaders, when we all bring our passion and our talent full bore to building Mozilla every single day. Chris has a role in making this happen. So do people like Mitchell and me. The members of our boards play a role, too. But, it is only when all of us roll up our sleeves to lead, act and inspire that we unlock the full potential of Mozilla. That is what we need to do right now.
March 30, 2014 § 145 Comments
I was a anarchist, lefty, peace movementy punk teenager. I spent my 20s making documentaries with the environmental collective. And the feminist collective. And whoever else I could teach to use a video camera. During my 30s I co-founded Canada’s most popular left wing news web site, Rabble.ca. I’ve spent all my life being active and public about the causes I believe in.
Needless to say, people have asked how I could work side by side with people like Brendan Eich who seem to have such different beliefs and politics.
For the record: I don’t like the fact that Brendan supported Proposition 8, and I stand strongly for gay marriage. And, while I don’t actually know what Brendan’s politics are, as he is normally quite private about them, I have always assumed they are very different from mine on a wide range of issues.
But Brendan and I very aligned on something very political: defending the free and open internet. This is one of the most important issues of our day. And it is what Brendan and I — and countless other Mozillians around — the world are working on together.
We live in a great moment in history, where more people than ever before can express themselves wildly and creatively, thanks to the web. As a punk rock kid, it’s more than I could have ever dreamed of. But we also live in a world where Big Brother is among us and around us. There are governments and companies using the web to watch us and control us. That’s happening more and more. As billions more people roll onto the web in the next few years, we really are at a critical crossroads for humanity: we have to decide if the web is about freedom or control.
What’s amazing is Mozillians, including me, work side by side with people who have very different beliefs — even beliefs that upset them — because protecting the web matters so much right now. As we do, differing beliefs on issues other than the web almost never enter the fray. In Brendan’s case, I didn’t even know he had taken a position on Prop 8 until it became the subject of public attention. And, as someone with public views that are likely different than his, I’ve never experienced him as anything other than a supportive and hardworking colleague. This ability to set aside differing and diverse beliefs to focus on a common cause is something we as Mozilla stand for on principle. And, in a way that I have never seen in any other organization, this works at Mozilla. It makes us stronger.
But Mozilla is messy. Our ability to set aside differences does not mean that everything is simple or that we’re always civil. In fact, when the topic is the web or Mozilla itself, we quite often get into open, heated and, for the most part, thoughtful debate. Many people outside Mozilla may not understand this. But, again, it makes us stronger.
The community dialogue around Brendan’s appointment is an example of this. People have reflected on the tension feeling of being emotionally effected by Brendan’s donation while at the same time experiencing Mozilla as a supportive and safe space for all sorts of people to work and protect the web. People have said personal opinions and donations are not their business. [corrected link] People have said that a CEO has to be held to a different standard as they are a public figure. People have talked about the tension between inclusion and free speech. And people have talked about forgiveness, the benefit of the doubt and picking your battles. All of this in public on blogs and twitter. All of this, in my opinion, making us stronger as we work through the complex questions at hand.
Which brings me to a worry I have. And an ask.
I worry that Mozilla is in a tough spot right now. I worry that we do a bad job of explaining ourselves, that people are angry and don’t know who we are or where we stand. And, I worry that in the time it takes to work this through and explain ourselves the things I love about Mozilla will be deeply damaged. And I suspect others do to.
If you are a Mozillian, I ask that you help the people around you understand who we are. And, if you have supported Mozilla in the past are frustrated or angry with us, I ask you for kindness and patience.
What Mozilla is about is working through these things, even when they’re hard. Because the web need us to. It’s that important.
March 12, 2014 § 8 Comments
As my business card says, I have an affection for the world wide the web. And, as the web turns 25 this week, I thought it only proper to say to the web ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to keep you free’.
From its beginning, the web has been a force for innovation and education, reshaping the way we interact with the world around us. Interestingly, the original logo and tag line for the web was ‘let’s share what we know! — which is what billions of us have now done.
As we have gone online to connect and share, the web has revolutionized how we work, live and love: it has brought friends and families closer even when they are far away; it has decentralized once closed and top-down industries; it has empowered citizens to pursue democracy and freedom. It has become a central building block for all that we do.
Yet, on its 25 birthday, the web is at an inflection point.
Despite its positive impact, too many of us don’t understand its basic mechanics, let alone its culture or what it means to be a citizen of the web. Mobile, the platform through which the next billion users will join the web, is increasingly closed, not allowing the kind of innovation and sharing that has made the world wide web such a revolutionary force in in the first place. And, in many parts of the world, the situation is made worse by governments who censor the web or use the web surveil people at a massive scale, undermining the promise of the web as an open and trusted resource for all of humanity.
Out of crisis comes opportunity. As the Web turns 25, let us all say to the web: ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to keep you free’. Let’s take the time to reflect not just on the web we have, but on the web we want.
Mozilla believes the web needs to be both open and trusted. We believe that users should be able to control how their private information is used. And we believe that the web is not a one-way platform — it should give as all a chance makers, not just consumers. Making this web means we all need access to an open network, we all need software that is open and puts us in control and we all need to be literate in the technology and culture of the web. The Mozilla community around the world stands for all these things.
So on the web’s 25 birthday, we are joining with the Web at 25 campaign and the Web We Want campaign to enable and amplify the voice of the Internet community. We encourage you to visit www.webat25.org to sign a birthday card for the web and visit our interactive quilt to share your vision for the type of web you want.
Happy Birthday to the web — and to all of us who are on and in it!
pps: Here’s the quilt: the web I want enables everyone around the world to be a maker. Add yourself.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
… 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:
… 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.
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:
- create internet products that work like lego
- defend the internet from people who want to break it
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Family + kitchen table = hack jam, Lainie DeCoursy
- Kitchen Table Beta-Testing, J Dytrych
- Beta Testing Kitchen Tables, Jess Klein
- Our Hackasaurus Kitchen Table, Peter Rawsthore
- Scaffolding / tips for kitchen table jams, Peter Rawsthorne
- Kitchen Table Beta with Adults, Laura Hilliger
- Initial Distill of Kitchen Table Lesson, Laura Hilliger
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.
March 12, 2012 § 10 Comments
I believe HTML5 will create a new class of games: webbish games that, like the web itself, are hackable by design. These games will let you pull assets and data from across the web into your game world. And, they will let you remix, fork and share to your heart’s content. The result will be fun for people who like games — and huge potential for webmaking and learning.
The first glimpse I got of this was Jono Xia’s RunJumpBuild, a very simple side scroller level editor. While RunJumpBuild is rudimentary at this point, it shows an important idea: web games can pull anything with a URL into a game. A picture. A sound. A video. Data. RunJumpBuild is designed to let people create game levels that are made up of the web.
This may sound like no big deal. This is how millions of everyday web pages already work: displaying an image from Flickr; embedding a video from YouTube; pulling in Twitter and RSS data. But, just like movies, most games don’t work this way. Games tend black boxes, firewalled off from the social and creative assets of the web. IMHO, this is a missed opportunity for fun and creativity.
While these developments are nascent at best, I believe they hold great potential for Mozilla’s webmaking work and for our efforts to promote HTML5 games through our app store. At the webmaking level, the potential is obvious:
- Games are where the people are
- Hackable games can teach people basic web mechanics
- -> e.g. a URL is how the web knows where things are
- They could also teach HTML / CSS / JS to non-programmers
- -> games = motivation to learn the ‘universal level editor’
With this in mind, we’re starting a number of HTML5 game experiments as part of our webmaking work. The most significant is Gladius, a game engine which uses the web’s most popular 3D game libraries. We’ll use Gladius to build sample games with a web native level editor as a way to test out the ‘hackable web games’ idea. We’re also considering hackable game experiments built around basic 2D game archetypes and learning-oriented game experiences using Processing.js. All of this is in very early stages of development.
Obviously, there are a bunch of big design questions that will come with this work. How do you use content from across the web to add fun and playability into a game? How do we create simple UX to onramp people who have never edited HTML / CSS / JS before? And how do you layer in the learning angle? The good news is we have many of the same questions with Hackasaurus and Popcorn, so we’ve got a head start.
As an example: we’ve already done alot of work with Popcorn to build an ecosystem of plug-ins that pull services and data into a web native video production. We have plugins that make it easy to throw Twitter, Flickr or GoogleMaps into or around your video. We should do the same with games.
Why does this matter? Because much of the HTML5 talk today treats games like a black box — using things like Google’s NaCl to port existing C++ games to the web. This is similar when we first started Popcorn, a time when the web was seen simply as a distribution channel for a black boxed video. Now we’re starting to show that video on the web can be about something totally new. We can do the same with games: to seed a whole new class of games that are actually designed from the ground up to work like the web, and that are more fun because of this.
Rumour has it that Dan Mosedale, Alan Kligman, Bobby Richter and Rob Hawkes are going to be blogging about some of our plans in this area in coming days. So watch for that. Also, if you know other examples of hackable HTML5 games please let us know about them. We want to work with any and all people who are exploring this space.
PS. Yes, there is a typo in the word ‘learning’ in the diagram above. That’s part of my charm.
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:
- Describing Mozilla. (Mitchell)
- What makes the web better? (me)
- Describing the open web. (Mitchell)
- Open web definition for drumbeat.org. (me)
- Kids and the open web. (Atul)
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.