We are all citizens of the web

November 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

Ten years ago today, we declared independence. We declared that we have the independence: to choose the tools we use to browse and build the web; to create, talk, play, trade in the way we want and where we want; and to invent new tools, new ways to create and share, new ways of living online, even in the face of monopolies and governments who insist the internet should work their way, not ours. When we launched Firefox on on November 9, 2004, we declared independence as citizens of the web.

Firefox NYT Ad

The launch of Firefox was not just the release of a browser: it was the beginning of a global campaign for choice and independence on the web. Over 10 million people had already joined this campaign by the time of the launch — and 10s of millions more would join in coming months. They would join by installing Firefox on their own computers. And then move on to help their friends, their families and their coworkers do the same. People joined us because Firefox was a better browser, without question. But many also wanted to make a statement with their actions: a single company should not control the web.

By taking this action, we — the millions of us who spread the software and ideas behind Firefox — helped change the world. Remember back to 2004: Microsoft had become an empire and a monopoly that controlled everything from the operating system to the web browser; the technology behind the web was getting stale; we were assaulted by pop up ads and virus threats constantly. The web was in bad shape. And, people had no choices. No way to make things better. Together, we fixed that. We used independence and choice to bring the web back to life.

And alive the web is. For all 2.8 billion of us on the web today, it has become an integral part of the way we live, learn and love. And, for those who think about the technology, we’ve seen the web remain open and distributed — a place where anyone can play — while at the same time becoming a first class platform for almost any kind of application. Millions of businesses and trillions of dollars in new wealth have grown on the web as a result. If we hadn’t stood up for independence and choice back in 2004, one wonders how much of the web we love today we would have?

And, while the web has made our lives better for the most part, it both faces and offers new threats. We now see the growth of new empires — a handful of companies who control how we search, how we message each other, where we store our data. We see a tiny oligopoly in smartphones and app stores that put a choke hold on who can distribute apps and content — a far cry from the open distribution model of the web. We see increased surveillance of our lives both by advertisers and governments. And, even as billions more people come online, we see a shift back towards products that treat people as consumers of the digital world rather than as makers and as citizens. We are at risk of losing our hard won independence.

This is why — on the 10th birthday of Firefox — I feel confident in saying that Mozilla is needed more than ever. We need great products that give people choices. We need places for those of us who care about independence to gather. And we need to guard the open nature of the web for the long haul. This is why Mozilla exists.

Who owns the internet?

Just as we did 10 years ago, we can start to shift the tide of the web by each and every one of us taking concrete actions — big or small. Download the Firefox 10th Anniversary release — and then tell a friend why Mozilla and Firefox still matter. Grab a colleague or a parent or a kid and teach them something about how the web gives them independence and choice. Or, just watch and share the Firefox 10 video with friends (it’s really good, honest :)). These are a few small but meaningful things you can do today to celebrate Firefox turning 10.

Putting the web back on course as a force for openness and freedom will require much more than just small actions, of course. But it’s important to remember that the global community of people who installed Firefox for others — and then talked about why — made a huge difference when Mozilla first stood up for the web. We moved mountains over the past 10 years through  millions of people taking small actions that eventually added up to a groundswell. As we look today for new ways to shore up our independence on the web, we will need to do this again.

Th 10th Anniversary of Firefox is a day to celebrate, no doubt. But today is also a day to deepen our commitment to choice and independence — to stand together and start sharing that commitment with everyone around us.It is a day to show that we are citizens of the web. I hope you will join me.

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 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.

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.

 

Webmaker 2013: product + community

December 4, 2012 § 13 Comments

Webmaker is both a product and a community.‘ This is the conclusion that a bunch of came to last week as we were looking at goals for Webmaker 2013. We need a product that delights, gives people value and builds up demand for content that could only be made on the web. We also need a global community of people excited to teach about the open tech of the web and the creative freedoms that it offers We need to build both of these things.

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Based on this discussion and many others, I’ve worked up a first cut description of what Webmaker 2013 might look like. It includes: a product and community description; audience definitions; goals and objectives; and top level metrics. Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss these more broadly and then refine them.

The idea that we want to make a product that people love is at the core of Webmaker 2013. With that goal in mind, I’m proposing a number things that change what we’ve made so far:

  • The product will be positioned as a way to ‘animate the web’. Popcorn-powered videos, slideshows, etc. have caught people’s attention. We will make these our core differentiating feature.
  • Thimble + Popcorn Maker + Xray Goggles will become more tightly integrated. Your Popcorn video will come wrapped in a Thimble paged editable with Goggles.
  • Webmaker.org will become a) showcase for best content people make and b) jumping off point for remixing and learning.
  • As part of this, we’ll make flexible gallery tools for ‘me, my friends and my themes’. The galleries themselves will be highly hackable.
  • Also: we will start to look like a distributed social network, pushing your content into Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and always including a remix button that pops you out to Webmaker.org so you can learn, tinker and (re)create.
  • Hive + Code Party will merge into an ongoing global community of mentors with local roots. This will be core to the movement building side of Webmaker.

Assuming we go in this direction, we’ll need to again evolve the way we describe Webmaker to the world. Long time Mozilla engineering genius Johnathan Nightingale has been known to day that ‘Firefox combines both rocket (awesome browser) and payload (user choice and web standards)’. We could think of Webmaker in a similar way:

Rocket: Apps to author web pages that move: videos, slideshows, etc. that combine content and code from across the web. The tools solve a problem: they make it way easier than it is today to mix your phone, web and social media content together into a compelling, moving collage that you can share with friends. Also, the content that pops out the other end is magnetic, edgy, useful, new. It looks unlike anything people are making today because it’s made by combining real, live and, sometimes, constantly changing content from across the web. People will love this stuff. And no one else has it (yet).

Payload: Ultimately, this gets people to expect a remix button for everything. People start by making videos, slideshows, etc. that could only be made with the open technology of web. The videos, etc. pull material via URLs + APIs. They pull from your phone, your social networks, everywhere. They make it easy to see, edit and drop in code. Over time, people realize Webmaker content is remixable, view sourceable and can change as the web changes. Also, the tools and the content you make show you how the web works as you make things. There are ‘remix’ and ‘how to’ buttons on every piece of content created using Webmaker tools.

These tools can be hugely popular. I believe that quite deeply. But, like Firefox, with its millions of early adopters who installed a new browser on a friend’s computer, we also need a community and a ground game. I propose that we leverage our existing work on Hive and Summer Code Party to build a global community of mentors, teachers, techies and evangelists. It might be described this way:

A global community of makers and mentors excited to show people what you can do using the creative and technical freedoms of the web and (and open tech in general). They use open tech and a maker attitude to teach everything from art to science to citizenship. Sometimes, they use Webmaker tools. Sometimes they use Scratch. Sometimes they hack with toys and hardware from the junkyard. And everything in between. This community is built on the event and local learning network models that we’ve begun to develop with Summer Code Party and HiveNYC.

The important thing about this community is that, like Mozilla Festival, it’s not just about our tools. It’s about something bigger: using the maker spirit to teach and inspire. Mozilla has an important role to play in connecting this maker spirit back to the web and showing how you can live an online life that taps the creative and technical freedoms of the web to their fullest. This Mozilla side of making — and the Webmaker products — should both fuel and draft in the wind of the broader maker movement, just as Firefox did with open source a decade earlier.

As I say, all of this thinking — plus the detailed goals and objectives I’ve written up for Webmaker 2013 — is a draft for feedback. I’ve set up a bunch of threads on the Mozilla Webmaker mailing list to discuss different aspects of this plan. That’s the best place to go if you want to join into a discussion on these ideas. Of course, comments here on my blog are also welcome.

Making tools for webmakers

July 2, 2012 § 7 Comments

We want everyone to tap into the full creative power of the web. That’s the point of Mozilla Webmaker. Part of  this is about people: building a global community of webmakers. But another essential element is building tools that both invite people to make cool things on the web and that help them learn how the web works. Last week, we released early versions of two of these tools: Thimble and Popcorn. This post offers background on these tools plus musings on next steps.

A month or two back, Free Software Foundation Chief Counsel Eben Moglen said: “We made the web easy to read, but we didn’t make the web easy to write. Facebook took advantage of this gap.” This is a useful way to look at the challenges the web now faces.

Over a billion people are now on social networks. They use these networks to create and share (awesome!). But they do so only on the terms social networks offer them. Most people have neither the tools nor the skills to tap into the unbounded creative potential of the web (e.g. I want to change how this app works, let me hack it). This seems like something worth fixing.

The goal of Mozilla Webmaker is exactly this: to move people from being users of the web to being makers of the web. While part of this move is about new skills and attitudes, another part has to be about tools and content. Specifically: tools and content that make it easier to create using the full power of the web. Easier to customize a blog template. Easier to add a data layer to a video. Easier to hack a game. And so on. As Mozilla begins to build tools like this, I see three big buckets of things we need to get done:

  1. Build a foundation: Thimble + Popcorn as way to test our making + learning thesis (2012)
  2. Build with the community: add in badges, get community adding content and code (2012+)
  3. Make the app world hackable: add in JavaScript, game hacking, app hacking (2013+)

Of course, this isn’t just about Mozilla: we’re already working with Tumblr, Codecademy and many others who are also building tools that encourage making and learning. But Mozilla does have a clear role to play here, especially around tools that build in the design principle of ‘making as learning’ from the beginning. This is our focus.

Step 1 – Build a foundation

Quickly ship tools that test our webmaker thinking: this was our plan with Thimble and Popcorn. Earlier this year, we agreed we needed to try out our ‘people learn by making’ thesis soon and in the real world.

With this in mind, we designed very simple tools with a collection of ‘hackable’ projects at the centre. Each project is a web page or interactive video template that gives people a) a starting point for making something and b) instructions that help you learn while making.

In Thimble, for example, each project is a single, simple HTML page. All pages include code comments that suggest what part of the page you might hack and what techniques to use. Eg. <!– This is a comment. These comments tell you what to do. The next section is a <H1> header. Edit the text within the header tags to change what words are on the web page. –> Thimble currently includes about a dozen making + learning templates that teach basic HTML and CSS while letting you make a meme, kill zombies or remix an animal from the London Zoo.

In Popcorn, the focus is much more on learning the mechanics of the web while also learning how to tell stories in new ways. The core element of a Popcorn project is a video wrapped in an HTML page template. You are invited to tell your own story by manipulating the video and the template. For example, with the Robots template, you design your own Robot invasion movie by adding in Google maps (learn how APIs work + target the robots at your home town), by changing the words the robots say (learn about variables and speech synthesis), or by adding in pictures of people and places the robots will target (learn about links and embedding). Similar templates exist where you can make your own web newscast or create a VH1-style pop up layer on top of your video.

Popcorn and Thimble share a common design philosophy. They start from the premise that remix and making are central to how people have always learned the web. The web is an open, view source world where it’s easy to see a technique in action and then copy it. We’re trying to make that even easier and more explicit by offering tools and pre-made projects that help people learn by making. We think this approach is especially promising for the 1 billion+ people on social media who clearly like to express themselves on online but have no plans of becoming a capital P ‘programmer’. For these people, the starter content we’re offering will be much more important than the tools themselves.

Our goal for this 1st step in the Mozilla Webmaker tool roll out: test this making + learning thesis. See if people like what we’ve made so far. Evaluate whether they are learning anything and what they are learning (see ‘badges’, below). We’ll do this testing and evaluating over the next six months while also shipping improvements plus new content for Thimble and Popcorn.

Step 2 – Build with community

Our next big priority needs to be building Mozilla Webmaker with a community. There are two parts to this: a) building basic tools that offer value to people who want to make, learn or teach and b) creating an architecture of participation that makes it easy for people to contribute content and code. We’ve already started on a) (see above), now we need to get moving on b).

We’ve got a few early wins. Some of the best Thimble projects came from the hack jam we held with NESTA in London about a month ago. Popcorn already has a base of open source code contributors. And, of course, we’ve got well over 500 people who have stepped up to organize a #mozparty this summer. These are big contributions already.

What we don’t yet have is a systematic way for more people to get involved, especially on content, code and localization. As an example: we want to get to a place where large numbers of people contribute Thimble and Popcorn projects for other people to make / learn on top of. I believe that this sort of community-made content will be key to the growth of Mozilla Webmaker. Unfortunately, we don’t have a good way for people to do this yet.

As a first step towards fixing this, we’re going to create an easy way for people to propose Webmaker.org and Thimble content simply by posting it to a Mozilla wiki. We’re working on the specifics right now, but the ideas is that people can review / refine / discuss stuff there, and then we can port the best stuff to our main sites when it’s ready. Obviously, we need something easier and more robust over the longer term: a gallery or repository where anyone can post content ideas into the Mozilla Webmaker universe. We also need easier ways into the code side of our projects. These are both things we’re thinking through with the aim of making progress this year. We’re very open to your ideas.

We also need a way to see who’s who in the community: to know what people are working on; to find people with particular skills; to find people with similar interests. This starts with simple communications tools like the new webmaker mailing list and the #mozparty Twitter hashtag. But we need something more robust and something that works across alot of platforms if we want Mozilla Webmaker to scale.

This is where Mozilla Webmaker badges come in. By the end of 2012, we plan to offer badges to recognize the skills that people have learned and that recognize contributions to the community. The skill badges will include things like “I understand HTML basics” and “I’ve helped 5 friends learn CSS”. We’re still working out the specifics. The contribution badges will recognize those who have helped others and those who have contributed learning content and code. This will give people within the Webmaker community an easy way to signal each other — to know who knows what and who is into what. More importantly, it will also give people a way to show what they learned and for us to monitor what and whether people are learning.

We’re starting work on this 2nd step right now, building a more systematic architecture of participation in parallel with our efforts to test and improve our first set of tools.

Step 3 – Make the app world hackable

Our third big step for Mozilla Webmaker tools has to be ‘teaching real programming‘ — getting people to the point where they can create or remix a game, app, etc. We chose to start Mozilla Webmaker with a focus on HTML and video so we could test our making and learning thesis using basic content that almost anyone on the web can make. But, our ultimate goal is to let people control, configure and create all corners of their digital lives. Games. Apps. Social networks. Civic participation sites. Science projects. And so on. At some point, that means teaching programming, or making programming easier to do.

It’s in this last phrase where one of our big questions sits: do we teach ‘real code’ like JavaScript, or do we adopt / develop a simple tool for producing JavaScript etc. like Meemoo or Blockly?

Our plan for 2012 is to explore both paths. We’re working with Codecademy to get their content on Webmaker.org and to encourage people to use their courses as part of #mozparty. This gives people a ‘learn real code in the abstract’ option. We’ll likely do the same with Meemoo, Blockly and other promising tools: write them up on Webmaker.org; encourage people to use them; and then ask people to feedback on what they observed. This is a good way to promote the work of allies who also want to teach the world to code while at the same time investigating whether there are gaps a tool like Thimble++ could play.

There are already a couple of places where I think Mozilla-made tools — and Mozilla’s learning philosophy — could add value in the ‘learn programming space’. One opportunity is in the realm of hackable games: HTML5 games which are designed from the ground up to be modified. People could be invited to change the game mechanics and or to bring in content from across the web. E.g. imagine grabbing your friend’s picture from Facebook and mapping it onto a rock in Angry Birds. Another opportunity is in mobile apps, especially those designed for rich on-the-fly HTML5 content creation. Eg. imagine a Popcorn-enabled Boot-to-Gecko phone that pulled in all kinds of contextual content and data on the fly, feeding a ready to edit package of content back to your laptop via the web. We’ll explore ideas like these this year at a blue sky and maybe even prototyping level to see what’s possible.

My guess is that this 3rd step in the Mozilla Webmaker tool effort won’t really move into high gear until early 2013. There are a number of experiments planned for later in 2012, but these are mainly about seeing what’s possible and giving us enough insight that we can develop a solid roadmap for our work in this space.

Admittedly, this is a pretty big dream. Mozilla Webmaker is ambitious on purpose. We need this kind of ambition if we want a world where we all understand and can shape our digital lives.

But we also need a plan to turn ambition into reality. We made the beginnings of a plan when we launched Mozilla Webmaker earlier this year (you can read it here). I’ll post a review of where we’re at with this plan sometime in later July, including how what we’ve learned from tools like Thimble and Popcorn is helping us evolve the plan.

In the meantime, there is one thing we know for sure: Mozilla is way too small to take on the Webmaker vision on its own. As I said above, we need to a) figure out how we can provide something valuable to others who want to teach the world to code and b) get at least some of these people working with us directly to create the tools, content and community for webmakers. Finding ways to work with people who share our vision (is this you?) is the number one priority of the Mozilla Webmaker team right now.

Which leads me to two closing asks: let us know if any of the work we’re doing on Mozilla Webmaker tools can help you + let us know if you want to help. It’s not always easy to find your way in. We know that and can help. The best place to start is on the Webmaker mailing list or our weekly community conference call. You can also just post a comment here or send me email. Just show up, put up your hand and say ‘I want help / how can I help?’ Someone on the Mozilla Webmaker team will be there to help you figure it out from there.

Mozilla Thimble preview

June 6, 2012 § 12 Comments

Later this month, we’ll be releasing Mozilla Thimble. Thimble is a simple web page editor combined with a series of ‘projects’ that help you learn the basics of HTML and CSS. The idea is to get people to learn basic web coding by just diving in and making something. Thimble projects make that easier by giving people guidance and a head start.

Thimble will go live just in time for our Summer Code Party campaign that kicks off on June 23. We want people using Thimble at their ‘kitchen table’ events, so I thought I should give people a preview of what’s coming.

The first thing you’ll see is a gallery of Thimble projects. The initial projects are designed to grab the interest of 8 – 14 year olds and to invite them to start making. We’ll be rolling out projects for older teens and adults later in the year.

As a part of this ‘interest grabbing’ approach, a number of the projects have been developed by organizations that already work with young people. This one is from the London Zoo. It teaches basic HTML and a bit about endangered species at the same time.

The Thimble interface itself is a simple side-by-side web page editor based on Code Mirror. The left pane is the code, and the right pane is the page preview rendered in real time.

The project pages are a mix of instructional comments and actual page elements. In the London Zoo Awesome Animal Builder project, the aim is to create your own species by combining image files from real endangered species that the Zoo wants you to learn about.

Here I was able to change the background of my species picture by changing the CSS class. As the code comments explain, I can choose between ‘ocean, rainforest or desert.’

If you’re new to HTML and CSS (that’s who this is aimed at), we’ve put in a bunch of features designed to help you if you get stuck with tasks like this. For example, you can click on any tag to get info on what it does.

Also, we’ve included pop-up hints that help you figure out what the right syntax is for a particular element.

After changing my CSS class (above), I then started moving different PNG files from different species into the frame with the question marks at the top of the page. These files are all given to me lower in the page along side info about the real endangered species. All I have to do is cut and paste the image URLs in order to build my animal.

And, voila! After moving a few more image URLS I now have a completed animal. I’ve also learned a) how headline tags work in HTML, b) the idea that CSS can be used to change the look of a major element of a page and c) that images in a web page are just references to a file somewhere on a server.

These may sound like small things to learn — but it’s exactly these small things we want people to start with. There are other projects in the gallery that deal with more advanced HTML and CSS topics. And, in a later release, anyone will be able to submit a project page to teach whatever aspect of web development tickles their fancy. Our hope is that Thimble can become a ‘Wikipedia of webmaking lessons’, which would be an awesome resource for the world to have.

Of course, our Mozilla Webmaker ambitions are much bigger than just teaching HTML and CSS. PopcornMaker will be a major resource for helping people make and learn about interactive video on the web. And, later this year, we’ll start experimenting with ways to teach people Javascript, most likely through game modding and making.

Early next week, we’ll release a preview version of Mozilla Thimble to people who are organizing Summer Code Party events. Most of these events are small and short — just you at your kitchen table or in your living room teaching two or three people a bit about how to code for the web. If you want to organize an event like this (and see the Thimble preview), sign up here on the Mozilla Webmaker events site.

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