I need help explaining ‘why?’

January 16, 2013 § 10 Comments

Last month, Anil Dash wrote The Web We Lost. It struck a chord: making the case that there has been t a subtle but massive shift on the web. Not simply a shift from open to closed. It’s more nuanced. Rather, a shift a web that is more human and craftlike to one that is more mechanical and industrial. My words, not his.

As I read it, I was struck by a) how Dash’s post is very much at the heart of why we’re doing Mozilla Webmaker and b) that we’ve done a very poor job ourselves of explaining that why. Which is the reason I’m reaching out to you. I’m working with a bunch of people to explain why anyone should care about web literacy. I need your help.

Myself and others on the Webmaker team came up with this ‘five liner’ to explain the why of what we’re doing.

1. Our goal: help 100Ms more people become makers who understand and tap the full power of the web.

2. Why? The web has fueled massive creativity, productivity and wealth. We want this to continue.

3. When the web was young: people looked under the hood, figured out how it worked and made things.

4. This ‘just figure it out and make it’ is harder to come by today. The hood is harder to open. Learning as you go is not so easy.

5. Mozilla want to turn this upside down. We want to make it easy easy to open again, to learn how things work and to tap the full power of the web.

It’s rough, for sure. But, if you look at the middle three points, you get the idea. The web has given lots to humanity. That happened because it was open and learnable. Now it’s more closed and hard to learn. Which, by implication, puts all the stuff we’ve gotten from the web at risk. Or something like that.

Over the coming weeks, Paula, Ryan, Geoff and I are going to refine the explanation above and add meat below each bullet. As we do this, we’re looking for help on three questions:

a. For the bullets above, what evidence or examples would you add to bring these points to life? E.g. the private sector has seen 13% rise in productivity due to the web.

b. What other top level arguments would you make for massive web literacy? Why should people care about 100s millions more people understanding how the web works?

c. Most important: how do we deal with the YouTube/Facebook factor? I.e. people are already ‘making stuff’ on social media. What are we talking about that is different? What does ‘the full power of the web’ really offer?

Cracking this nut is important to us. The ideas of ‘web literacy’ and ‘making as learning’ are going to be part of big campaigns we and others do this year. Succinctly explaining why these things matter is going to be critical to success.

Any ideas or comments you’ve got, not matter how hair brained they seem, are helpful. Please leave comments below. Or add to this etherpad.

§ 10 Responses to I need help explaining ‘why?’

  • The fabulous Mandy Brown made some strong arguments for web literacy in editors and content creators in the following essays:


    IMHO, all four of the above should be required reading for all.

    My quick way responding to the “Why?” compulsion is: Understanding our medium makes us better at our crafts. In my experience, most people who interact with the internet barely understand how the internet works, the medium’s constraints or how to communicate effectively with technologists.

  • My take on c: these services allow you to publish static media (text, image, video) that easily fits in their boxes. But the real potential of the web includes inventing new kinds of media. Not just reading and writing old media in web form, but understanding and creating new media. I made some animated wallpaper yesterday, and that’s a particular media that can’t be shared on flickr, facebook, or youtube.

  • Glisten says:

    Off the top of my head I would suggest enlisting Howard Rheingold and Douglas Rushkoff in the narrative development phase 🙂

  • In regards to massive web literacy and the social media factor: I think it is sufficient to say that we simply DO NOT KNOW what is going to emerge from a growing population of web-literate creators. That alone is worth fighting for! The true “why” here is hidden because the manifest destiny of the web is written by all of us, and that means the landscape is only as vast, and the soil is only as fertile as we empower it to be.

    There are so, so many creative, extra-dimensional, communitarian possibilities still latent in web technology. These will only burgeon from our social bedrock if we become like rich compost: millions of web-literate individuals empowered by an understanding of open-source principles.. free and ionized and ever-changing.

    When I close my eyes and imagine the landscape, I picture what a population of technological naturals would do to till and to replenish the web community. I don’t make any assumptions; I imagine all the labor and heartbreak it will take to fend off the worse seasons our nature will bear upon us.

    The web sprouts forth over underground rivers of human sentiment. It is manipulated and manifested by the earnest and the dishonest alike, for a billion different reasons and to meet the needs of all people… the balanced, the good, and the not-so-much. In that, it is like the very earth itself, which feeds and bears everyone regardless of their caste or creed. The web carries our messages, it bears our collective burdens, and it will evolve from the collision of billions of active souls seeking connection and community, profit and peace, and whatever dreams we dare lay bare for the world to see.

    To set forth with a goal to make a hundred million people web-literate is a noble task with an unknowable result. It strikes inwards to an open question, daring to deliver nothing but the rawest form of possibility that humankind can offer: an open connection.

    Kudos Mark!

  • Greg Wilson says:

    Why web literacy? Because one day, I want my daughter to smile like this: http://third-bit.com/blog/archives/4570.html

  • This is a very worthy goal that I strongly believe in, and kudos for wanting to accomplish it. But it infuriates me that Mozilla as it currently exists thinks it can help the non-techy. What Mozilla produces is by the geeks, for the geeks. When a non-techy person’s online banking site tells them to “clear your browser cache”, if they’re using Firefox they have to somehow figure out the following: Options -> Options -> Privacy -> Clear Recent History -> activate Details -> select just Cache -> Clear Now. In earlier versions of Firefox it was far simpler, yet this of all things was made more complicated! And when a few years ago I switched to Thunderbird as my email program it was taking so long for me to figure out that I returned to the one that came with Windows. (Despite my computer science degree and making a living helping companies create software-based products.)

    When I co-founded Sympatico, the world’s first mass-market Internet service, all existing ISPs were for geeks only: they presumed a level of techy knowledge and comfort not commonly found. As an example of what we did differently, when I reviewed drafts of the (short) user’s guide, English version, I rejected words that might not be understood by those who didn’t have a high-school education or who had English only as a second language. That’s the kind of thing that will be needed to “help 100Ms more people”, not more geek-friendly stuff.

    In addition to asking and answering “why would Mozilla do this?”, you need to ask and answer “can Mozilla do it, and if not, how can it change so that it can?”

  • I agree completely with Mr. Jayasekera’s comments. In order to get 100M to become webmakers, Mozilla and its partners will have to stop preaching overwhelmingly to the “geek/techy choir” and find new, accessible ways of broadening a community of web learners/social activists. That means developing accessible language, clear and practical uses of technology, working with non-traditional groups and empowering the man/woman/youth/child in the street to see web-literacy as being vital to thier everyday interests. We need to ask, how does learning code/programming skills connect to everyday needs? How do these skills unleash new forms of social motivation/organization? When these connections are made readily apparent to the non-geek community at-large, we’ll be on our way to achieving the 100M goal. I applaud you for getting this important conversation started, Mark.

  • […] Is it now harder to “open the hood” of the web, and increase the significance of teaching massive numbers of people web literacy?   More on that logic. […]

  • Becky Thorn says:

    I have a suggestion… and it links to the ‘get out of the geek world’ but builds on what I think is a great idea that you have. The things is … where are the 100Ms? The ones who are not online yet because the web isn’t accessible in terms of internet access or understanding. Go to a rural village in sub-Saharan Africa. Sit and listen to how people communicate with each other now, what education people have had, how they share stories, make decisions, support each other. Humanity created the web, but only a small proportion of it and to fit the way that proportion already communicated, searched, thought, made decisions, shopped, etc. Although the web changed the way those people did these things, they were all rooted in communications and activities which already existed e.g. auctions on eBay, storytelling on YouTube.

    The rest of the world (majority) who haven’t influenced the web yet have all kind of different ways (really really diverse) of doing things.

    Go get a plane ticket and find a little ‘hotel’ in a small town and just observe. After a few days, weeks or months, start to empower people to create their web. This is the revolution that will happen one day… do you want to be part of it?

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