Snapping the puzzle together
September 12, 2014 § 2 Comments
I’ve had a picture in mind for a while: a vision of FirefoxOS + Appmaker + Webmaker mentor programs coming together to drive a new wave of creativity and content on the web. I believe this would be a way to really show what Mozilla stands for right now: putting access to the Internet in more hands and then helping people unlock the full potential of the web as a part of their lives and their livelihoods.
The thing is: this picture has felt a bit like a puzzle until recently — I can see where it’s going, but we don’t have all the pieces. It’s like a vision or a theory more than a plan. However, over the past few months, things are getting clearer — feels like the puzzle pieces are becoming real and snapping together.
I had this ‘it’s coming together’ feeling in spades the other day as I had dinner w/ 20 members of the Mozilla community in Bangladesh. Across from me was a college student named Ani who was telling me about the Bengali keyboard he’d written for FirefoxOS. To his right was a woman named Maliha who was explaining how she’d helped the Mozilla Bangladesh community organize nearly 50 Webmaker workshops in the last two months. And then beside me, Mak was enthusiastically — and accurately — describing Mozilla’s new Mobile Webmaker to the rest of the group. I was rapt. And energized.
More importantly, I was struck by how the people around the table had nearly all the pieces of the puzzle amongst them. At a practical level, they are all actively working on the practicalities of localizing FirefoxOS and making it work on the ground in Bangladesh. They are finding people and places to teach Webmaker workshops. They have offered to help develop and test Appmaker to see if it can really work for users in Bangladesh. And, they see how these things fit together: people around the table talked about how all these things combined have the potential for huge impact. In particular, they talked about the role phones, skills and publishing tools built with Mozilla values could unleash a huge wave of Bengali language content onto the mobile internet. In a country where less than 10% of people speak English. This is a big deal.
The overall theory behind this puzzle is: open platforms + digital skills + local content = an opportunity to disrupt and open up the mobile Internet.
Well, at least, that’s my theory. I see local platforms like Firefox OS — and HTML5 in general — as the baseline. They make it possible for anyone to create apps and content for the mobile web on their own terms — and they are easy to learn. In order to unlock the potential of these platforms, we also need large numbers of people to have the skills to create their own apps and content. Which is what we’re trying to tee up with our Webmaker program. Finally, we need a huge wave of local content that smartphone users make for each other — which both Webmaker and Appmaker are meant to fuel. These are the puzzle pieces I think we need.
On this last point: the content needn’t be local per se — but it does need to be something of value to users that the web / HTML5 can provide this better than existing mobile app stores and social networks. Local apps and content — and especially local language content — is a very likely sweet spot here. The Android Play Store and Facebook are bad — or at least limited — in how they support people creating content and apps. In languages like Bengali, the web — and Mozilla — have historically been much better.
But it’s a theory with enough promise — with enough pieces of the puzzle coming together — that we should get out there and test it out in practice. Doing this will require both discipline and people on the ground. Luckily, the Mozilla community has these things in spades.
Talking with a bunch of people from the Mozilla India community underlined this part of things for me — and helped my thinking on how to test the local content theory. Vineel, Sayak and others told me about the recent launch of low cost Firefox OS smartphones in India — including a $33/R1999 phone from a company called Intex. As with Firefox releases in many other countries, the core launch team behind this effort were volunteer Mozilla contributors.
Working with Mozilla marketing staff from Taiwan, members of the Mozilla India community made a plan, trained Intex sales staff and promoted the phone. Early results: Intex sold 15,000 units in the first three days. And things have been picking up from there.
It’s exactly this kind of community driven plan and discipline that we will need to test out the Firefox OS + Appmaker + Webmaker theory. What we need is something like:
- Pick a couple of places to test out our theory — India and Bangladesh are likely options, maybe also Brazil and Kenya.
- Work with the community to test out the ‘everyone can author an app’ software first — find out what regular users want, adapt the software with them, test again.
- Make sure this test includes a strong Webmaker / training component — we should be testing how to teach skills at the same time as testing the software idea.
- Make sure we have both phones and a v1 of Mobile Webmaker in local languages
- Also, work with community to develop a set of basic app templates in local language — it’s important not to have an ‘empty shelf’ and also to build around things people actually want to make.
- Move from research to ‘market’ testing — put Mobile Webmaker on FirefoxOS phones and do a campaign of related Webmaker training sessions.
- Step back. See what worked. What didn’t. Iterate. In the market.
This sort of thing is doable in the next six months — but only if we get the right community teams behind us. I’m going to work on doing just that at ReMoCamp in Berlin this weekend. If there is interest and traction, we’ll start moving ahead quickly.
In the meantime, I’d be interested in comments on my theory above. We’re going to do something like this — we need everybody’s feedback and ideas to increase the likelihood of getting it right.