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 .

Branding at Mozilla community events

February 2, 2012 § 3 Comments

The Mozilla Japan team did a great job at branding at the recent Hive Tokyo Pop-up. In particular, they a) made a typical cafe look like a Mozilla space while also b) giving community projects a good way to explain themselves with hackable signs. It impressed me enough that I wanted to share.

The core asset was a poster-sized glossy foam core board with Mozilla branding around the edge and a big whiteboard space in the middle:

For people who don’t do events, this may seem like no big deal. But it’s huge. At something like a Mozilla Festival Science Fair, these posters let presenters tell their own story while still using a single brand to pull together the whole event. Here are a couple of signs from the event:

In addition to these poster boards, Mozilla Japan also did a good job of general signage and small elements that pulled the space together in a cohesive way. They even had small event signs to cover over the cafe’s own signage (didn’t get photo). A nice touch!

We should emulate some of this stuff for our community event spaces at Mozilla offices. I’m going to investigate building up a set of materials like this for the Toronto office at the start using generic Mozilla branding. We should also investigate for community events we do in cities around the world. We’ll probably also do some stuff like this for the Mozilla Science Fair at MacArthur’s DML conference in San Francisco.

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.

Making Mozilla big in learning

September 30, 2011 § 12 Comments

I’ve talked about Mozilla going big in learning quite a bit recently. Specifically, I’ve talked about making Mozilla the biggest, most innovative technology learning organization on the planet. I’ve also talked about the importance of doing this in a Mozilla-like way, with P2P pedagogy and strong focus on making. The question now is: how?

The first step is fairly easy, or at least obvious: roll the best bits of Drumbeat into a single, coherent program designed to teach web culture and web skills at a global scale. This includes the clearly educational bits like Hackasaurus and School of Webcraft. But it also includes media and innovation programs like Web Made Movies and MoJo that are already helping new kinds of people learn, tinker and make things on the web. And, of course, it includes Open Badges as a basis for offering recognition and credit for what people have learned.

My personal opinion is that it’s time for us to focus in this way. What we’re hearing from you  is that we need to relentlessly focus on the small number of things we can be best in the world at. This is what separates all great organizations from merely good ones.

The harder part is defining what a ‘Mozilla goes big in learning’ program would look not as a loose set of programs, but rather as a cohesive whole. Based on dozens of discussions and comments on my blog, I’ve put together a high level straw man outline. It looks like this:

Mozilla wants to spread web culture and skills at a massive scale
by being the biggest, most innovative tech learning org on the planet.

We’ll drive this through:

  • top quality Mozilla web literacy and web skills content for all ages
  • a community-run lab where learners and inventors make things together
  • a global community of webmakers who learn and mentor with each other
  • Mozilla Badges that recognize skills, achievement and contribution
  • P2P learning and making, building on Mozilla’s collaborative way of working

These last two bits point to something critical: if we want to create a vibrant community of learners and mentors, we need to build a recognition system that rewards the best and most generous people in this community. When I think of the social scaffolding for this community — and for the learning programs I describe above — I imagine something like this:

The idea: give people a clear way to advance through Mozilla learning programs and labs, and then recognize their achievements and contributions through badges. This not only provides a way to incent learning and mentoring, it will also help us build the next generation of Mozilla community leaders.

The good news: we already have a head start. The best bits of Drumbeat give us a set of learning programs, software and community from which to build. Once we strengthen and systematize these things, we can snap them into a bigger learning offering like the one I am describing. We can then build up more content, a mentor network and Mozilla web skills badges system on top of these foundations that we’ve built through Drumbeat.

Of course, we haven’t yet decided if this is what we want to do. There is huge opportunity in learning: Mozilla could help millions of people gain the literacy and skills they need to shape how the web works in their own lives and careers. However, dedicating ourselves to learning at this scale would be a big bet. It would take significant time, resources and patience.

I want to start a broader conversation over the next few weeks to help deliberate and iterate on these ideas. It starts with the simple questions: Should Mozilla go big in learning? and What would that look like? I’ll do a summary post early next week as a way to focus this conversation. However, I’d be happy to hear people’s thoughts a comments on this post in the meantime.

Friends, mentors and connected learning

September 27, 2011 § 7 Comments

Friendship is a powerful force for learning. Especially friendship built around a shared interest or passion. Space travel. Cooking. Technology. Gardening. Whatever. We tend to gather, explore, make, play — and learn — with friends who also share our passions. As people like Mimi Ito have shown with research: friendship and interests drive learning.

Mozilla’s learning programs should to be designed around this combination of friendship and passion. Our mantra might be: people learn at Mozilla by building exciting things on the web with their friends. Notionally, all of our learning programs need to be built around a P2P pedagogy with a big emphasis on making things and expressing your passion. Or, as our friends at MacArthur often say to me, we need to be doing ‘connected learning’.

Funnily enough, the importance of friendship came up in the debate about ‘Mozilla as teacher’ vs. ‘Mozilla as mentor’ in response to one of my recent posts. Ken Saunders said:

I suppose that mentor seems like (and may be) a friendlier, perhaps even more modest word. I’ve had many mentors who were also my friends, but few teachers that were.

Ken’s pointing to something critical here, even if indirectly: what makes the existing Mozilla community tick is a sense of common cause, collegiality, helping each other out, inventing and building things together. Friendship.

We need to keep this idea of friendship at the core of what Mozilla in learning. The good news is that a collegial P2P learning spirit is already built into what we’ve been doing with programs like School of Webcraft and Hackasaurus. What we need to do now is figure out how to be more systematic, how to do this with some scale.

Mentorship is likely one of the keys: encouraging senior community members to befriend and help others learn. The idea is to use friendship and shared interest to connect people with different experience levels. We’ve talked about building this kind of mentorship program like this with Hackasaurus and other youth-oriented programs. It’ll probably be one of the first new things we push on in 2012, alongside a badges program for web skills.

Interest and passion are the other side of this learning coin. Given our goal is to teach people web skills and web culture, we need to tap into their other interests: e.g., use their interest in gardening to teach them about the web. This may sound crazy or hard, this recent video about our  work with the Bay Area Video Coalition reminded me we’re already doing it:

We’re also working with the New Youth City Learning Network (more on this soon) to connect kids who are interested in science, art, poetry, hip hop, etc. with web technology that lets them express themselves. This is interest-based learning.

Through Drumbeat we’ve already  started to connected with interest-based communities: teachers; journalists; filmmakers; artists; etc. These people want Mozilla to help them learn how to apply the culture and skills of the web to their own domain. Many of them have also said they want to help Mozilla in return. These are the sort of new community leaders and mentors we’ll need if Mozilla wants to go big in learning.

One question still looms: what does Mozilla going big in learning look like? I’m going to take shot at that in my next post. In the mean time, I’m interested to hear from people whether what I’ve written hear addresses some of the concerns people raised around my ‘Mozilla as teacher’ post.

Mozillians as inventors

September 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Making is learning. Learning happens when we make. At least, this is the pattern we see when we look around Drumbeat. Projects explicitly about learning have put making things at their core. And, projects that started with making have added a big piece on learning.

Mozillians as inventors diagram

One thing I’ve noticed: particularly impressive learning happens when people get to make — or help make — something new and innovative. Something other people will use. Something that will have impact.

The Popcorn.js video library is a good example. From the beginning, Popcorn was a partnership between a filmmaker (Brett) and a professor (Dave). Brett and Dave had an idea for a Javascript library that could spark a whole new kind of open source cinema. Dave’s students at Seneca College had the energy and enthusiasm to build out this idea, learning how to architect and evolve a Javascript library along the way.

By putting Dave’s (physical) classroom inside Brett’s (virtual) lab, the Seneca students had a learning opportunity like no other. Certainly, they had to learn fast and on their feet. At first, this is harder than learning from a textbook or making toy software. But, in exchange for hard work, students get help from the Mozilla community plus a chance to blaze a very real trail on the web. Based on the conversations I’ve had with Dave’s students, I’d argue this leads to deeper learning and, certainly, deep pride.

Surprisingly (at least to me), MoJo has become another example of how we can connect learning and innovation. From the start, the project was about innovation, with aim of putting fellows into newsrooms to build a new kind of webapps. But learning has become an increasingly important goal for MoJo: we’ve realized we could help thousands of people learn how to use the web to reshape newsrooms, not just the 15 fellows we select.

Admittedly, we don’t know how to do this at scale yet. The recent MoJo learning lab reached only 60 people, and was too closely tied to whether one became a fellow or not. But we did catch a glimpse of what might be possible through MoJo events and discussions that happened trough the challenge cycle. The idea of inventing new web things for the newsroom galvanized people, got them sharing ideas. It had people teaching and mentoring each other even if they didn’t know it.

I say inventing here quite on purpose. There is pride and motivation in ‘making a thing’. Even more so a thing that seems new, novel or innovative. This sort of informal, fast, iterative invention is quite common and natural across Mozilla. It’s a good way to create valuable new tools for the web. Based on the little we’ve observed, this sort of ‘inventing’ is also a magnetic motivator for learning.

This observation has influenced how I think. Mozilla-style, tinkerish invention should be a central part of the learning programs we develop next. We also need to focus strongly on basic web literacy. And to encourage people to use code to make things that are simply fun and fanciful. But the idea of ‘Mozillians as inventors’ should certainly be in the mix.

Which leads me to this: if we want to create the biggest, most interesting technology learning organization on the planet (I think we should!), Mozilla needs not only to be a school but also a lab. Not a school and a lab in any traditional sense: whatever we do must be open, distributed, global and peer-to-peer, just like an open source project. But certainly, we will need to build out spaces that are both about learning and inventing.

I have a practical picture in my mind of how this might work: how we might build Mozilla programs that mix school and lab, teacher and inventor. I will post on this next week. I’ll also post soon on the question on the ‘Mozilla as teacher vs. mentor’ topic. I agree with much of what people have said about ‘mentor’, but want to explore.

In the meantime, I wonder: what do you think about this idea of Mozillians as inventors? Is it important to how we construct learning programs, or a distraction?

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