Mozilla and Badges: where next?

May 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

Open Badges started as a modest experiment: build open source badge issuing software for ourselves and others. As momentum around this experiment has grown, it feels like the opportunity is bigger: we could build openness and user empowerment into how learning — and professional identity — work all across the web. With Open Badges 1.0 out there in the world, now is the right time to ask: where next for Mozilla and badges?

Badges Evolution

When Mozilla and MacArthur Foundation first started work on Open Badges about 18 months ago, the plan was to build a badge interchange standard (like SMTP for skills) and a collection of open source software for issuing and sharing badges (Badge Backpack, Open Badger, etc.). We’ve built all these things. And we’ve put up a reference implementation that Mozilla and others are using. This was really the limit of our original plan: build some basic open tech for badges and put it out there in the world.

The thing is: there has been way more excitement and pick up of badges than we expected. Even though Open Badges only launched officially in March, there are already over 800 unique providers who have issued almost 100,000 badges. We are also starting to see the development of city-wide systems where learners can pick up hundreds of different badges from across dozens of learning orgs and combine them all into a single profile. Chicago is the first city to do this (June 1), but Philadelphia and San Francisco are not far behind. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg: orgs like the Clinton Global Initiative and the National Science Foundation are focusing on badges in a way that is likely to drive even more educators to pick up the Open Badges standard, making their badges interoperable with others.

Of course, the fact that educators and policy makers are interested in badges doesn’t represent a victory in itself. It just shows momentum and buzz. The real opportunity — and the real impact — comes when learners and employers get excited about badges. Mozilla never planned to build offerings for these audiences. Increasingly, it feels like we should.

Badges Audiences

In the Internet era, people learn things online and out of school all the time. Whether you want to make a web page, knit a sweater or get better at calculus, the internet makes it easy to learn on your own or with a group of friends outside of a school setting. However, there is no good way to get credentials or recognition for this kind of learning. And, even if there was, there is no trusted, verifiable way to plug that recognition into Facebook, and other places that make up your online identity. People have no good way to show ‘what they know’ online.

Similarly, employers are increasingly turning to the internet to find talent. They use sites like LinkedIn that let you search online resumes. Or, increasingly, to sites like Gild and TalentBin that use data mining to find potential hires. The problem: these services do not offer granular or variable skills profiles. And, with some of them, there are significant issues around privacy: people are being offered up as potential hires without even knowing that these sites are collecting data about them.

Mozilla could offer a distributed, open source and privacy-friendly solution to problems like these. We could help learners show their skills in all their online profiles and also help employers search for talent reliably. However, to do so, we’d have to build a Firefox-quality offering for learners and employers on top of Open Badges. While this hasn’t been our focus up til now, I’m thinking more and more that this is something we should consider.

Badge product

In some ways, there is a parallel to Gecko and Firefox. Gecko provides the underlying platform for shaping standards around our vision of the web. But we need a popular consumer offering like Firefox if we want this vision to actually become relevant in the market. Right now, with Open Badges, we’re mostly just playing at the underlying standards layer. If we really want to shape how learning and professional identity work on the web, we probably need to build our own offerings directly for the people who most want and need badges.

Now is the time to be looking at where the opportunity is in this space. Momentum and demand is amongst educators is growing. More and more start ups are appearing in the badges, portfolio and skills spaces. And likelihood that badges will be important for learners and employers is growing. We need to be asking ourselves: how can Mozilla — and its values — shape this space?

With this in mind, Erin Knight is leading an effort over the next few months to look at different badges product options. She’ll be providing updates on her blog. And I’ll be summarizing here as well. If you have ideas on where Mozilla should go on all of this, we’d love to have you involved as we think this through. Comments here on this post are a good place to start.

Maker Party: let’s spark a movement

May 7, 2013 § 2 Comments

Plans are coming together for Mozilla’s Maker Party 2013. And I’m getting excited. Last year’s party had people making things on the web at 700 local events in 80 countries. This year it’ll be bigger. But, more important, I think this year will plant the foundations for something that lasts well beyond the campaign: a movement of people who want to teach 10s of millions of people how the web works.

Maker Party 2013

Mozilla has built this kind of movement before: when we first launched Firefox. Many people just downloaded Firefox 1.0 because it was great. But others became on-the-ground evangelists and promoters. They told their friends about Firefox. They installed it on other people’s computers. They showed them how to use bookmarks, and pop-up blockers and add-ons. And, over 10,000 of them of them put up money to tell the world about Firefox in a historic two-page Sunday New York Times ad.

Firefox New York Times Ad

In my view, the mentors and local champions who will step up to organize the Mozilla Maker Party are just like the early enthusiasts who helped Firefox get to 500 million users. It’s these people who will show the first million Webmakers what they can make. Who will start awarding badges that reward people for their skill and creativity on the web. And who will create excitement about all the tools and programs across the web the empower people to make and create. These mentors and local champions are the core leaders that Mozilla needs if we want to teach the world the web.

Building on last year’s successful Summer Code Party, Maker Party 2013 has a number of pieces designed specifically to help mentors and local champions succeed. Five that I’m really excited about are:

1. Teach the Web: a nine-week free and open online course for people who want to be Mozilla mentors and local champions. It’s highly collaborative, convening nearly 3,000 participants to share their teaching practice, learning materials and learn to hack the web on the way. The course started last week, but you can still sign up here

2. Super mentors: these are the passionate volunteers who really make the online course and marquee Maker Parties happen. They are experienced in teaching the web, running events and creating teaching materials. Starting with their work on Teach the Web, the Super Mentors are the leadership core of the larger Webmaker Mentor community. We already have over 100 super mentors. We hope to have many more by the time Maker Party 2013 is done.

3. A big tent with more than 40 partner organizations joining the Maker Party and carrying out making-and-learning activities across the globe. Like Mozilla, these organizations are part of a growing movement to teach the web and promote the maker spirit with hands-on learning. This network of partners is critical to growing this movement: there is no way any one organization can do this on its own. Mentors can bring their own organizations into this tent as a way to get publicity and recognition, or just as a way to be part of the party.

4. Hackable Activity Kits: simple ‘instructables’ that you can use show people how to make web pages, Popcorn videos, etc. The guides are hackable, forkable HTML pages so you can customize them. OpenMatt explains these kits well in this post.

5. An improved We’re launching some new features on June 15 to designed for making and learning on the web. Not only have these tools have been designed with mentors in mind, we’ll also be taking mentor feedback and improving them on a constant basis.

While the Maker Party campaign runs from June to September, Mozilla’s hope is to build a lasting network of people around the world who want to teach people how the web works. In September, we’ll be inviting mentors and local organizers to stay involved in Webmaker. This will include invites to MozFest 2013 in London this October, opportunities for continued online mentoring and local organizing and a chance to help shape where we take the Webmaker mentor program in 2014+. In many ways, Maker Party is a kick off for these lasting activities.

Maker Party Timeline

If you are someone who wants to teach the world how the web works — or even just show a few people how to get more creative online — you should get involved. You can start by joining the Teach the Web course or just signing up for Maker Party 2013 updates. Also, start thinking about what you might want to do in your town or city in the coming months. Getting people excited about the web is actually pretty easy. And fun.

5 great things about Webmaker v2

April 25, 2013 § 7 Comments

A better picture of Webmaker v2 has snapped into focus over the past few weeks. The current plan builds on the ‘Webmaker as a popular way to make and learn on the web’ vision we set out in December. What’s clearer now is our focus on people who already take photos, blog and create online: we give them new ways to make, remix. and improve their craft. We also them access to mentors committed to helping others learn how the web works.


In this post, I wanted to pull out my top 5 list of things I’m excited about in Webmaker v2:

 1. Rebooting the brand to focus on makers of all ages

Cassie, Kate, Chris and others already working to reboot the Webmaker brand and UX to really emanate the maker spirit.


The idea is to appeal to teens and above, not kids. Also, to target people who already ‘make’ in some sense. You can see hints of this in their early mockups.

2. Building a gallery to show all the awesome makes

The biggest gap in Webmaker v1 was the lack of a gallery where you can see what people made. Fixing this is the top priority for Webmaker v2.


The site will lead with tiles of the best things people have made. More importantly, the site will be filled with all sorts of different galleries: makes that teach you how to make a similar thing; makes you made; makes on specific themes; makes that are actually curriculum materials.

3. Creating a Make API so anyone can make a gallery

In related news: we’ve started work on a ‘Make API’ that will let anyone pull a slice of Webmaker content to create their own gallery or service.


At the simplest level, this is a win as it gives us a common publishing model for both Thimble and Popcorn. But, in the long run, the Make API could be something more radical: it’s way for people to store, describe, slice, dice and share any blob of HTML from across the web. Ultimately, it could help people to take control of all the things they make online, no matter where they’ve made them.

 4. Deepening learning w/ challenges + badges

Webmaker v2 will include peer reviewed badges based where: 1) we describe a skill; 2) someone submits something they made that demonstrates that skill; 3) a peer or mentor reviews the submission and awards the badge (or not).


This is exciting because a) we can badge for skills defined in the Mozilla web literacy standard and b) people can submit ‘makes’ made with any tool (e.g. Scratch). This second piece is essential if we want to open things up widely on the making as learning front: people don’t just want to make things with Popcorn and Thimble.

5. Making it easy to make hacktivity kits using Thimble

For Webmaker to succeed, we need any mentor in our network to be able to write or remix Hackable Activity Kits.


Currently, that’s difficult as our learning materials are all hard coded web pages that need someone with commit privileges to check in. We’re going to change this by making it possible to create these kits directly in Thimble and then creating a special gallery for these pages. The result: a constantly updated community run gallery of learning materials.

These 5 things — and everything in the Webmaker v2 product vision — represent a big leap forward. When we started 2013, we had a fragmented offering with no single sign on, no gallery and no publishing model. We’re moving to a place where we not only have a unified offering but also something that is flexible in terms of how people publish and how they learn. New features and improvements will roll out weekly over the course of the summer, starting June 15. If you want to track progress on Webmaker v2, follow this scrumbug and this Tumblr blog.

April Mozilla Board Slides: Q1 Review

April 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

At last week’s Mozilla Foundation board meeting, we looked at what we’ve done so far in 2013 and what we need to do next. Key messages from the discussion: We’re making good progress on Webmaker. We we shipped better Popcorn and Badges tools. We added a ‘teach’ section to We undertook experiments with new kinds of remixable content.

2013-04-21 20.54.38

However, we still need to roll all this into a Webmaker v2 that will excite and provide value to makers. Also, we need to recognize that we’re doing more than just Webmaker this year: Open Badges is growing even more rapidly than expected. I’ve posted slides from the board meeting here and summarized the content below

As a reminder: our overarching goal for 2013 is to turn Webmaker in a popular way to both make and learn on the web. We set these more specific goals:

  • Goal #1: make Webmaker into popular way to make and remix web content (target = 250k makers)
  • Goal #2: build better ways to level up skills, craft and code as you make (target = 1M badges)
  • Goal #3: grow our global community of mentors to power Webmaker (target = 10k mentors)

While we didn’t explicitly make it a top level goal, it’s clear that ‘make Open Badges successful’ and ‘respond to the demand we’re seeing for badges’ have also become major priorities for 2013.

We’ve made a solid start on all these goals in Q1: building the foundations for Webmaker v2 and growing the Open badges project significantly. Some highlights re: things we shipped and balls we moved:

  • PopcornMaker shipped ability to use multiple media files plus better social media sharing.
  • Open Badges / Badger shipped 1.0, now ready for Webmaker plus 700 other partner sites.
  • added a ‘teach’ section to house hacktivity kits and other resources for mentors.
  • Using Hive and ReMo as a base, we’ve built a core cadre of Webmaker ‘super mentors’.
  • Maker Party 2013 is teed up as a major platform for Mozilla and 40+ partner orgs.

While this is solid progress, it’s important to recognize that we still need to roll all of this into a Webmaker v2 that will truly excite and provide value to makers, mentors and learners. Challenges we face include:

  • We’ve had a tough time finding right mix of making (goal #1) and learning (goal #2) in the remixable content we’ve been developing for Webmaker v2. We need to get better at adding elements designed to teach specific webmaking skills..
  • We started the year with a fragmented technical infrastructure: we’ve had to invest a lot of time in underlying technology like single sign on and a shared publishing system for all Webmaker content.
  • We still don’t have an approach to localization: this hard to nail down given the fact that our tools and site are going through rapid changes.

Another challenge is that the scope of our goals is shifting: Open Badges and Open News continue to grow as major initiatives above an beyond what we’re doing with Webmaker. We need to accept the fact that we’re still a multi product / project org and find a way to better support this growth.

The good news: we have a clear plans in place that aim directly at these challenges. The top three priorities as we move through Q2 are:

  • Priority #1: ship a v2 of that attracts makers and bakes in learning. (Lead: Brett, w/ Paula)
  • Priority #2: drive momentum with mentors and Maker Party 2013, act like a movement. (Lead: Chris, w/ Erica)
  • Priority #3: strong Open Badges proof point via Chicago Summer of Learning. (Lead: Erin)

Work on all three of these priorities is well underway and we are making good progress. As we do this work, there a three questions we should be actively discussing:

  • Do we have the right making and learning balance as Webmaker v2 ships?
  • Are we providing value to makers and mentors? Are they using the site? Running events?
  • How can we support Open Badges to respond to growing demand? (June board meeting)

We should all be keeping these things in mind as we build out Webmaker v2, Maker Party and Chicago Summer of Learning, especially the question: are we providing value?

It’s an interesting and intense time. Real traction on our big dreams is within sight: a Mozilla-backed movement where people champion creativity and making on the web; a new era of remixable, Legolike web content; a world of learning that works like the web. At the same time, we’re all heads down on the details of building tools, shipping web sites, making content, writing curriculum and recruiting partners. While it can be stressful, this its actually a very good, Mozilla-like place to be. Our hands are mucky shipping things while we are still aimed at and inspired by big dreams of making the web a better place.

Over the next few months, its going to be important to help each other keep this balance. Reach out to someone working on another part of the project to understand what they are working on. Pitch in as people test and irritate what they’re building. Offer advice to new community members as they show up for the first time (thats going to start happening slot). It may feel like we’re all working on different things: but everything we’re doing all points in the same direction of inspiring and empowering people using the web.

Tinkering together

February 13, 2013 § 4 Comments

‘Making is learning’ is a big theme for Mozilla this year. It’s at the heart of Mozilla Webmaker. More importantly, it’s the north star idea guiding the grassroots mentor community we’re building around the world. We want millions more people to get their hands dirty with the web. And we expect they’ll learn something as they do.


I realized today that we need to add two concepts into this theme: tinkering and social. This thought came from a good discussion on the Webmaker mailing list that starts with the question ‘is making learning?’ Rafi Santo both asked and began to answer this question:

The short answer: yes, but it’s complicated. The longer answer is that the best maker-driven learning is never just about the making. It’s about all the things that happen around the making. That initial spark of curiosity, the investigation and early tinkering, the planning and research that follow, the inspirations and appropriations from other projects, the prototypes, the failures, the feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, the iterations upon iterations towards a better make.

He then went on to say:

I’m willing to say that someone is always learning something when they’re making, but they learn best when it entails the sort of process, community and well configured structures of participation.

In part, the discussion around Rafi’s post is a debate about tag lines. Should we rally people under a ‘making is learning’ banner? Or should we be more subtle like ‘making as learning’ or ‘make to learn’? We’ll probably do the later.

However, there are also two important substantive points worth pulling out from the conversation: a) it’s the process of making that drives learning and b) the best learning happens when the making is social. Both of these points are critical to the success of Webmaker.

The process point may be obvious. It’s not just what I made, it’s the journey of the making. But it’s worth calling it out explicitly. Mozilla Rep Emma Irwin writes in response to Rafi’s post:

This spoke to my own learning in programming. I think I learned (and got confidence) more from debugging and being stuck than simply making. The sense of accomplishment of overcoming things that seemed really hard at first have motivated me more than anything. I think those experiences are why I am crazy enough to think I can ‘teach’ now.

Designing tinkering and iteration into Webmaker is critical. A first step is creating content built from the ground up for remix. And, then to support that with tools that let you tinker and play with that content, and share it again with your friends. The idea is to use remix as an onramp to tinkering with the web.

You see an early example in Jacob’s awesome Valentine’s video project on The thing about this video: it is designed to be forked. It wants you to add your own photos and change the text. It’s an invitation to tinker. It’s an early invitation, to be sure: we clearly have a lot to learn about how to do this well. But it’s clear to me that this kind of design for tinkering is ‘thing #1’ of key things Webmaker needs to pull in from this conversation.

Rafi’s other big point is about social: we learn best when we make together. Making together can mean a lot of things. At events. In school. With friends at home. In IRC. On Facebook. Etc. What all of these things have in common is that I can see what you are making and you can see me. We can critique each other. We can help each other. We can fail together. We can iterate together. And we can laugh together. Which makes learning funner, faster and deeper.

Making it easy to ‘make things together’ is ‘thing #2’ that Webmaker should pull from this conversation. Making it easy to riff on content on and in places like Facebook will be a part of this. But, as Rafi hints in his post, the most important factor here won’t be tools and web sites: it will be people. This is why the building a global mentor community is such a huge priority. Everyone needs a place where they can just show up to make and learn. A place filled with people. And a place you can find in 100s of cities around the world. Building on Hive and ReMo, I think Mozilla can create this place. It’s what we want our mentor community to be.

Anyways: thanks Rafi, Emma and others for getting this conversation started. It’s the kind of leadership this nascent Webmaker community needs. And it’s a great way to dig into what do we really want to build together with Webmaker.

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.

Webmaker 2013 Plans (wrap up)

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Matt Thompson just posted the Mozilla Webmaker 2013 plan slides from our last board meeting. As he summarizes:

Webmaker teaches the art 
and craft of webmaking to anyone who wants to make something on the web. It starts with projects: users make (amazing) things, 
learning about the technology and culture of the web as they go.

In 2012 we built the Webmaker brand, product and community.
In 2013 we’ll refine, recruit and get more people using it.

Big picture goal for 2013: Turn our basic Webmaker offering into 
a product people love. Refine it, recruit mentors and get more people 
using it.

These slides represent the culmination of the Webmaker 2013 planning work we started late last year. More importantly, they are the foundation for the next generation products and community we’re building. There are already a number of good blog posts about what we’re building next here, here and here.

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