10 mins of teaching webmaking

April 30, 2012 § 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HTML5 = new world of hackable games

March 12, 2012 § 11 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.

The other thing we’re starting to glimpse is games where ‘the web is the level editor‘. Of course, hackable games are nothing new. There is a long history of game modding. However, most modding uses level editors designed for a single game or game engine. HTML5 games will change this: the web programming stack (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) will become a universal level editor.

Enchant.js is an early example of this. It’s a rudimentary JavaScript framework for making 2D games. What’s notable is the invitation to ‘fork’ that is included in all the sample games. Press the ‘fork’ button and you get pushed into an editor that lets you work with the HTML, CSS and JS code that makes up the game.

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.

Michelle + I explain web making

February 20, 2012 § 6 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: public of the web

February 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

Inspired by Dave Parry, my friend Andrew said: “We are no longer just seeing the power of the public internet. We are now seeing the rise of the internet public.” It was a bit of an ‘aha!’ moment for me.

SOPA protest pic via Clay Williams

It’s been amazing to watch the push back against SOPA in the US and ACTA in Europe over the past few months. And, of course, to have witnessed the Arab Spring. The people behind these events didn’t just use the internet to amplify voices: they were the voice of the internet speaking. And, at least with SOPA and ACTA, the message itself was about the internet and what it stands for. This is new. And good.

I’ve always believed the internet is something special. Not just something to use and build on, but also something to stand up for.

As Joi Ito said in the New York Times a couple of months back: “The Internet isn’t really a technology. It’s a belief system, a philosophy about the effectiveness of decentralized, bottom-up innovation.” This vision of the internet has motivated me for a very long time. It’s what brought me to Mozilla.

Until recently, it felt like the group of people who cared about the Internet as philosophy was relatively small. I personally know hundreds of people who spend every day evangelizing the open ethos of the internet. I’m one of them. The thing is: none of us have had much luck getting sizeable numbers of people excited or engaged. We’ve all tried. But the idea of an ‘open web’ or ‘internet ethos’ has always been too abstract get people to prick up their ears.

This seems to be changing. We are seeing the rise of the internet public: a movement or constituency that is both of the internet and about the internet.

The Facebook signs in Tahrir Square were a first glimpse of this. In some ways, these signs were a small footnote in a bigger political change in the Arab world. But they also point to the fact that the internet is more than just a part of the story — it is itself a story to pay attention to.

The massive public push back on SOPA and ACTA show this more starkly: there is a broad public passion for and connection to the internet. People are saying: ‘the open internet and the way it connects us is a central part of the world we want to build.’ In this story, the internet isn’t only a disruptive tool that helps bring about democracy where it doesn’t exist, it’s also represents a vision of decentralized, bottom up society in it’s own right.

This part that feels new and different. ‘The internet as philosophy’ no longer feels so abstract. As an example of how things have gotten more concrete, the internet public has quickly and dramatically changed the discussion on both SOPA and ACTA. Both seemed destined for quiet approval just a few months ago, now SOPA seems to be dead or ACTA is under extreme public scrutiny.

Importantly, people with real power are listening and internalizing to this conversation. A White House response to SOPA petitions said:

“Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected.”

and

“Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security.”

Note what’s happening here: the leaders of a major economic power are espousing the importance of an open internet. They are also calling out the protection of a key technical building block upon which the open platform and philosophy of the internet are built. Similar things have happened in Europe around ACTA. This is both important and unprecedented.

At Mozilla, we’ve been talking about what to do next on SOPA and ACTA. This is important. But I believe there is a bigger question: how can Mozilla fuel, bolster, cheer on and be a part of this rising internet public? The world we’ve imagined may be just around the corner: a world where the ethos of the web is a conscious part of how huge numbers of people approach their lives, their work and their government. This is a the world I want to live in.

I’m going to think and write about all this some more. Partly in the context of SOPA and ACTA. But also in relation to building a more web-literate society — teaching tens of millions more people how the web works and how to code. Any thoughts you’ve got would help.

PS. A tip of the hat to Dave Parry for his ‘It’s not the Public Internet, It is the Internet Public.‘ post. I’ve gone in a slightly different direction, hopefully in a way that’s complimentary .

Happy New Year Mozilla. I’m excited!

January 2, 2012 § 4 Comments

As 2012 begins, I’m excited to be part of Mozilla. I’m excited about our plans to teach and equip millions of webmakers. About the open web apps technology we’re releasing. And about all the renewed energy around Firefox. In fact, I’m more excited about being part of Mozilla than I’ve been in years. And more proud.

When I first got involved Mozilla three years ago, there was already much to be proud of. Here was a global community of people who had not only won hearts of millions with an open source browser, but that had also helped save the web in the process. This was something huge.

However, the web has changed since then. It faces new challenges. The biggest of these challenges snapped into focus for me in 2011: we’re moving from a world where the web is an open and exciting platform where anyone can make anything to a world of elegant consumption shaped by just a few big players.

My excitement is rooted in Mozilla’s plans step up to this challenge in 2012: we’ve got new ideas — and new code — that can stem this tide.

Mozilla’s apps initiative is a good example: we’re building technology designed to open up the app marketplace, making it easier for anyone create, share, use, modify and sell apps using standard web technology. If we succeed, we have a chance to move beyond a world controlled by a few app vendors to one that’s much more like an open bazaar. And, we also get a world of apps based on the same standards and ‘view source ethos’ that the web was built on in the first place. This will be a radical shift.

Possibly just as radical is Mozilla’s webmakers initiative: an effort to move millions of people from using the web to making the web. As a starting point, we’re making software like PopcornMaker and running grassroots learning labs like Hackasaurus, both of which help everyday content creators learn basic web programming skills. Ultimately, we imagine a world where mainstream video and social network sites are built with software that also teaches how the web works, and then invites you to remix it. As the Mozilla Manifesto says, we want a world where everyone is in control of their internet life, where everyone is a webmaker. A big part of Mozilla’s 2012 will focus on build this world.

And, of course, there is much to be excited about in relation to Firefox, especially on mobile. I felt this yesterday as I (finally) updated my very old Firefox for Android to a recent nightly build. The tab experience. The search. The speed. It was all awesome. Which, of course, are nice things to say about a piece of software. But there is bigger meaning: for the first time ever I was actually enjoying the experience of using regular web pages on my tablet. Making sure the mainstream of the web is pleasant to use on mobile sounds like a no brainer, but it’s actually a radical yet difficult mission in a world increasingly oriented to apps. Firefox is taking on this mission.

Of course, these are only three of the things that have me excited. David Ascher, Dan Sinker and Glynn Moody have written about other emerging Mozilla initiatives. And there are many more in the works. The main point here is not Firefox + webmakers + apps: it’s that the Mozilla community is stepping up to the challenges faced by the web in 2012 with new and concrete ideas. And, as a community, we’re doing this with more force and enthusiasm than ever. It’s going to be an exciting year.

Creating a web literate planet (summary)

October 5, 2011 § 28 Comments

I want to us create a web literate planet. One where almost everyone — filmmakers, teachers, scientists, artists, bankers — understands what’s going under the hood on the web. Can take things apart. Remix them. Express what they want the web to be. Since starting Mozilla Drumbeat 18 months ago, I have seen that there is a thirst for this.

This thirst shows up partly in ideas: people calling out for web literacy, and in particular for a world where everyone knows at least a little code. Douglas Rushkoff is an example:

When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but to write. And as we now moved into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them.

I experience this thirst even more viscerally when I look at the web makers, including my 11 year old son. He posts video game commentaries online everyday. He craves creating things on the web. Yet, increasingly, he bumps up against the black box of YouTube, unable to take it apart, understand it or reconfigure how it works. He is not fully web literate.

As outlined in a number of posts recently, I believe Mozilla can play a leading role in creating a web literate planet. Concretely, I think Mozilla can — and should — build out a major P2P learning initiative that teaches web skills and web literacy to coders and non-coders alike. We should also take an active role building up the whole ecosystem of orgs emerging around web literacy and innovative, web-like learning.

With the aim of focusing (and firing up) a conversation on these ideas, I’ve written a summary of all my posts so far here. My major points have been:

Post #1: Our biggest achievement in the first 18 months of Drumbeat has been carving out a new way for Mozilla to work: teaching and building things with people I call ‘web makers’. The next thing we should do is build on this particular aspect of Drumbeat.

Post #2: The people I am calling web makers are teachers, filmmakers, journalists, artists, scientists, game makers and curious kids who a) want to be part of what Mozilla is doing and b) are making things using the open building blocks that are the web.

Post #3: We need to teach the world to code. Or, more specifically, we need to mentor web makers on a massive scale, giving them new skills to make their corners of the web more creative, participatory and open-ended. We need a big community of mentors to do this.

Post #4: We’ve noticed something: impressive learning happens when people get to make something new and innovative. If we want to drive learning, we also need to build a lab where people are invited to tinker, make and invent future pieces of the web.

Post #5: At the foundation of all this, we need a P2P pedagogy built around friendship and passion for a particular topic or interest (e.g. hip hop). Our mantra might be: people learn at Mozilla by building exciting things on the web with their friends.

Post #6: To make this concrete: we need a clear simple Mozilla learning program that anyone can dive into, no matter their age or skill level. This starts with the best bits of Drumbeat: Hackasaurus, School of Webcraft, MoJo, etc.. And is wrapped in a system of Mozilla badges that recognize the most skilled and generous community members.

What I am proposing is building a global P2P learning institution, tinkering lab and web skills certification system into the core of Mozilla’s work. Which raises the question, doesn’t this already exist? Partly yes, but mostly no.

Lots of people teach about computers. Few people teach about the web. For school age kids, the bulk of the focus remains on basic office apps and watching out for cyberbullies. And, for adults, the most popular out of school tech programs still continue to be things like the MCSE and Cisco Academy. Technical, but not very webbish, and certainly not at all helpful to the web makers.

Similarly, many people talk about educational innovation on the web. Few are trying build web-like learning experiences where making, tinkering and collaboration are at the core. You can see this in the myriad of e-learning and open educational resource sites that simply present videotaped classroom lectures. They aren’t even aiming a P2P pedagogy that works like the web.

Luckily, there are pioneers who are pushing forward on both web literacy and p2p pedagogy. Projects like Code Academy, Young Rewired State and CodeNow are teaching people great web coding skills. And people like Howard Rheingold, Cathy Davidson, Philipp Schmidt, Katie Salen, Dave Humphrey and everyone in MacArthur’s broader digital media and learning community are building learning experiences that work like the web. These are Mozilla’s allies, people we can both learn from and support as we build out a broader ecosystem around all of these ideas.

For now, we have a question: should Mozilla go big in learning? And how? The role we can play in teaching web skills and web literacy at a massive scale is clear, at least to me. And there is huge potential to contribute more broadly to learning innovation with things like Open Badges. But, as we deliberate on where to go next with Drumbeat, are these the right places to focus our energy?

PS. If you want to read more detail, I’ve posted all of my posts on this topic on a single page here.

Mozilla as teacher

September 12, 2011 § 28 Comments

We need to teach the world to code. Not just future engineers and web developers (although this is essential). But also teachers, journalists, filmmakers, artists, scientists and curious kids. These are the people who make much of the web. They need to understand code.

This has been the premise behind much of what we have done with Mozilla Drumbeat: people who make stuff on the internet are better creators and better online citizens if they know at least a little bit about the web’s basic building blocks. Even if they only learn a little HTML, the web gets better.

This premise has been most explicit in Hackasaurus and School of Webcraft. Hackasaurus invites teenagers to learn the basics of HTML by remixing and making web pages, embracing the idea that that web is infinitely rewriteable. School of Webcraft offers study groups where people can learn more advanced web skills.

While less explicitly educational, similar learning is happening in other Mozilla Drumbeat projects. For example, MoJo‘s fellowship program is all about bringing open web skills and thinking into newsrooms. It includes a learning lab with weekly guest lectures from mentors like Chris Heilmann and John Resig. And our partnership with the Bay Area Video Coalition introduces young filmmakers to the web as a canvas for their work, using tools like Popcorn to show what HTML5 can do for budding filmmakers.

Of course, ‘teacher’ isn’t quite the right word for the role Mozilla is playing in all of this. Everything we’re doing is about learning through making and collaborating on the web. Everyone involved is teaching each other. But the point remains: Mozilla can — and should — be a driver of learning code. And in many ways, it already is — a global community of passionate experts constantly sharpening our skills through hands-on collaboration, learning what we need from each other as go.

As we reviewed Drumbeat projects over the summer, the idea that teaching and learning about code is central to what we’re doing became clear. Our review also raised the question: could this idea of ‘Mozilla as teacher’ be a central part of what our community is about over the long run?

Personally, I think the answer is yes. As I said in previous post, I believe Mozilla has an opportunity to become the most important technology learning and research org on the planet: a whole new kind of learning institution based on the principles of the web.

Obviously, this is something much bigger than the few educational programs we’ve started in the last 18 months through Mozilla Drumbeat. But we do have the building blocks. School of Webcraft, Hackasaurus, Open Badges, Popcorn, MoJo, etc. all have elements that could be rolled into a much bigger, more ambitous vision for gettting people to teach each other to code.

I have some concrete ideas on how this might work, spinning what we’ve started with Drumbeat into something bigger. Also, I’m thinking through how we connect a ‘Mozilla as teacher’ persona with a ‘Mozilla as inventor’ persona. I’ll post on these things soon.

In the meantime, I’m wondering how this theme of ‘Mozilla as teacher’ resonates with people? Does the general idea feel right? Is there a different and better way to express it?

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