David, Goliath and empires of the web

December 18, 2014 § 5 Comments

People in Mozilla have been talking a lot about radical participation recently. As Mitchell said at recently, participation will be key to our success as we move into ’the third era of Mozilla’ — the era where we find ways to be successful beyond the desktop browser.

davidandgoliath

This whole conversation has prompted me to reflect on how I think about radical participation today. And about what drew me to Mozilla in the first place more than five years ago.

For me, a big part of that draw was an image in my mind of Mozilla as the David who had knocked over Microsoft’s Goliath. Mozilla was the successful underdog in a fight I really cared about. Against all odds, Mozilla shook the foundation of a huge empire and changed what was possible with the web. This was magnetic. I wanted to be a part of that.

I started to think about this more the other day: what does it really mean for Mozilla to be David? And how do we win against future Goliaths?

Malcom Gladwell wrote a book last year that provides an interesting angle on this. He said: we often take the wrong lesson from David and Goliath story, thinking that it’s surprising that such a small challenger could fell such a large opponent.

Gladwell argues that Goliath was much more vulnerable that we think. He was large. But he was also slow, lumbering and had bad eyesight. Moreover, he used the most traditional fighting techniques of his time: the armour and brute force of infantry.

David, on the other hand, actually had a significant set of strategic advantages. He was nimble and good with a sling. A sling used properly, by the way, is a real weapon: it can project a rock at the speed of a .45 caliber pistol. Instead of confronting Goliath with brute force, he used a different and surprising technique to knock over his opponent. He wasn’t just courageous and lucky, he was smart.

Most other warriors would have seen Goliath as invincible. Not David: he was playing the game by his own rules.

In many ways, the same thing happened when we took on Microsoft and Internet Explorer. They didn’t expect the citizens of the web to rally against them: to build — and then choose by the millions — an unknown browser. Microsoft didn’t expect the citizens of the web to sling a rock at their weak spot, right between their eyes.

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As a community, radical participation was our sling and our rock. It was our strategic advantage and our element of surprise. And it is what shook the web loose from Microsoft’s imperial grip on the web.

Of course, participation still is our sling. It is still part of who were are as an organization and a global community. And, as the chart above shows, it is still what makes us different.

But, as we know, the setting has changed dramatically since Mozilla first released Firefox. It’s not just — or even primarily — the browser that shapes the web today. It’s not just the three companies in this chart that are vying for territorial claim. With the internet growing at breakneck speed, there are many Goliaths on many fronts. And these Goliaths are expanding their scope around the world. They are building empires.

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This has me thinking a lot about empire recently: about how the places that were once the subjects of the great European empires are by and large the same places we call “emerging markets”. These are the places where billions of people will be coming online for the first time in coming years. They are also the places where the new economic empires of the digital age are most aggressively consolidating their power.

Consider this: In North America, Android has about 68% of smartphone market share. In most parts of Asia and Africa, Android market share is in the 90% range – give or take a few points by country. That means Google has a near monopoly not only on the operating system on these markets, but also on the distribution of apps and how they are paid for. Android is becoming the Windows 98 of emerging economies, the monopoly and the control point; the arbiter of what is possible.

Also consider that Facebook and WhatsApp together control 80% of the messaging market globally, and are owned by one company. More scary: as we do market research with new smartphone users in countries like Bangladesh and Kenya. We usually ask people: do you use the internet: do you use the internet on you phone? The response is often: “what’s the Internet?” “What do you use you phone for?”, we ask. The response: “Oh, Facebook and WhatsApp.” Facebook’s internet is the only internet these people know of or can imagine.

It’s not the Facebooks and Googles of the world that concern me, per se. I use their products and in many cases, I love them. And I also believe they have done good in the world.

What concerns me is that, like the European powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, these companies are becoming empires that control both what is possible and what is imaginable. They are becoming monopolies that exert immense control over what people can do and experience on the web. And over what the web – and human society as a whole – may become.

One thing is clear to me: I don’t want this sort of future for the web. I want a future where anything is possible. I want a future where anything is imaginable. The web can be about these kinds of unlimited possibilities. That’s the web that I want everyone to be able to experience, including the billions of people coming online for the first time.

This is the future we want as a Mozilla. And, as a community we are going to need to take on some of these Goliaths. We are going to need reach down into our pocket and pull out that rock. And we are going to need to get some practice with our sling.

The truth is: Mozilla has become a bit rusty with it. Yes, participation is still a key part of who we are. But, if we’re honest, we haven’t relied on it as much of late.

If we want to shake the foundations of today’s digital empires, we need to regain that practice and proficiency. And find new and surprising ways to use that power. We need to aim at new weak spots in the giant.

We may not know what those new and surprising tactics are yet. But there is an increasing consensus that we need them. Chris Beard has talked recently about thinking differently about participation and product, building participation into the actual features and experience of our software. And we have been talking for the last couple of years about the importance of web literacy — and the power of community and participation to get people teaching each other how to wield the web. These are are the kinds of directions we need to take, and the strategies we need to figure out.

It’s not only about strategy, of course. Standing up to Goliaths and using participation to win are also about how we show up in the world. The attitude each of us embodies every day.

Think about this. Think about the image of David. The image of the underdog. Think about the idea of independence. And, then think of the task at hand: for all of us to bring more people into the Mozilla community and activate them.

If we as individuals and as an organization show up again as a challenger — like David — we will naturally draw people into what we’re doing. It’s a part of who we are as Mozillians, and its magnetic when we get it right

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.

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: 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 is learning

November 26, 2012 § 76 Comments

We started working on Mozilla Webmaker about a year ago with this thesis: inviting people to make, tinker and share things is the best way to teach the world how the web works.

Much has changed with Webmaker since. We’ve evolved Popcorn Maker into something lean and intuitive. Thimble has emerged from the Xray Goggles. And our vague ideas about community building turned into a worldwide Summer Code Party. But one thing has stayed constant: our core belief that making is the fastest (and funnest) way to learn things.

We’re not the only people who think that making and learning are deeply intertwined. Seymour Papert thought it 30 years back. Today, you see it in action at Maker Faires and in every hackerspaces around the world. You see it in the hands on side of the ‘learn to code’ movement. And, as demonstrated in NESTA’s recent report on innovation in education, you see it in discussions that link the resurgence of making, hacking and craft with new ways to teach and learn.

Reflecting on all this recently, I was reminded that the opportunity here is is much bigger than teaching the world the web. In a world where digital things make making easier and cheaper than ever, we have the chance to move the learning ball quite far in at least three areas: digital literacy; digital citizenship; and STEAM.

If you think about a Maker Faire or a hackerspace for a moment, you can see a snapshot of this opportunity. You turn one direction: you see people who have taught themselves to engineer robots, rocket ships and all kinds of fantastical contraptions. You turn another: you see a table full of kids and parents teaching each other to code with Scratch. And, all around you: you see people helping each other, tinkering, collaborating and inventing by doing. These are all things that we tend to tap into more as we become citizens of the web.

Also: appetite in making and digital creativity is growing. Mozilla recently asked UK young people aged 8 – 15 about coding, making games and making web pages: 67% said they wanted to know how to do these things yet only 3% said they already had these skills. In the same survey, UK parents ranked coding the most important thing for their children to learn after science, english and math. Also, consider that a billion people on our planet already post or curate content online: these people may not be full fledged digital makers yet, but they clearly comfortable creating and sharing online. My guess is that many of these people just need a little nudge to dive deeper into hacking, coding and making.

Of course, tapping into making as a way to make substantial progress on digital literacy, digital citizenship and STEM would require more than just MakerFaires, Popcorn and social networks. It would require a concerted effort to build products, run programs and raise public awareness in a way that gets 100s of millions of people excited about the connection between making and learning. The thing is: it feels like many of us are already making this concerted effort. What we’re not doing yet is talking to each other or telling the world how huge this opportunity is.

As I start planning for Webmaker 2013, I want to find ways to fix this: to build a bigger making and learning agenda. We already work with many people are building this agenda in their own areas: Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty at Make; Tom Kenyon and the people at NESTA in the UK; Connie Yowell and the team at MacArthur. We all agree that the coming year is the right time to really push the idea of making and learning globally. As a first step, I’m working with some of these people on a simpler way to describe making + learning. Let me know if you want to be involved.

Explaining Webmaker crisply

September 25, 2012 § 9 Comments

We’ve been honing our description of Webmaker recently. Partly, this is so we can explain Webmaker to the world. But it’s mostly aimed to clarifying what we’re building and who we’re building it for as we move into the next phase of development.

Mozilla Webmaker helps to make, remix or tweak a webpage or video and also teaches you how the web works.

At a recent meeting in Toronto, Erin Knight led a set of discussions on this topic. I came out of these discussions with four big takeaways:

1. Webmaker is a peer to Firefox and FirefoxOS.

Mozilla has big priorities right now: the web on the desktop; the web in the mobile environment; and web literacy. We need to start positioning Webmaker in this context, showing how Mozilla’s three big bets / priorities all tie back the same mission.

Also, we need to make the link between the value of a phone you can re-program because it’s made from the web (FirefoxOS) and the value of knowing how the web works (Webmaker). Getting web phones into the hands of millions of skilled and creative people is the key to a next wave of innovation on the web.

2. We should describe Webmaker by simply explaining what you can make.

We need to describe Webmaker more simply and concretely. We’ve been able to say ‘Mozilla wants to create a generation of people who know how the web works and can reprogram it.’ But describing what we’re building to make this happen has been difficult. We took a shot at fixing this in Toronto:

Mozilla Webmaker: a quick way to make, remix or tweak a webpage or 
video while learning how the web works.

While this isn’t quite right yet, it opens up an important new direction: we should be explaining what you can make with Mozilla Webmaker. This creates a more tangible picture in people’s minds and helps them understand how they can engage. I’m hoping others can come up with better wording than what we have above, but based on the general approach of saying what you can make.

3. Our audience is people with something to share.

Up to now, we’ve been a bit fuzzy about who we’re targeting with Mozilla Webmaker. In Toronto, we narrowed in on ‘people how have a maker attitude and something to share’ as a core audience.

There are two pieces to this. The first is is about an approach to life: one that involves tinkering, remixing and iteration. The second is about having made something that you are proud and excited about, something that you want to share or show to other people: a picture you took; a video you made; a game you’ve modified; a big idea you’ve dreamed up. We build the needs and desires of this audience into our design process as we work on the next phase of Mozilla Webmaker.

 4. Educators are also a key audience.

During the last thee months, almost 700 people organized Mozilla Webmaker Summer Code Party events. Whether they gathered 100 people or simply brought a few friends around a kitchen table, these people have played a critical role in getting Mozilla Webmaker off the ground. And they have done so because they care about inspiring and educating others about the creative potential of the web.

Personally, I hadn’t really thought about this group as one of our key audiences before. But clearly they are. These are the first people to ‘get’ what we’re trying to do with Webmaker and to feed back in to help improve it. Like the early adopters who first installed Firefox on other people’s computers, these grassroots educators and evangelists could be the core of our global community. Over the next couple of months, we need to figure out ways to more actively help them and bring them into what we’re building.

These four insights aren’t particularly radical. They fit with where we’ve been going with Mozilla Webmaker for the past year. However, I do think they make it easier to explain what we’re doing. They also offer increased clarity on what we need to be building and who we need to be building it for over the next six months. Erin is going to do her own post on this aspect of the Toronto discussions, looking at how we practically pull all the pieces of Webmaker into a more cohesive offering.

A reading list for webmakers

September 6, 2012 § 6 Comments

People often ask: Where did Mozilla Webmaker come from? And, how does it fit into the big picture of Mozilla’s mission? There are loads of materials online that answer these questions. I figured I should create a ‘reading’ list for would be web makers that pulls together some of the main threads. Here it is.

1. The Story of Mozilla

This video is a great place to start. In 3 minutes, you get primer on how Mozilla used Firefox to keep the web alive and on where we are headed next with mobile and web literacy. The main take away: Mozilla is a global community of people creates compelling products and experiences that build openness into the internet. This is an important foundational idea to get. It’s how Mozilla thinks about itself.

2. The Mozilla Manifesto

While it could use an update, the Manifesto is still a solid foundation answering the question: what should Mozilla be working on right now? The Webmaker initiative has it’s roots in the principle that “… individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.” This almost is impossible unless individuals have some basic literacy in how the web works and how to program it. That’s why Mozilla is making such a big bet on web literacy. The Manifesto also says that Mozilla should “build and deliver great consumer products that support [these] principles.” This is why we’re working so hard on Thimble, Popcorn and high quality remixable content: we believe compelling online creativity apps are powerful way to promote web literacy.

3. Creating a web literate planet

In September 2011, I started a series of blog postings outlining the basic web maker concept and asking for feedback. These posts argued that “… Mozilla has an opportunity to build the next generation of web makers.” They also set out the basic idea that we need both teach and build tools that encourage creativity, tinkering and invention on the web. These posts formed the touchstone for what we’re actually building in 2012. You can read them in order as a set or go back to ‘#nextbeat’ tag in my blog. While the #nextbeat version is confusing (you have to read from the bottom up as they are in reverse order), it’s also more interesting as it includes all the original comments and public discussion about the webmaker concept.

4. Mozilla Webmaker 2012 plans

By the end of 2012, we’d agreed to put significant resources toward what is now called Mozilla Webmaker. Our top level goal was to “… roll Mozilla’s best software and learning resources into a simple ‘kit’ for web makers.” Practically, this meant building Hackasaurus, Popcorn, Hive, Open News and many other efforts we’d started under the Mozilla Drumbeat banner into a cohesive offering and brand. I posted an overview of our plans to do this in February 2012, including links to team-specific plans. There is also a wiki page with the top level Webmaker goals and objectives approved by the Mozilla Foundation board in December 2011. As I thought experiment, I recently did a July MoFo Goals Review. While we’ve still go work to do, we’re tracking well.

5. Campus Party talk on the web and creativity

Now that we’re almost a year into the Webmaker conversation, I’ve been turning my mind back to the question: what’s the big picture strategy we need to keep the web open and vibrant? At the broadest level, I think the answer is a mix of products, literacy and public policy that bake the values of the Mozilla Manifesto into the web and into our expectations of how the web works. Mozilla’s three big projects right now — Firefox, Firefox OS and Webmaker — cover the product and literacy bases. We also need to find a way to shape policy, at least in cases where it threatens the web. I did a talk recently at Campus Party Europe that looks these things through a big picture lens. It’s rough and a bit long, but this talk is worth watching if you want to situate Mozilla Webmaker within the context of keeping the web open for the very long haul.

Of course, these five posts are just a primer. There are thousands of posts and reflections that people have written about the webmaker concept. And there is even more out there on the broader topic of web literacy. I’d be interested in hearing what other reading you find helpful or inspirational on this topic. If something comes to mind, please post a link as a comment below.

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