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?

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?

Mozilla and the web makers

September 7, 2011 § 6 Comments

When I say ‘maker’, most people understand what I mean: a DIY ethic, a hankering to create. Often, makers are into robots and gadgets. Physical things. But the web is also filled with people who love to tinker, create and make.

In my last post, I argued that Mozilla should engage these ‘web makers’ as we refine and evolve what we started with Drumbeat. Which begs the question: who are the web makers?

Looking at the people who have joined our community recently, I see teachers, filmmakers, journalists, artists, 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. I believe Mozilla has alot to offer these people, and vice versa.

To understand this, it’s worth looking at the people who have gotten involved Mozilla as a result of Drumbeat. Here are three examples:

Jess Klein is a designer who teaches kids about technology. She’s designed games. She’s worked for Sesame Street. And now she’s helping Mozilla bring Hackasaurus to life, designing a whole new way for kids to learn about the web.

Kat Cizek is a documentary filmmaker. She’s chronicled the participatory media org Witness. She’s won an Emmy for a web documentary she made in Flash. And now she is making a whole film with Popcorn and WebGL, a film made for the browser and solely with the open building blocks that make up the web.

Cathy Davidson is an iconoclastic professor at Duke University. She let’s her students choose their own grades. She wrote a book about how the web is rewiring our institutions. She also built out a huge part of last year’s Mozilla Festival, and now is helping us figure out where to go next in education.

These people have some things in common. They share Mozilla’s open spirit and maker ethic. They see the open web as a canvas for their ideas. They are building things with the web. And they are all actively contributing to Mozilla.

I like to think Mozilla offers these people something special: a chance to build — and learn– alongside people from Mozilla’s more traditional community who are creating the cutting edge of the web. This is what we’ve started with Drumbeat.

On the flip side, these people clearly have something to offer Mozilla: help building a world where millions more people understand that the web is about making things.

This is why I want these people actively involved in shaping where Mozilla goes in the future. In my next few posts, I will talk about how these people can help us build on the work we’ve started with Drumbeat, especially how we teach and build tools for web makers.

A question in the meantime: what do others think about the role the people I am describing here can play in Mozilla?

NextBeat: a generation of web makers

August 31, 2011 § 5 Comments

We started Drumbeat as an experiment to bring new people and new ideas into Mozilla. Some results from the first 18 months: 20,000 people signed up, dozens of new community leaders and solid core projects like Hackasaurus, School of Webcraft, Popcorn, MoJo and OpenBadges.

While I’m proud of all this, I actually think Drumbeat’s biggest achievement has been carving out a new way for Mozilla to work: teaching and building things with people I call ‘web makers’.

The projects at the core of Drumbeat have been built by matching teachers, filmmakers, journalists, artists, game makers and curious kids with the kind of developers who make up Mozilla’s more traditional community.

While these new community members come from different backgrounds, they have two things in common: 1) they share Mozilla’s open spirit and maker ethic, and 2) they want to use the open web as a canvas for their ideas.

As part of Mitchell’s broader conversation about the next era of Mozilla, I want to explore how we can work with these web makers to refine and evolve what we’ve started with Drumbeat.

Specifically, I want to explore how we weave teaching and building things with web makers into the core of Mozilla’s work. The MoFo team came up with some early thinking on this over the summer:

  1. We set up Drumbeat to figure out how to extend our mission beyond Firefox (and beyond software).
  2. What we found: Mozilla has an opportunity to build the next generation of web makers. This opportunity is huge.
  3. This is partly about teaching: helping people learn how to use the building blocks that make up the web.
  4. It’s also about making tools: tools for creativity, tinkering and invention. Built by and for web makers.
  5. We can — and should — do these things. They will keep the Mozilla spirit alive, advance our mission, and build our values into the future of the web.

Of course, Mozilla should continue to invent and evolve the core building blocks that make up the web. That is what we’ve always been good at.

But — as our early work in Drumbeat has shown — teaching people how to use and extend these building blocks also has huge potential to advance Mozilla’s cause. As Mitchell said last year in Barcelona:

One of the values of Mozilla is that we *build* things. Moving individuals from consumption to creation is Mozilla’s goal.

Reaching this goal will take millions of individuals teaching each other how to build things, and then extending how things are built. I can imagine Mozilla as a new kind of learning institution and open research lab that brings these people together. That’s something that can — and should — be a part of who we are.

In my next posts, I plan to explore this web maker concept and introduce some of the new people who have joined Mozilla through Drumbeat. I will also float some concrete ideas on how we can refine Drumbeat with the help of these people, rolling it back into the mainstream of Mozilla and growing it into something bigger at the same time.

Better internet literacy: an experiment

April 14, 2011 § 14 Comments

I believe we have an internet literacy problem.
Well over a billion people know how to get online. But a much smaller number understand basic concepts like how to read a URL or how to make a good password. Without these conceptual building blocks, it’s hard to get around, be safe or shape your little corner of the net. Or, as Mitchell might say, it’s hard to have control over your online life.

How the internet works cartoon

It’s on us to fix this. Or at least to help. Mozilla’s products take us part way: they give people powerful tools to interact with the web. I think we also need to offer conceptual tools that help people gain even more control of their lives online. With this in mind, I’m proposing an experiment: a distributed, open sourced social marketing campaign to help people become more internet literate.

Marketing the open internet

What do I mean by social marketing? If you are old like me (42), just think about Schoolhouse Rock: ubiquitous Saturday morning cartoons that used catchy jingles to help kids get abstract concepts like grammar and civics. Or, if you are Canadian, think back to the Participaction ad campaigns used to promote exercise from the 1970s to the 1990s. These are classic social marketing: using simple messages and popular media to drive mass understanding of important and socially beneficial concepts.

Schoolhouse Rock Logo

I’ve been asking myself recently: what does effective social marketing look like in the internet era? How could it improve internet literacy?

The core of social marketing is extremely simple messaging that makes people care about seemingly hard to grok concepts. It’s difficult to imagine millions of people getting excited about ‘how to read a URL’ — but this is what social marketing is about. Simple messages on tough concepts is something that should work as just as well on the web as it did on television.

The other key element is popular media. Of course, popular media has changed dramatically — what worked on tv 30 years ago won’t work on the web today. However, one can easily imagine hundreds of thousands of people reinterpreting, retweeting and remixing a few simple messages. This could knock internet literacy out of the park, giving a whole generation a meme or two to remember.

A 5 step experiment

Which brings me to the experiment: a social marketing mashup of traditional simple messaging and web era distributed pop culture. Imagine 5 steps:

  1. Ask, what are the 10 things we wish everyone on the internet knew.
  2. Come up with extremely simple messaging on each of these topics, messaging that a very broad audience could relate to.
  3. Build an open source communications toolkit around these messages: write out key messages, give people remixable bits of media, etc.
  4. Get everyone with a stake in internet literacy spreading these messages in their own way. Recruit some movie stars if you can.
  5. Watch what happens. Improve the campaign toolkit, rinse and repeat.

Like Google’s 20 Things book, this experiment focus on explaining core internet concepts in accessible terms. But in Mozilla style, we’ll create a collaborative, open sourced, open ended messaging toolkit that’s modular and remixable. And we’ll borrow the best social marketing wisdom to spread those ideas as far as possible.

Using the principle of start small, about a dozen people will gather in Toronto in early May to start the experiment. It’ll be a mix of Mozillians, educators, privacy experts, net neutrality advocates and web companies — all people who both want and need internet literacy to improve.

Our goal will be to prototype the messaging toolkit I describe above. We’ll we’ll write together on just a few topics: producing a raw messaging and reusable assets on each topic. We’ll share what we create, and discover which kinds of content and which kinds of messages help ignite the kind of remixable, distributed campaigns we need. And if those campaigns need more fuel for the fire, we’ll organize a bigger sprint to build out more topics and materials that people can use to market the web.

I don’t know exactly how this experiment will unfold, but as I was reminded recently, there is power in uncertainty. It’s the same power that drives the web: the power of staying open to contribution, to re-invention, to inspiration. I hope you will join in this experiment once it gets going, and help us fill in the blanks.

PS. Thanks to Rob Cottingham for the awesome cartoon above.

Media, freedom + the web: berlin talk

March 24, 2011 § 5 Comments

As I pointed out a while back, this year is Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday. It’s a good time to be thinking about media and the web: in particular about how the free and open medium of the web is shaping all media that came before. Increasingly, this is a theme for Mozilla Drumbeat in 2011.

Why now? Yes, partly because it’s Marshall’s birthday. But more importantly, we’re at a key juncture: traditional media are increasingly reinventing themselves by tapping into the essence of the web; at the same time monopolies in spaces like social networking and mobile apps are calling the freedom of the web into question. Things could go either way: open or closed.

Back in February, I explored this theme in the annual Marshall McLuhan Lecture at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. I’ve re-recorded the talk and posted it here:

It’s a long talk: 40 minutes. If you just want to get a feel, you can flip through the PDF version. Or, you can download an mp3 audio version or an ogg video version.

At a high level, I believe we have to make a number of critical choices in coming years that will impact media and society for decades to come. My three top level points are:

MFW Berlin - The Web is Made of Freedom

We rarely call it out, but the same basic principles that make free software and open source great are also baked into the very fabric of the web itself. The web gives us the freedom to use, study, remix and share — that’s what we are all doing at a massive scale. We do these things because they are baked into both the technical building blocks and the culture of the web. When we think about the web as the medium that is shaping our times, it’s important to remember that this kind of freedom that is central to what’s going on.

McLuhan said: “The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.”

This has happened. And it hasn’t just happened to television. All media have become the content of the web. As a result, all media are wrapped in this context of freedom: in a world that lets you bend and share without asking permission. The initial reaction from old media was push back. But times are changing. We’re very clearly entering a phase where smart media players are using the essence of the web to reinvent themselves. Eg. witness the Guardian and Wikileaks or Al Jazeera in Egypt.

MFW Berlin - We Get to Make Choices

The context is a web built on freedom. The opportunity is that all media are reinventing themselves in this context. If we seize this opportunity, we can bake things like transparency, remix and sharing into the media culture and practice for the next 100 years. That’s what we’re trying to do with Mozilla Drumbeat projects like popcorn.js: build tools that give filmmakers and journalists access to the essence of the web. If we succeed, we also bake the web into how whole industries work and think.

Of course, there is another direction we can choose: we could close down the web. Tim Wu talks eloquently about this in his book the Master Switch. Talking about media empires in the last 100 years, he says: “Open eras tend to last for about 15 – 20 years. And then they flip into being more closed. 
We may be at the beginning of the closing with the internet.”

Specifically: we could give up our privacy and identity to one or two social networks; we let one or two companies decide who gets to innovate and create software; we could let governments decide whether we get to access the internet at all. The result would be a very different web than the one we have now.

It’s this point about choice that makes media such an important theme for Mozilla and Drumbeat in 2011: now is the time to aggressively, creatively and playfully promote web technology and web thinking in the broader world of media. What we do now will shape media — and society — for a long time to come.

I’d love to get people’s feedback on the ideas in this talk. And, even more, I’d love to see people building things and playing with the theme of media, freedom and the web as part of Mozilla Drumbeat in 2011.

This is the third in a series of posts about media, freedom and the web. I’m hoping to do more, including a few posts on the future of cinema.

The Next Million Mozillians (redux)

February 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

A little over two years ago, I did a bunch of posts about the idea of recruiting ‘the next million Mozillians’. My thinking at the time: we need to grow our community dramatically. We need to build even more creativity, reach and resilience into who we are. This is how we build a 100 year organization for the open web.

I still believe we need to do this. However, it turns out, finding a million more Mozillians (or whatever number we need) requires more than good intentions and a snap of the fingers. It requires a crisp understanding who we want to recruit and why they’d want to get involved. Getting to this takes time, experimentation and conversation.

The good news: I think we are closer than ever to having broad and solid strategy to dramatically grow the Mozilla community. As I look across Mozilla, I see three common goals emerging:

  1. Grow and strengthen our existing community of contributors
  2. Expand our scope: invent new ways for people to contribute
  3. Build a massive base of supporters who contribute in small ways

This list is not a top down set of marching orders. Just the opposite. It’s a pattern I see in experiments and initiatives from all across Mozilla. Experiments and initiatives with serious people and resources behind them. This gives me a great deal of hope.

There are conversations going on about bits of this strategy all across Mozilla: Contributor Engagement, Drumbeat, Join Mozilla, MDN. I figured it might be useful to share the overall pattern I’m seeing to feed into these more specific conversations. So, here’s my take …

1. Grow and strengthen our existing community

Depending on who you talk to, we have between 25,000 and 50,000 active Mozillians: people who contribute time and passion to making, improving, testing, localizing and promoting Mozilla software.

This is an awesome number. But it’s also a number that is hard to grow (or even sustain). Finding your way into this core community is often hard. And some community members feel they don’t get the support they need.

Of course, Mozilla has always focused on keeping this community strong. Summits. MozCamps. Community calls. Yet, there is increasing recognition we need to do more. Recognition is solidly turning into action.

Mary Colvig has formed a contributor engagement team with this exact goal: doing more. Mike Shaver is looking at ways to optimize how we make software, including a strong community component. David Boswell is trying to improve our Get Involved page. Gerv Markham is working on a community directory for all Mozillians. People like Alina Meirlus and FuzzyFox are investigating ways to make it easier for people to find their way into the Mozilla community.

These are only the initiatives that I know about. I am sure there are more. However, just looking at these I am convinced that people in Mozilla are broadly embracing the goal of growing and strengthening our contributor community.

2. Expand our scope: new ways to contribute

If we think about keeping the web open for the long haul, then Mozilla needs to get good at more than just building Firefox. And probably at more than just building software.

This is an easy thing to say in the abstract. But what exactly might we do beyond Firefox? What are the threats and opportunities on the web? What do we want to build? Who would want to contribute? Why?

Over the last few years, three new groups have formed to address these questions: Mozilla Drumbeat; Mozilla Labs; and Developer Engagement. All have a mandate to innovate and venture into new territory — and to bring new kinds of people into the Mozilla community.

What has me most excited is the fact that our once vague aspiration for new ways to participate in Mozilla started to become more concrete. The path to becoming a Mozilla / P2PU School of Webcraft course leader is clear (but clunky). The idea of Mozillian as news hacker is coming into focus. The chance to pitch in on Mozilla innovation thinking through a Labs Design Challenge is well established.

Also worth noting: many of these ‘beyond Firefox’ initiatives have started to become Mozilla community software projects. The Popcorn and Butter hypervideo tools. The processing.js toolset developed by Seneca and others. The Batucada open social platform we’ve developed for Drumbeat. All small scale, but notable as software projects aimed at the challenges and opportunities we face today on the web.

While all of these initiatives are interesting in their own right, the bigger story is about community. As they scale, these initiatives will allow many more people to contribute and become Mozillians. This is critical for growth. Ultimately, it’s the difference between being able to support 50,000 contributors and 500,000 contributors. Growing our community means expanding the number of things they can work on. Slowly, this is starting to happen.

3. Build a massive base to contribute in small ways

Personally, I believe that we need a third strategy for growing our community: a way for large numbers of people to simply stand up and support Mozilla. To simply show their affinity.

The main reason: this is the best and fastest way to spread our message, to explain to the world that we are more than just a browser. We know from other movements that ‘joining’ turns supporters into informal evangelists. They wear tshirts. They feel pride. They talk to their friends over dinner about why.

The other reason is that simple ‘support us’ programs are almost always the best way to scale a community of active volunteers and contributors. We saw this in the Obama campaign. And in online environmental organizations like 350.org. First people make a small pledge of money or affinity, then the most active are invited and supported in doing much more. Traditional campaigners call this a ladder of engagement.

Mozilla is trying to build this kind of supporter base through ‘Join Mozilla, newsletters and a number of other user engagement programs. The strategy is simple: we want people with a strong affinity for Firefox to understand that we are about something more, and then to express their support for our cause.

Of course, we can do much more once people have joined. We can activate supporters as informal evangelists. We can invite them to local meet-ups or parties. And we can encourage the keenest amongst them to become active Mozillians. And, if we look at other campaigns and movements, it’s clear that the starting point needs to be very simple. And, its still fantastic for the cause that the broad majority of people will be happy to do no more than just show their support.

Mitchell has talked informally about 2011 being ‘the year of community’ for Mozilla. I agree. When I look at the rough community strategy that is emerging across Mozilla, I think the opportunity for major growth is real — it’s an opportunity we can’t miss. I believe the Whistler goal of 1000x-ing the size of our community can actually be achieved.

The caveat: we need to dive in and take some risks now to make this happen. We need Mozillians from around the world to take a leap of faith — that we can scale our already awesome global community into a community that’s even more diverse, powerful and world changing.

Practically, this means moving quickly on everything from a community directory to innovation challenges to Drumbeat projects to the new Join Mozilla program. It means trying things and then trying them again, even if we don’t get them right the first time. As I say, I’m pretty hopeful about this. It’s exactly what the Mozilla community is good at.

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