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.

Mozilla is messy

March 30, 2014 § 145 Comments

I was a anarchist, lefty, peace movementy punk teenager. I spent my 20s making documentaries with the environmental collective. And the feminist collective. And whoever else I could teach to use a video camera. During my 30s I co-founded Canada’s most popular  left wing news web site, Rabble.ca. I’ve spent all my life being active and public about the causes I believe in.

Needless to say, people have asked how I could work side by side with people like Brendan Eich who seem to have such different beliefs and politics.

For the record: I don’t like the fact that Brendan supported Proposition 8, and I stand strongly for gay marriage. And, while I don’t actually know what Brendan’s politics are, as he is normally quite private about them, I have always assumed they are very different from mine on a wide range of issues.

But Brendan and I very aligned on something very political: defending the free and open internet. This is one of the most important issues of  our day. And it is what Brendan and I — and countless other Mozillians around — the world are working on together.

We live in a great moment in history, where more people than ever before can express themselves wildly and creatively, thanks to the web. As a punk rock kid, it’s more than I could have ever dreamed of. But we also live in a world where Big Brother is among  us and around us. There are governments and companies using the web to  watch us and control us. That’s happening more and more. As billions more people roll onto the web in the next few years, we really are at a critical crossroads for humanity: we have to decide if the web is about freedom or control.

What’s amazing is Mozillians, including me, work side by side with people who have very different beliefs — even beliefs that upset them — because protecting the web matters so much right now. As we do, differing beliefs on issues other than the web almost never enter the fray. In Brendan’s case, I didn’t even know he had taken a position on Prop 8 until it became the subject of public attention. And, as someone with public views that are likely different than his, I’ve never experienced him as anything other than a supportive and hardworking colleague. This ability to set aside differing and diverse beliefs to focus on a common cause is something we as Mozilla stand for on principle. And, in a way that I have never seen in any other organization, this works at Mozilla. It makes us stronger.

But Mozilla is messy. Our ability to set aside differences does not mean that everything is simple or that we’re always civil. In fact, when the topic is the web or Mozilla itself, we quite often get into open, heated and, for the most part, thoughtful debate. Many people outside Mozilla may not understand this. But, again, it makes us stronger.

The community dialogue around Brendan’s appointment is an example of this. People have reflected on the tension feeling of being emotionally effected by Brendan’s donation while at the same time experiencing Mozilla as a supportive and safe space for all sorts of people to work and protect the web. People have said personal opinions and donations are not their business. [corrected link] People have said that a CEO has to be held to a different standard as they are a public figure. People have talked about the tension between inclusion and free speech. And people have talked about forgiveness, the benefit of the doubt and picking your battles. All of this in public on blogs and twitter. All of this, in my opinion, making us stronger as we work through the complex questions at hand.

Which brings me to a worry I have. And an ask.

I worry that Mozilla is in a tough spot right now. I worry that we do a bad job of explaining ourselves, that people are angry and don’t know who we are or where we stand. And, I worry that in the time it takes to work this through and explain ourselves the things I love about Mozilla will be deeply damaged. And I suspect others do to.

If you are a Mozillian, I ask that you help the people around you understand who we are. And, if you have supported Mozilla in the past are frustrated or angry with us, I ask you for kindness and patience.

What Mozilla is about is working through these things, even when they’re hard. Because the web need us to. It’s that important.

Excited about Eich

March 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

I’m excited that Brendan Eich is Mozilla’s CEOBrendan knows what’s important right now: building the values of the web into mobile and into the cloud at a massive scale. This vision is key to our success. But Brendan also offers something else: a real example of how we can each roll up our sleeves to tackle the hard, messy problems that we need to solve if we want to make this vision into a reality.

Brendan Graffiti

When I first came to Mozilla, I was a little starstruck. Here was an organization that had rallied a global community to build Firefox and beat Microsoft. An organization that had made open source — and many of the ideas behind it — mainstream. An organization filled with internet rock stars like Brendan. People who have changed the world, for real.

What I realized quickly: Mozillians are just everyday people. What makes them special is their particular ideas about how to make things happen in the world. Ideas like: build your vision and values into products that lots of people will want to use. And, find leverage, create standards and nurture relationships that help these products shape whole industries. And, do these things by empowering people and inviting them to help you out. Mozilla has won in the past because its people had been smart, tenacious and committed to this particular brand of poetry and pragmatism.

Working with Brendan over the years, I saw someone who everyday personified this Mozilla way of working. Think about Javascript as an example. Most of you probably know that Brendan invented Javascript. But what you might not know is how hard he worked worked internally at Netscape and Mozilla to put Javascript into products that millions of people would use. Or how he collaborated with competitors like Microsoft and Google. Or how he’s worked on standards. Or how much time he’s taken to speak to and inspire developers at events on every corner of the planet. Code matters in the history of Javascript. But so does leadership, business and alliance building. Brendan worked on all of these things over the years, turning Javascript from an idea into a programming language that is used widely and freely everywhere around the world to build the web.

In my opinion, this way of working is something we need more of at Mozilla right now. See the big picture. Roll up our sleeves. Pick the right battles. Make the right compromises. Figure out all the different kinds of things we need to do to win. And help each other out to get these things done.

I truly think Brendan can help us all do more of this right now. He’s already started with Firefox OS, not only leading us to build a compelling product in a few short years but also playing an active role in helping carriers and device manufacturers become partners contributing to Mozilla’s cause. Like always, Brendan has helped us build not just a product but also platforms and relationships that have the potential to shift the whole playing field. As we tackle everything from cloud services to building up new revenue lines to teaching 100s millions of people about the web, I believe Brendan can help each be smart, tenacious, practical and open as we work on solving our particular piece of the open web puzzle.

I’m feeling hopeful and inspired today. I’m looking forward to working closely with Brendan as Mozilla’s new CEO. And to rolling up my sleeves even further to build the web we’re dreaming of. I hope you want to do the same.

Happy birthday world wide web. I love you. And want to keep you free.

March 12, 2014 § 9 Comments

As my business card says, I have an affection for the world wide the web. And, as the web turns 25 this week, I thought it only proper to say to the web ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to keep you free’.

Web heart pic

From its beginning, the web has been a force for innovation and education, reshaping the way we interact with the world around us. Interestingly, the original logo and tag line for the web was ‘let’s share what we know! — which is what billions of us have now done.

As we have gone online to connect and share, the web has revolutionized how we work, live and love: it has brought friends and families closer even when they are far away; it has decentralized once closed and top-down industries; it has empowered citizens to pursue democracy and freedom. It has become a central building block for all that we do.

Yet, on its 25 birthday, the web is at an inflection point.

Despite its positive impact, too many of us don’t understand its basic mechanics, let alone its culture or what it means to be a citizen of the web. Mobile, the platform through which the next billion users will join the web, is increasingly closed, not allowing the kind of innovation and sharing that has made the world wide web such a revolutionary force in in the first place. And, in many parts of the world, the situation is made worse by governments who censor the web or use the web surveil people at a massive scale, undermining the promise of the web as an open and trusted resource for all of humanity.

Out of crisis comes opportunity. As the Web turns 25, let us all say to the web: ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to keep you free’. Let’s take the time to reflect not just on the web we have, but on the web we want.

Mozilla believes the web needs to be both open and trusted. We believe that users should be able to control how their private information is used. And we believe that the web is not a one-way platform — it should give as all a chance makers, not just consumers. Making this web means we all need access to an open network, we all need software that is open and puts us in control and we all need to be literate in the technology and culture of the web. The Mozilla community around the world stands for all these things.

So on the web’s 25 birthday, we are joining with the Web at 25 campaign and the Web We Want campaign to enable and amplify the voice of the Internet community. We encourage you to visit www.webat25.org to sign a birthday card for the web and visit our interactive quilt to share your vision for the type of web you want.

Happy Birthday to the web — and to all of us who are on and in it!

–Mark

ps: Also, check out these birthday wishes for the web from Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker and Brendan Eich.

pps: Here’s the quilt: the web I want enables everyone around the world to be a maker. Add yourself.

 

A $2.75M Challenge to Create a More Open Internet

February 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

When I first joined Mozilla I was blown away by its mix of poetry and pragmatism.

Mozilla started with a very basic question: How can we create a web that is more open? In answer to that question we witnessed the growth of a global community of Mozillians around the world who have an ingrained instinct to roll up their sleeves, learn from and teach each other, and build the solution to a problem.

Mozilla and Knight Challenge

The Mozilla community fundamentally understands that in order to affect change, people need to be makers, not just consumers.

After all, it’s this instinct to teach and build that enabled us to develop Firefox: 10 paid staff and a global army of volunteers contributed to the creation of a browser that beat out the biggest software company in the world. And we didn’t just build a better browser — we demonstrated the power of teaching. Millions of us installed Firefox on our friends’ and families’ computers—and explained what Mozilla stood for as we did this.

Fifteen years later, the world faces different problems.

In this new, post-Snowden era, it feels like everyone is talking about — and craving — a more open and trustworthy internet. The world has a better understanding of how people are being tracked online, and of the delicate balance between privacy and a world where we are all constantly connected. We live our lives online, and store everything in the cloud, yet our lives depend on technology and networks that too few users really understand.

And so, as Mozilla, we strive to answer the same fundamental questions that guided us at the beginning: how, today, can we strengthen an internet that is open and trustworthy? What is the next set of tools to enable people to protect their privacy? How best can we teach everyone basic web literacy skills like how to secure their information? Should we use our influence to ensure government and corporate policies help make the web more open and trustworthy? How do we do this work at scale, recognizing that billions of people will soon be online?

We’re trying to answer these questions in a number of ways, but we can’t do it alone. That’s why we are thrilled to join foces with the Knight Foundation and Ford Foundation on this year’s Knight News Challenge, which will fund $2.75M in grants to find and support great ideas.

In part, this new Knight Challenge aims to fund the technology, education programs and campaigns that will begin to satisfy the craving we have for a more open and trustworthy web. But, it also aims to spark a conversation around how to shape the next era of the web – an era where openness, security and innovation regain their status as elevated principles.

Mozillians bring our very practical ‘roll up our sleeves and build the future as we want to see it’ ethic and that is exactly what we need now. We’re the right ones to figure out how we can best leverage the mechanics, culture and citizenship of the web to keep it open.

So, let’s all commit to help out and participate in The Knight News Challenge. I’d love to see as many people as possible from the broader Mozilla community submit ideas for tech and propose new education programs.

Along with Knight and Ford, Mozilla is trying to build a wave of people creating the web we want. Let’s help start that wave.

This posting is also on the Knight Foundation blog.

MoFo 2014 plans

January 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

I’m excited about 2014 at Mozilla. Building on last fall’s Mozilla Summit, it feels like people across the project are re-energized by Mitchell’s reminder that we are a global community with a common cause. Right now, this community is sharply focused on making sure the web wins on mobile and on teaching the world how the web works. I’m optimistic that we’re going to make some breakthroughs in these areas in the year ahead.

Last month, I sat down with our board to talk about where we want to focus the Mozilla Foundation’s education and community program efforts in 2014. We agreed that two things should be our main priorities this year: 1. getting more people to use our learning tools and 2. growing our community of contributors. I’ve posted the board slides (pdf) and a screencast for people who want a detailed overview of our plans. Here is the screencast:

If you are just looking for a quick overview, here are some of the main points from the slides:

  • Over the past 5 years, MoFo has successfully built Webmaker, Open Badges and other community programs to compliment our work on Firefox, FirefoxOS and other products.
  • In 2013, MoFo generated $13M in revenue and gathered thousands of community members and contributors around these programs.
  • In 2014, MoFo’s goal is to improve and scale our education and community initiatives by:
  • a. Growing the number of contributors working on Mozilla initiatives like Webmaker, Open Badges, Open News, etc. to at least 10,000.
  • b. Driving adoption of Webmaker and Open Badges, with a particular focus on getting our tools into the hands of many more teachers and evangelists.
  • Our key strategy for doing these things is to identify and work with ‘lead users’ across all our programs in 2014. Lead users are people who are already enthusiastic about what we’re doing.
  • I talked alot about lead users for Webmaker in this post back in September. These people play a key role in testing, building and promoting our education and community programs alongside us.
  • In 2013, MoFo aims to generate at least $17M in revenue to support this work. We are projecting expenses of approximately $18M, over $1M of which are covered by grant revenue we received in 2013.

In addition to these slides, you can also find detailed workplans for Webmaker, Open Badges, Open News and other MoFo initiatives on the Mozilla Wiki.

At the Mozilla Summit, we imagined a bold future 10 years from now: one where the values of the web are built into all aspects of our connected lives and where the broad majority of people are literate in the ways of the web. In this world, Mozilla is a strong global movement with over a million active contributors.

We move towards this world by building real things: a widely used mobile operating system based on the web; new ways to store and protect personal information online; content and tools for teaching web literacy. I’m excited working on the education and community sides of all this in 2014 — I think we can make some breakthroughs.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on our plans and the year ahead, either as comments here or by email.

Who wants to teach the web?

September 19, 2013 § 16 Comments

People who teach others about the web are key to the future of Webmaker — and maybe even the future of Mozilla. I’m not talking only about teachers in classrooms getting their kids into HTML. Although that’s part of it. I’m talking about anyone who a) is excited about the culture and technology of the web and b) wants to help others get more out of the web they create and communicate on everyday online. We’ve been calling these people ‘mentors’. But, more simply, they are people who love the web want to share their passion.

Maker Party Surabaya

In my recent post on Maker Party, I asked ‘how do we build a global community of mentors?’ One of the first steps is meeting these people, figuring out who they are and what they really want. We’ve been doing that all summer with Maker Party. And I did a bit personally as I traveled around over the earlier this month. Here are a few of the mentors I met.

Rafael, curious.

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Rafael is an IT consultant who used to be a teacher. He knows the web and a little programming. He came to our Manila Maker party just to find out what was up. He ended up winning the ‘best make’ contest with a Thimble comic strip remix. At the end he said: I want to show this to some of the teacher friends. We pointed him to Webmaker.org/teach and told him local MozReps would be in touch. Rafael is the guy with a tshirt over his face.

Joe, learner turned mentor.

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Joe is an high school student in the UK. He first got turned onto Webmaker at MozFest 2011. He liked the idea of teaching his less geeky friends about web programming, so he organized a Summer Code Party in 2012. This year he was helping as a Webmaker mentor at Campus Party in London. Joe is also active with DeCoded, an other London tech education group. Joe is the guy in the foreground with the white mentor shirt on.

Abdul, teacher.

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Abdul is an IT teacher in a high school in Surabaya, Indonesia. He helped us organize a 100 person all day Maker Party in the school auditorium. He teaches HTML and PHP using notepad already, but wants a way to get kids more excited about those technologies. The two pane Thimble editor plus having his kids hack our animated GIF postcard template seemed like a good start. Now he wants to offer Webmaker activities regularly at his school, although would find it easier if there was content in Bahasa Indonesia.

Youth IT Clubs.

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In Surabaya, I met with a bunch of high school IT clubs: after-school groups led by the the IT teacher. In the case of Abdul, he recruited his club to run our 100 person Webmaker event. And wants to help them learn to be leaders and teachers themselves by involving them in ongoing Webmaker programs. We already have a great example of working with youth in this way as part of our relationship with MOUSE via Hive NYC.

Lewie, youth mentor activator.

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Lewie is in his early twenties. A few years ago, he didn’t know how to code. Now he teaches corporate execs about programming for Freeformers. He also helps find other young people who he can train up and do the same. This is part of Freeformers effort to get young talent creating more young talent, using a 1:1 business model where corporate training funds more training for young people from unlikely backgrounds. The Freeformers have been active users of and contributors to Webmaker. That’s Lewie on the right.

Michelle, partner in crime.

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Michelle runs developer relations for one of the two big mobile operators in the Philippines. She is also a great friend of Mozilla’s. She regularly offers event space for things like Webmaker events. And, at the Maker Party, stepped up in real time to offer a small cash prize for the best make. It’s win / win for sure: her company is positioned as part of our effort to build young web talent at little cost. But, there is more there. Michelle is personally excited about what we’re doing. This offers a great deal of validation and motivation to both the mentors and the learners in the room. That’s Michelle on the right.

Kindred spirits and partners, more broadly.

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A core idea behind Webmaker is being a big tent for anyone who wants to teach the Web. It’s about finding kindred spirits who want to teach alongside us. The three fellows above are from the local robot hacker community in Surabaya. They came to help with our Hive Pop Up. We worked with dozens and dozens of partners like this as part of Maker Party this summer including Code Club, National Writing Project, Technology Will Save Us, Young Rewired State and all of the members of our Hive Networks. I’m going to do a separate post on partners, but they are a key piece of building a mentor network in their own right.

Benny and Yoe One, Super Mentors.

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Benny and Yoe One are dedicated Mozilla volunteers who live in Surabaya. They don’t just work on Webmaker. But they have been incredibly active. They organized the Maker Party and Hive Pop Up in Surabaya. And, more importantly, started to build relationships with dozens of schools and local government to create interest in what we’re doing. They are ‘Super Mentors’ in our parlance: people who have the skills to teach but also want to help us bring in and train more mentors. Obviously, these people are absolutely key to the success of our Webmaker effort. Benny is to the left and Yoe One is to the right of Abdul.

Faye, Webmaker country lead.

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Faye is a university student in Manila and a Mozilla Rep. She is also the official Webmaker Country Lead. The MozReps in the Philippines have created lead positions like this for many Mozilla programs to make sure someone is a driver. Being Webmaker Lead means Faye not only organized the Maker Party I was at in Manila but is also thinking strategically about how to improve Webmaker and how to get it out of Manila into remote regions. She is like a Super Mentor with a more official role within the local reps community. We may want to consider having this kind of ‘lead’ role in other countries or other cities. That is Faye in the Firefox shirt on the right.

Bob, Jun and Viking, the elders.

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In many countries around the world, Mozilla is lucky to have a community of elders. People who have been a part of the Mozilla community since very early on. A number of these people have been critical in getting Webmaker going in their countries, encouraging other community members like Benny, Faye and Yoe One to get involved. These people also could (and should) play a key role in defining where we go next with Webmaker and how it ties into the rest of Mozilla’s work. This is a picture of Viking. Bob and Jun are on the right in the picture below.

The posse.

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Finally, a key part of the picture is what I just call ‘the posse’. These aren’t mentors per say, although they do often pitch in teaching at Maker Parties. They are active Mozilla community members working on a variety of things who are willing to help their peers who are running Webmaker activities. I found them in all three cities I visited. This is the awesome posse holding fort at the registration desk at our recent Manila Maker Party.

As you can see just from my handful of examples, these mentors (sic) are quite diverse. But they do have things in common. They are passionate about the web. They want to teach or share what they know about the web in an active way. They want to be part of what Mozilla’s doing, either on the face of it or because the big tent brings people to their own teaching programs. And, across the board, they are simply generous and enthusiastic people who want to make the world better for the people around them by sharing the web.

At this stage, these mentors are the most critical audience for Webmaker. This is in part because they are the ones who get it and like it: they are in a great position to help us test, iterate and build it out further with community contributions. But it’s also because they will bring in the next round of web makers. Each mentor who uses Webmaker.org will bring 5 – 50 more users as a part of the teaching they are doing. Summed up: growing our mentor community will both make Webmaker better and grow our user base. IMHO, we should be putting most of our efforts right now on making Webmaker better for — and with — mentors.

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