Quick thoughts from Kenya

July 18, 2014 § 2 Comments

Going anywhere in Africa always energizes me. It surprises me. Challenges my assumptions. Gives me new ideas. And makes me smile. The week I just spent in Nairobi did all these things.

Airtel top up agenda in Nairobi

The main goal of my trip was to talk to people about the local content and simple appmaking work Mozilla is doing. I spent an evening talking with Mozilla community members, a day and a bit with people at Equity Bank and a bunch of time with people from iHub. Here are three of the many thoughts I had while reflecting on the flight home:

Microbusiness is our biggest opportunity for AppMaker

I talked to ALOT of people about the idea of non-techie smartphone users being able to make their own apps.

My main question was: who would want to make their own app rather than just use Facebook? Most of the good answers had to with someone running a very small business. A person selling juice to office workers who wastes alot of travel time taking orders. An up and coming musician who wants a way to pre-sell tickets to loyal fans using mobile money. A chicken farmer outside Nairobi who is always on the phone with the hotels she sells to (pic below, met her and her husband while on a trip with Equity Bank folks). The common thread: simple to make and remix apps could be very useful to very small real world businesses that would benefit from better communications, record keeping and transaction processing via mobile phone.

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Our main priority with AppMaker (or whatever we call it) right now is to get a first cut at on-device authoring out there. In the background, we also really need to be pushing on use cases like these — and the kind of app templates that would enable them. Some people at the iHub in Nairobi have offered to help with prototyping template apps specific to Kenya over the next few months, which will help with figuring this out.

Even online is offline in much of Africa

As I was reminded at MozFest East Africa, even online is offline in much of Africa (and many other parts of the world). In the city, the cost of data for high bandwidth applications like media streaming — or running a Webmaker workshop — is expensive. And, outside the city, huge areas have connections that are spotty or non-existent.

BRCK-in-use

It was great to meet the BRCK people who are building products to address issues like this. Specifically: BRCK is a ruggedized wifi router with a SIM card, useful I/O ports and local storage. Brainstorming with Juliana and Erik from iHub, it quickly became clear that it could be useful for things like Webmaker workshops in places where connectivity is expensive, slow or even non-existent. If you popped a Raspberry Pi on the side, you might even be able create a working version of Webmaker tools like Thimble and Appmaker that people could use locally — with published web pages and apps trickling back or syncing once the BRCK had a connection. The Kenyan Mozillians I talked to were very excited about this idea. Worth exploring.

People buy brands

During a dinner with local Mozillians, a question was raised: ‘what will it take for Firefox OS to succeed in Kenya?’ A debate ensued. “Price,” said one person, “you can’t get a $30 smartphone like the one Mozilla is going to sell.” “Yes you can!”, said another. “But those are China phones,” said someone else. “People want real phones backed by a real brand. If people believe Firefox phones are authentic, they will buy them.”

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Essentially, they were talking about the tension between brand / authenticity / price in commodity markets like smartphones. The contention was: young Kenyan’s are aspiring to move up in the world. An affordable phone backed by a global brand like Mozilla stands for this. Of course, we know this. But it’s a good reminder from the people who care most about Mozilla (our community, pic below of Mozillians from Kenya) that the Firefox brand really needs to shine through on our devices and in the product experience as we roll out phones in more parts of the world.

Mozillians from Nairobi

I’ve got alot more than this rumbling around in my head, of course. My week in Uganda and Kenya really has my mind spinning. In a good way. It’s all a good reminder that the diverse perspectives of our community and our partners are one of our greatest strengths. As an organization, we need to tap into that even more than we already do. I truly believe that the big brain that is the Mozilla Community will be a key factor in winning the next round in our efforts to stand up for the web.

How do we get depth *and* scale?

July 16, 2014 § 7 Comments

We want millions of people learning about the web everyday with Mozilla. The ‘why’ is simple: web literacy is quickly becoming just as important as reading, writing and math. By 2024, there will be more than 5 billion people on the web. And, by then, the web will shape our everyday lives even more than it does today. Understanding how it works, how to build it and how to make it your own will be essential for nearly everyone.

Maker Party Uganda

The tougher question is ‘how’ — how do we teach the web with both the depth *and* scale that’s needed? Most people who tackle a big learning challenge pick one path of the other. For example, the educators in our Hive Learning Networks are focused on depth of learning. Everything the do is high touch, hands-on and focused on innovating so learning happens in a deep way. On the flip side, MOOCs have quickly shown what scale looks like, but they almost universally have high drop out rates and limited learning impact for all but the most motivated learners. We rarely see depth and scale go together. Yet, as the web grows, we need both. Urgently.

I’m actually quite hopeful. I’m hopeful because the Mozilla community is deeply focused on tackling this challenge head on, with people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making and organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. We’re seeing the seeds of both depth and scale emerge.

This snapped into focus for me at MozFest East Africa in Kampala a few days ago. Borrowing from the MozFest London model, the event showcased a variety of open tech efforts by Mozilla and others: FirefoxOS app development; open data tools from a local org called Mountabatten; Mozilla localization; Firefox Desktop engineering; the work of the Ugandan National Information Technology Agency. It also included a huge Maker Party, with 200 young Ugandans showing up to learn and hack with Webmaker tools.

Maker Party Uganda

The Maker Party itself was impressive — pulled off well despite rain and limited connectivity. But what was more impressive was seeing how the Mozilla community is stepping up to plant the seeds of teaching the web at depth and scale, which I’d call out as:

Mentors: IMHO, a key to depth is humans connecting face to face to learn. We’ve set up a Webmaker Mentors program in the last year to encourage this kind of learning. The question has been: will people step up to do this kind of teaching and mentoring, and do it well? MozFest EA was promising start: 30 motivated mentors showed up prepared, enthusiastic and ready to help the 200 young people at the event learn the web.

Curriculum: one of the hard parts of scaling a volunteer-based mentor program is getting people to focus their teaching on the most important web literacy skills. We released a new collection of open source web literacy curriculum over the past couple of months designed to solve this problem. We weren’t sure how things would work out, I’d say MozFestEA is early evidence that curriculum can do a good job of helping people quickly understand what and how to teach. Here, each of the mentors was confidently and articulately teaching a piece of the web literacy framework using Webmaker tools.

Making as learning: another challenge is getting people to teach / learn deeply based on written curriculum. Mozilla focuses on ‘making by learning’ as a way past this — putting hands-on, project based learning at the heart of most of our Webmaker teaching kits. For example, the basic remix teaching kit gets learners quickly hacking and personalizing their favourite big brand web site, which almost always gets people excited and curious. More importantly: this ‘making as learning’ approach lets mentors adapt the experience to a learner’s interests and local context in real time. It was exciting to see the Ugandan mentors having students work on web pages focused on local school tasks and local music stars, which worked well in making the standard teaching kits come to life.

Clubs: mentors + curriculum + making can likely get us to our 2014 goal of 10,000 people around the world teaching web literacy with Mozilla. But the bigger question is how do we keep the depth while scaling to a much bigger level? One answer is to create more ’nodes’ in the Webmaker network and get them teaching all year round. At MozFest EA, there was a session on Webmaker Clubs — after school web literacy clubs run by students and teachers. This is an idea that floated up from the Mozilla community in Uganda and Canada. In Uganda, the clubs are starting to form. For me, this is exciting. Right now we have 30 contributors working on Webmaker in Uganda. If we opened up clubs in schools, we could imagine 100s or even 1000s. I think clubs like this is a key next step towards scale.

Community leadership: the thing that most impressed me at MozFestEA was the leadership from the community. San Emmanuel James and Lawrence Kisuuki have grown the Mozilla community in Uganda in a major way over the last couple of years. More importantly, they have invested in building more community leaders. As one example, they organized a Webmaker train the trainer event a few weeks before MozFestEA. The result was what I described above: confident mentors showing up ready to teach, including people other than San and Lawrence taking leadership within the Maker Party side of the event. I was impressed.This is key to both depth and scale: building more and better Mozilla community leaders around the world.

Of course, MozFestEA was just one event for one weekend. But, as I said, it gave me hope: it made be feel that the Mozilla community is taking the core building blocks of Webmaker shaping them into something that could have a big impact.

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With Maker Party kicking off this week, I suspect we’ll see more of this in coming months. We’ll see more people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making. And more people organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. If we can make happen this summer, much bigger things lay on the path ahead.

The Instagram Effect: can we make app making easy?

July 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

Do you remember how hard digital photography used to be? I do. When my first son was born, I was still shooting film, scanning things in and manually creating web pages to show off a few choice pictures. By the time my second son was walking I had my first good digital camera. Things were better, but I still had to drag pictures onto a hard drive, bring them into Photoshop, painstakingly process them and then upload to Flickr. And then, seemingly overnight, we took a leap. Phones got good cameras. Photo processing right on the camera got dead simple. And Instagram happened. We rarely think about it, but: digital photography went from hard and expensive to cheap and ubiquitous in a very short period of time.

Mozilla on-device app making concept from MWC 2013 (Frog Design)

Mozilla on-device app making concept from MWC 2013 (Frog Design)

I want to make the same thing happen with mobile apps. Today: making a mobile app — or a complex interactive web page — is slow, hard and only for the brave and talented few. I want to make making a mobile app as easy as posting to Instagram.

At Mozilla, we’ve been talking about this for while now. At Mobile World Congress 2013 we floated the idea of making easy to make apps. And we’ve been prototyping a tool for making mobile apps in a desktop browser since last fall. We’ve built some momentum, but we have yet to solve two key problems: crafting a vision of app making that’s valuable to everyday people and making app making easy on a phone.

We came one step closer to solving these problems last week win London. In partnership with the GSMA, we organized a design workshop that asked: What if anyone could make a mobile app? What would this unlock for people? And, more interestingly, what kind of opportunity and imagination would is create in places where large numbers (billions) of people are coming online for the first time using affordable smartphones? These are the right questions to be asking if we want to create an Instagram Effect for apps.

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The London design workshop created some interesting case studies of why and how people would create and remix their own apps on their phones. A DJ in Rio who wanted to gain fans and distribute her music. A dabbawalla in Mumbai who wants to grow and manage the list of customers he delivers food to. A teacher in Durban who wants to use her Google doc full on student records to recruit parents to combat truancy. All of these case studies pointed to problems that non-technical people could more easily solve for themselves if they could easily make their own mobile apps.

Over the next few months, Mozilla will start building on-device authoring for mobile phones and interactive web pages. The case studies we developed in London — and others we’ll be pulling together over the coming weeks — will go a long way towards helping us figure out what features and app templates to build first. As we get to some first prototypes, we’re going get the Mozilla community around the world to test out our thinking via Maker Parties and other events.

At the same time, we’re going to be working on a broader piece of research on the role of locally generated content in creating opportunity for people in places whee smartphones are just starting to take at off. At the London workshop, we dug into this question with people from organizations like Equity Bank, Telefonica, USAID, EcoNet Wireless, Caribou Digital, Orange, Dalberg, Vodaphone. Working with GSMA, we plan to research this local content question and field test easy app making with partners like these over next six months. I’ll post more soon about this partnership.

MoFo Update (and Board Slides)

July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

A big priority for Mozilla in 2014 is growing our community: getting more people engaged in everything from bringing the web to mobile and teaching web literacy to millions of people around the world.  At our June Mozilla Foundation board meeting, I provided an update on the MoFo teams contribution to this effort during Q2 and on our plans for the next quarter. Here is a brief screen cast that summarizes the material fromt that meeting.

In addition to the screencast, I have posted the full board deck (40 slides) here. Much of the deck focuses on our progress towards the goal of 10k Webmaker contributors in 2014. If you want a quick overview of that piece of what we’re working on, here are some notes I wrote up to explain the Webmaker slides:

  • Our overall annual goal: grow Webmaker community to include 10k active contributors teaching web literacy by end of 2014.
  • The main focus of Q2 was to respin Webmaker as a platform for people who want to teach web literacy with Mozilla. Main things we achieved:
  • Over 250 partners secured and 100s of events created in advance for 2014 Maker Party (Q2 goal: Pre-launch Maker Party 2014 for partners and contributors)
  • A new version of Webmaker.org released in June oriented towards the needs of instructors who want to contribute to Mozilla (Q2 goal: re-launch webmaker.org with new UX)
  • Related result: over 3000 people signed up to teach w/ Mozilla this summer as Party of Maker Party.
  • Developed and released comprehensive web literacy curriculum — as well as new platform of Webmaker.org for people to publish and remix curriculum themselves (Q2 goal: Release web literacy ‘texbook’ at webmaker.org/explore)
  • In addition, we spun up a new joint MoCo / MoFo program in Q2 called the Mobile Opportunity Initiative.
  • This initiative will focus on local app and content creation in markets where FirefoxOS is launching, and will include development of easy app authoring tools as well as Webmaker training to go along with this. (Q2 goal: pilot Webmaker Mobile + local content program (includes FFos))
  • For Q3: the main goals are to a) run a successful Maker Party and b) grow the number of people we have contributing to Mozilla by teaching web literacy. Specific goal: Maker Party reach and impact builds on 2013.KPIs: 2400 events + 6500 contributors
  • We also want to use Q3 to grow Maker Party from a yearly campaign into a year round program — or network of ‘clubs’ — for people teaching with Mozilla.New features added to support year round ‘teach the web’ program. Specific goal: Add new features added to support year round ‘teach the web’ program
  • Finally, Q3 will include a getting meat on the bones for the Mobile Opportunity Initiative, including prototypes of what Appmaker could offer to users. Specific goal: Announce digital inclusion initiative w/ partners from mobile industry. KPIs: 3 carrier partners and 3 philanthropic partners aligned *and* three ‘appmaker’ user value concepts tested in field w/ at least 300 content creators

The slides also talk about our joint efforts with MoCo to grow the number of Mozilla contributors overall to 20,000 people in 2014. In addition to Webmaker, Mozilla’s Open News, Science Lab, Open Internet Policy and MozFest initiatives are all a part of growing our contributor community. There is also a financial summary. We are currently $12M towards our $17M revenue goal for the year.

For back ground and context, see Mozilla’s overall 2014 goals here and the quarterly goal tracker here. If you have questions or comments on any of this, please reach out to me directly or leave comments below.

Things I’m thinking about

June 3, 2014 § 3 Comments

I’m in one of those ‘need to get back to blogging’ modes. Thinking about a lot of things. Feeling too busy to blog. Waiting until I have the perfect thing to say. Which is always a bad sign.

So, to get the juices flowing, I just decided to make a list of things I’m thinking about. Here it is:

1. Connecting open mobile <-> local content <-> web literacy — we we need to make progress on all three of these things at once if we want the web to be a serious player for the next few billion internet users. I’m working up a project on this topic with Ben, David and others.

2. Building a web literacy mentor community that scales — I’m excited about Maker Party, but also worried we’ll see post-campaign drop off again this year. We need a more systematic mentor program that grows, gets better and keeps people engaged 365/days a year. I’m helping Michelle and Brett think about this.

3. Figuring out the connection between an open internet and a fair internet. This a tricky. We assume an open internet will unlock opportunity for the billions of people coming online over the next few years. But it could just as easily lead to digital sweatshops. My new friends Chris and Brooke got me thinking about this in April. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

4. Finding the right balance between clear goals, working across teams and distributed leadership. If I’m honest, we’ve struggled with these things at MoFo for the last 18 months or so. Our recent all hands in San Francisco felt like a breakthrough: focused, problem-solvey, fast moving. I’m thinking alot about how to keep this feeling. Working with Gunner and a bunch of other people on this.

5. Pushing on the Hive Lab concept. Some of the best Webmaker ideas — and much of our new Webmaker ‘textbook’ — come from the educators, designers and programmers we work with in Hives. However, we haven’t really figured out a way to systematically support and invest in this ‘lab’ side of Hive. I’ve been working with Claw and others to see how we can do more here.

6. Raising money. I’m always thinking about this, so it’s on my list. Right now, I’m thinking about major gifts, which is an area we’ve never cracked. IMHO, breaking through in this area is critical if we want to build Mozilla into a 100 year org that withstand the ups and downs of the market. I’m starting to talk to Geoff about this. Also, looking for outside people to help.

7. Linking Maker Party and net neutrality. Alot of the issues that Mozilla cares about are hard for people to get their heads around — net neutrality, DRM, etc. We should be able to use our web literacy work to help with this. I’ve been talking to Dave, Amira and others about building a ‘net neutrality teach-in’ campaign into Maker Party as an experiment in making this web literacy <-> big-hairy-internet-issue link.

8. Talking about LEGO some more. Specifically: how the LEGO Movie has a bunch of corny-but-useful metaphors for how screwed the Internet is right now. And how we can’t rely on a single here (e.g. Mozilla) to save the day. Spoiler: I’m going to use some LEGO Movie clips in my Knight Civic Media Conference talk later this month.

Random. I know. But these are places my brain is right now. A little scattered. But all feels juicy, good, important. Will write in more depth on some of these things soon.

Mozilla is all of us

April 14, 2014 § 19 Comments

Ten years ago, a scrappy group of ten Mozilla staff, and thousands of volunteer Mozillians, broke up Microsoft’s monopoly on accessing the web with the release of Firefox 1.0. No single mastermind can claim credit for this achievement. Instead, it was a wildly diverse and global community brought together through their shared commitment to a singular goal: to protect and build the open web. They achieved something that seemed impossible. That’s what Mozillians can do when we’re at our best.

Over the last few years, we’ve taken on another huge challenge: building a smartphone incorporating the technology and values of the open web. In a few short years, we’ve taken Boot to Gecko, an idea for an open source operating system for mobile, all the way to the release of Firefox OS phones in 15+ countries. It was thousands of Mozillians — coders, localizers, partners, evangelists and others — that made this journey possible. These Mozillians, and the many more who will join us, will play a key role in achieving the audacious goal of putting the full power and potential of the web into the hands of the next two billion people who come online.

Over the last few weeks, the media and critics have jumped to the conclusion that our CEO defines who Mozilla is. But, that’s not the reality.

The reality is this: Mozilla is all of us. We are not one or two leaders, and we never have been. Mozilla is a global community of people building tools for a free and open web that we can’t build anywhere else. We’re people solving the tough problems on the web that most need solving. Mozilla is all of us taking action every day, wherever we are. Building. Teaching. Empowering. We all define who Mozilla is together. It’s the things we choose to build and teach and do every day that add up to ‘Mozilla’.

While hard, the past few weeks have been a reminder of that.  The attention, boycotts, ire from across the political spectrum, and departure of an original founder like Brendan would have devastated most companies, leaving them wounded and floundering with their leadership gone. But, Mozilla is not like most companies. Instead, we’re a global community that rolls up our sleeves to work on a common cause, not a company with single leader. Mozilla is all of us. As Mozillians, we need to remember this. And live it.

That’s one of the reasons I’m happy Chris Beard agreed to step in as interim CEO at the Mozilla Corporation today. Certainly, he knows technology and products, having played a key role in everything from the early success of Firefox to unveiling Firefox OS at the Mobile World Congress. But, more importantly right now, Chris is one of the best leaders I know at gathering people around Mozilla in a way that lets them have impact.

Just one example of where Chris has done this: the famous Firefox 1.0 ad in the New York Times.

Firefox 1.0 New York Times Ad

The notable thing about this ad is not its size or reach, but that Mozilla neither placed nor even paid for it. The ad was a grassroots effort, dreamed up and paid for by roughly 10,000 people who’d been using Firefox in beta and wanted the world to know that there was a real choice in how people could access the web. Chris was running marketing for Mozilla at the time. As he saw community momentum growing around the idea, he jumped in to help, bringing in more resources to make sure the ad actually made it into the Times. He did what Mozilla leaders do at their best: empower Mozillians to take concrete action to move our cause forward.

Mozilla has a tremendous amount of momentum right now. We’ve just shipped Firefox OS in 15 countries and released a $25 open source smartphone that will bring the web to tens of millions of people for the first time. We’re about to unleash the next round of events for our grassroots Maker Party campaign, which will bring in thousands of new volunteers and teach people around the world about how the web works. And we’re becoming a bigger — and more necessary — voice for trust and for privacy on the web at time when online security is facing unprecedented threats. The things we are all working on together are exciting, and they’re important.

In all honesty, the past few weeks have taken their toll. But, as they say, never waste a good crisis. We’re already seizing the opportunity to become even better and stronger than we were a month ago.
This starts with reminding ourselves that Mozilla is at its best when we all see ourselves as leaders, when we all bring our passion and our talent full bore to building Mozilla every single day. Chris has a role in making this happen. So do people like Mitchell and me. The members of our boards play a role, too. But, it is only when all of us roll up our sleeves to lead, act and inspire that we unlock the full potential of Mozilla. That is what we need to do right now.

 

Mozilla is human

April 4, 2014 § 215 Comments

A few days ago I wrote: Mozilla is messy. For better and for worse, the week’s events showed how true that is.

Looking back at the past week, this also comes to mind: Mozilla is human. In all the best and worst ways. With all the struggle and all the inspiration. Mozilla is very very human.

On the inspiration part, I need to say: Brendan Eich is one of the most inspiring humans that I have ever met. He is a true hero for many of us. He invented a programming language that is the heart and soul of the most open communications system the world has ever known. He led a band of brilliant engineers and activists who freed the internet from the grip of Microsoft. And, one-on-one, in his odd and brilliant ways, he helped and advised so many of us as we put our own hearts and souls into building Mozilla and building the web. I was truly excited to see Brendan step into the role of CEO two weeks ago. And, today, I am equally sad.

It’s important to remember that all heroes are also human. They struggle. And they often have flaws. Brendan’s biggest flaw, IMHO, was his inability to connect and empathize with people. I’ve seen and felt that over the years, finding Bredan brilliant, but distant. And you certainly saw it this past week, as many calm and reasonable people said “Brendan, I want you to lead Mozilla. But I also want you to feel my pain.” Brendan didn’t need to change his mind on Proposition 8 to get out of the crisis of the past week. He simply needed to project and communicate empathy. His failure to do so proved to be his fatal flaw as CEO.

I would argue that Mozilla is filled with heroes. Thousands of them. All of them very human, just like Brendan. In the past week, I’ve spent every waking hour with these heroes. And I have watched them struggle. I’ve watched Mitchell struggle with how to protect the soul and spirit of a global community that is filled with passion, dreams, tensions and contradictions. I’ve watched the boards struggle with how to govern something that is at once a global social movement, a valuable consumer brand and a company based in the State of California. I have watched dozens and dozens of Mozillians reflect — and sometimes lash out — as they struggle to figure out what it means to be an individual contributor or leader inside this complex organism. And I myself have struggled with how to help Mozillians sort through all this complexity and messiness. Being human is messy. That is Mozilla.

As I look at the world’s reaction to all this, I want to clarify two things:

1. Brendan Eich was not fired. He struggled to connect and empathize with people who both respect him and felt hurt. He also got beat up. We all tried to protect him and help him get around these challenges until the very last hours. But, ultimately, I think Brendan found it impossible to lead under these circumstances. It was his choice to step down. And, frankly, I don’t blame him. I would have done the same.

2. This story is actually not about Brendan Eich. Of course, the critics and the media have made this a story about Brendan and his beliefs. But, as someone intimately involved in the evens of the past week, I would say in earnest: this is a story about Mozilla finding its soul and its spirit again. Over the past three years, we’ve become better at being A Company. I would argue we’ve also become worse at being Mozilla. We’ve become worse at caring for each other. Worse at holding the space for difference. Worse at working in the open. And worse at creating the space where we all can lead. These are the things that make Mozilla Mozilla. And they are the things we did not have enough of to properly find our way out of the crisis of the past two weeks.

Before getting into this kerfuffle, we were working on the right things. We were building a phone that will truly bring the web into the hands and the pockets of the world. We were teaching the world how the web works. And we were standing up against those who want to break the web or turn into a way to watch what each of us do every day. Those are still the things we need to be doing. And we need to start doing them again on Monday.

What we also need to do is start a process of rebirth and renewal. We need to find our soul and our spirit. The good news: Mozillians know how to do this. We know how to make a phoenix rise from the ashes. That is what we must now do.

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