Reflections on Mobile World Congress: the power of an open mobile Web

March 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

The mobile Web is experiencing a watershed moment: over the next few years, billions of first-time users will come online exclusively through their smartphones. Mozilla believes it’s critically important these users find a mobile Web that’s open and invites creativity.

This was our rallying cry last week at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, where mobile technology leaders from around the globe discussed the industry’s future. It was encouraging to hear our rallying cry echoed by others: the GSMA, for example, dedicated significant time and floor space to promoting digital inclusivity.

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As a first-timer to MWC, I was really proud of how Mozilla showed up. We unveiled a partnership with French mobile provider Orange, which can equip millions of users across 13 African countries with a Firefox OS smartphone and six months of data and voice service — for just $40. We announced a simple smartphone for first-time users that we’ll release with Verizon in the U.S. next year. And we debuted the beta Webmaker app, a free, open source publishing tool that makes creating local content simple.

Personally, I participated in two panels: One on digital inclusion and one on the power of connected citizens in crisis situations. These sessions gave us a chance to double down on our stance that access alone isn’t the answer — it’s only the first step.

While I disagree with many of their tactics, I was happy to see people like internet.org throwing out a vision for connecting everyone on the planet. But they are really missing the boat on literacy, skills and creativity. Most people will get connected at some point over the next 10 years; the real risk is people not getting the know-how they need to truly unlock the potential of the internet and make their lives better. We were able to effectively get that message across at MWC.

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One of the highlights from the panel discussions was meeting Kartik Sheth from Airtel of India. He talked about Airtel’s onboarding program, which introduces people to the internet by focusing on specific content they really want (a Bollywood music video, for example). Then, they educate users about what services the internet offers and what data costs through that process (e.g. introducing people to YouTube and helping them understand that watching a music video doesn’t cost that much in data). This may sound simple, but it’s actually the kind of “ambient web literacy” that we really need to be thinking about. It has the potential not only to give people very basic internet knowledge, but also to help us avoid what I’m starting to call “the Facebook Effect.”

Of course, Mozilla is committed to web literacy at a much deeper level than just basic onboarding. We spent a good deal of time talking with people at MWC about our growing Learning Networks and Clubs. Our Clubs feature curricula that can be remixed and reimagined, and are held in diverse languages and venues. We met with a ton of people ranging from phone carriers to international agencies aimed at empowering women. And these people expressed interest in helping Mozilla both grow these networks and distribute the Webmaker app.

I left MWC energized by these sort of conversations. Feels like more momentum than ever. If you want to be a part of it, it’s worth checking out Webmaker.org/LocalWeb. This site includes a bunch of the research and partnership opportunities we talked to people about in Barcelona, as well as a link to the Webmaker app beta.

Participation, permission and momentum

February 15, 2015 § 3 Comments

Don’t wait for permission. If you have an idea that excites you, a thing you want to prototype, a skill you proudly want to share, an annoying bug you want to fix, a conversation you want to convene: don’t wait for someone else to say yes. Just do it!

This is useful (and common) advice for pretty much any endeavor. But, for Mozilla and Mozillians, it’s critical. Especially right now.

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We’ve committed to building a more radical approach to participation over the next three years. And, more specifically, we ultimately want to get to a place where we have more Mozilla activities happening than the centralized parts of the org can track, let alone control.

How do we do this? One big step is reinvigorating Mozilla’s overall architecture of participation: the ways we help people connect, collaborate and get shit done. This is both important and urgent. However, as we work on this, there is something even more urgent: keeping up the momentum that comes from simply taking action and building great stuff. We need to maintain momentum and reinvigorate our architecture of participation in tandem in order to succeed. And I worry a little that recent discussions of participation have focused a little too heavily on the architecture part so far.

The good news: Mozillians have a deep history of having a good idea and just running with it. With the best ideas, others start to pitch in time and resources. And momentum builds.

A famous example of this is the Firefox 1.0 New York times ad in 2004. A group of volunteers and supporters had the idea of celebrating the launch of Firefox in a big way. They came up with a concept and started running with it. As a momentum built, Mozilla Foundation staff came in to help. The result was the the first high profile crowd-funded product launch in history — and a people-powered kickoff to Firefox’s dramatic rise in popularity.

This kind of thing still happens all the time today. A modest example from the last few weeks: the Mozilla Bangladesh community’s participation at BASIS. Mozilla volunteers arranged to get a booth and a four hour time slot for free at this huge local tech event, something other companies paid $10,000 to get. They then organized an ambitious program that covered everything from Firefox OS demos to contributing to SuMo to teaching web literacy to getting involved in MDN, QA and web app development — they covered a broad swatch of top priority Mozilla topics and goals. Mozilla staff helped and encouraged remotely. But this really was driven locally and from the ground up.

Separated by 10 years and operating at very different scale, these two examples have a number of things in common: the ideas and activities were independently initiated but still tied back to core Mozilla priorities; initial resources needed to get the idea moving were gathered by the people who would make it happen (i.e. initial donations or free space at a conference); staff from the central Mozilla organization came in later in the process and played a supporting role. In each case, decentralized action led to activities and outcomes that drove things forward on Mozilla’s overall goals of the time (e.g. Firefox adoption, Webmaker growth, SuMo volunteer recruitment).

This same pattern has happened thousands of times over, with bug fixes, documentation, original ideas that make it into core products and, of course, with ads and events. While there are many other ways that people participate, independent and decentralized action where people ‘just do something’ is an important and real part of how Mozilla works.

As we figure out how to move forward with our 2015+ participation plan, I want to highlight this ‘don’t wait for permission’ aspect of Mozilla. Two things seem particularly important to focus on right now:

First: strengthening decentralized leadership at Mozilla. For me, this is critical if we’re serious about radical participation. It’s so core to who we are and how we win. To make progress here, we need to admit that we’re not as good at decentralized leadership today as we want or need to be. And then we need to have an an honest discussion about the goals that Mozilla has in the current era and how to build up decentralized leadership in a way helps move those goals forward. This is a key piece of ‘reinvigorating Mozilla’s architecture of participation’.

A second, and more urgent, topic: maintaining momentum across the Mozilla community. It’s critical that Mozillians continue act on their ideas and take initiative even as we work through these broader questions of participation. I’ve had a couple of conversations recently that went something like ‘it feels like we need to wait on a ‘final plan’ re: participation before going ahead with an idea we have’. I’m not sure if I was reading those conversations right or if this is a widespread feeling. If it is, we’re in deep trouble. We won’t get to more radical participation simply by bringing in new ideas from other orgs and redesigning how we work. In fact, the more important ingredient is people taking action at the grassroots — running with an idea, prototyping something, sharing a skill, fixing an annoying bug, convening a conversation. It’s this sort of action that fuels momentum both in our community and with our products.

For me, focusing on both of these themes simultaneously — keeping momentum and reinvigorating our architecture of participation — is critical. If we focus only on momentum, we may get incrementally better at participation, but we won’t have the breakthroughs we need. If we just focus on new approaches and architectures for participation, we risk stalling or losing the faith or getting distracted. However, if we can do both at once, we have the chance to unlock something really powerful over the next three years — a new era of radical participation at Mozilla.

The draft participation plan we’ve developed for the next three years is designed with this in mind. It includes a new Community Development Team to help us keep momentum, with a particular focus on supporting Mozilla community members around the world who are taking action right now. And we are setting up a Participation Task Force (we need a better name for this!) to get new ideas and systems in place that help us improve the overall architecture of participation at Mozilla. These efforts are just a few weeks old. As they build steam and people get involved, I believe they have the potential to take us where we want to go.

Of course, the teams behind our participation plan are a just a small part of the story: they are a support for staff and volunteers across Mozilla who want to get better at participation. The actual fuel of participation will come from all of us running with our ideas and taking action. This is the core point of my post: moving towards a more radical approach to participation is something each of us must play a role in. Playing that role doesn’t flow from plans or instructions from our participation support teams. It flows from rolling up our sleeves to passionately pursue good ideas with the people around us. That’s something all of us need to do right now if we believe that radical participation is an important part of Mozilla’s future.

David, Goliath and empires of the web

December 18, 2014 § 3 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.

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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.

You did it! (maker party)

September 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

This past week marked the end of Maker Party 2014. The results are well beyond what we expected and what we did last year — 2,513 learning events in 86 countries. If you we’re one of the 5,000+ teachers, librarians, parents, Hivers, localizers, designers, engineers and marketing ninjas who contributed to Webmaker over the past few months, I want to say: Thank you! You did it! You really did it!

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What did you do? You taught over 125,000 people how to make things on the web — which is the point of the program and an important end in itself. At the same time, you worked tirelessly to build out and expand Webmaker in meaningful ways. Some examples:

  • Mozilla India organized over 250 learning events in the past two months, showing the kind of scale and impact you can get with well organized corps of volunteers.
  • Countries including Iran, New Zealand, and Sweden held their first ever Maker Party, adding to the idea that Webmaker is a truly global effort.
  • Tools and curriculum focused on mobile were added into the Webmaker suite — AppMaker was launched in June and was well received in Maker Parties around the world.
  • Over 300 partners orgs including major library and after school networks participated, bringing even more skilled teachers and mentors into our community.
  • New and innovative ways to teach the web in a very low touch manner rolled out, including a Firefox snippet that let you hack our home page x-ray goggles style.
  • Webmaker teamed up with Mozilla’s policy team, with a sub-campaign for Net Neutrality teach-ins plus a related reddit AMA.

It’s important to say: these things add up to something. Something big. They add up to a better Webmaker — more curriculum, better tools, a larger network of contributors. These things are assets that we can build on as we move forward. And you made them.

You did one other thing this summer that I really want to call out — you demonstrated what the Mozilla community can be when it is at its best. So many of you took leadership and organized the people around you to do all the things I just listed above. I saw that online and as I traveled to meet with local communities this summer. And, as you did this, so many of you also reached out an mentored others new to this work.You did exactly what Mozilla needs to do more of: you demonstrated the kind of commitment, discipline and thoughtfulness that is needed to both grow and have impact at the same time. As I wrote in July, I believe we need simultaneously drive hard on both depth and scale if we want Webmaker to work. You showed that this was possible.

Celebrating at MozFest East Africa

Celebrating at MozFest East Africa

So, if you were one of the 5000+ people who contributed to Webmaker during Maker Party: pat yourself on the back. You did something great! Also, consider: what do you want to do next? Webmaker doesn’t stop at the end of Maker Party. We’re planning a fall campaign with key partners and networks. We’re also moving quickly to expand our program for mentors and leaders, including thinking through ideas like Webmaker Clubs. These are all things that we need your help with as we build on the great work of the past few months.

Snapping the puzzle together

September 12, 2014 § 2 Comments

I’ve had a picture in mind for a while: a vision of FirefoxOS + Appmaker + Webmaker mentor programs coming together to drive a new wave of creativity and content on the web. I believe this would be a way to really show what Mozilla stands for right now: putting access to the Internet in more hands and then helping people unlock the full potential of the web as a part of their lives and their livelihoods.

Puzzle pieces

The thing is: this picture has felt a bit like a puzzle until recently — I can see where it’s going, but we don’t have all the pieces. It’s like a vision or a theory more than a plan. However, over the past few months, things are getting clearer — feels like the puzzle pieces are becoming real and snapping together.

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Dinner w/ Mozilla Bangladesh

I had this ‘it’s coming together’ feeling in spades the other day as I had dinner w/ 20 members of the Mozilla community in Bangladesh. Across from me was a college student named Ani who was telling me about the Bengali keyboard he’d written for FirefoxOS. To his right was a woman named Maliha who was explaining how she’d helped the Mozilla Bangladesh community organize nearly 50 Webmaker workshops in the last two months. And then beside me, Mak was enthusiastically — and accurately — describing Mozilla’s new Mobile Webmaker to the rest of the group. I was rapt. And energized.

More importantly, I was struck by how the people around the table had nearly all the pieces of the puzzle amongst them. At a practical level, they are all actively working on the practicalities of localizing FirefoxOS and making it work on the ground in Bangladesh. They are finding people and places to teach Webmaker workshops. They have offered to help develop and test Appmaker to see if it can really work for users in Bangladesh. And, they see how these things fit together: people around the table talked about how all these things combined have the potential for huge impact. In particular, they talked about the role phones, skills and publishing tools built with Mozilla values could unleash a huge wave of Bengali language content onto the mobile internet. In a country where less than 10% of people speak English. This is a big deal.

The overall theory behind this puzzle is: open platforms + digital skills + local content = an opportunity to disrupt and open up the mobile Internet.

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Well, at least, that’s my theory. I see local platforms like Firefox OS — and HTML5 in general — as the baseline. They make it possible for anyone to create apps and content for the mobile web on their own terms — and they are easy to learn. In order to unlock the potential of these platforms, we also need large numbers of people to have the skills to create their own apps and content. Which is what we’re trying to tee up with our Webmaker program. Finally, we need a huge wave of local content that smartphone users make for each other — which both Webmaker and Appmaker are meant to fuel. These are the puzzle pieces I think we need.

On this last point: the content needn’t be local per se — but it does need to be something of value to users that the web / HTML5 can provide this better than existing mobile app stores and social networks. Local apps and content — and especially local language content — is a very likely sweet spot here. The Android Play Store and Facebook are bad — or at least limited — in how they support people creating content and apps. In languages like Bengali, the web — and Mozilla — have historically been much better.

But it’s a theory with enough promise — with enough pieces of the puzzle coming together — that we should get out there and test it out in practice. Doing this will require both discipline and people on the ground. Luckily, the Mozilla community has these things in spades.

India Community

Mozillians at Webmaker event in Pune

Talking with a bunch of people from the Mozilla India community underlined this part of things for me — and helped my thinking on how to test the local content theory. Vineel, Sayak and others told me about the recent launch of low cost Firefox OS smartphones in India — including a $33/R1999 phone from a company called Intex. As with Firefox releases in many other countries, the core launch team behind this effort were volunteer Mozilla contributors.
Working with Mozilla marketing staff from Taiwan, members of the Mozilla India community made a plan, trained Intex sales staff and promoted the phone. Early results: Intex sold 15,000 units in the first three days. And things have been picking up from there.

It’s exactly this kind of community driven plan and discipline that we will need to test out the Firefox OS + Appmaker + Webmaker theory. What we need is something like:

  1. Pick a couple of places to test out our theory — India and Bangladesh are likely options, maybe also Brazil and Kenya.
  2. Work with the community to test out the ‘everyone can author an app’ software first — find out what regular users want, adapt the software with them, test again.
  3. Make sure this test includes a strong Webmaker / training component — we should be testing how to teach skills at the same time as testing the software idea.
  4. Make sure we have both phones and a v1 of Mobile Webmaker in local languages
  5. Also, work with community to develop a set of basic app templates in local language — it’s important not to have an ‘empty shelf’ and also to build around things people actually want to make.
  6. Move from research to ‘market’ testing — put Mobile Webmaker on FirefoxOS phones and do a campaign of related Webmaker training sessions.
  7. Step back. See what worked. What didn’t. Iterate. In the market.

This sort of thing is doable in the next six months — but only if we get the right community teams behind us. I’m going to work on doing just that at ReMoCamp in Berlin this weekend. If there is interest and traction, we’ll start moving ahead quickly.

In the meantime, I’d be interested in comments on my theory above. We’re going to do something like this — we need everybody’s feedback and ideas to increase the likelihood of getting it right.

Quick thoughts from Kenya

July 18, 2014 § 2 Comments

Going anywhere in Africa always energizes me. It surprises me. Challenges my assumptions. Gives me new ideas. And makes me smile. The week I just spent in Nairobi did all these things.

Airtel top up agenda in Nairobi

The main goal of my trip was to talk to people about the local content and simple appmaking work Mozilla is doing. I spent an evening talking with Mozilla community members, a day and a bit with people at Equity Bank and a bunch of time with people from iHub. Here are three of the many thoughts I had while reflecting on the flight home:

Microbusiness is our biggest opportunity for AppMaker

I talked to ALOT of people about the idea of non-techie smartphone users being able to make their own apps.

My main question was: who would want to make their own app rather than just use Facebook? Most of the good answers had to with someone running a very small business. A person selling juice to office workers who wastes alot of travel time taking orders. An up and coming musician who wants a way to pre-sell tickets to loyal fans using mobile money. A chicken farmer outside Nairobi who is always on the phone with the hotels she sells to (pic below, met her and her husband while on a trip with Equity Bank folks). The common thread: simple to make and remix apps could be very useful to very small real world businesses that would benefit from better communications, record keeping and transaction processing via mobile phone.

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Our main priority with AppMaker (or whatever we call it) right now is to get a first cut at on-device authoring out there. In the background, we also really need to be pushing on use cases like these — and the kind of app templates that would enable them. Some people at the iHub in Nairobi have offered to help with prototyping template apps specific to Kenya over the next few months, which will help with figuring this out.

Even online is offline in much of Africa

As I was reminded at MozFest East Africa, even online is offline in much of Africa (and many other parts of the world). In the city, the cost of data for high bandwidth applications like media streaming — or running a Webmaker workshop — is expensive. And, outside the city, huge areas have connections that are spotty or non-existent.

BRCK-in-use

It was great to meet the BRCK people who are building products to address issues like this. Specifically: BRCK is a ruggedized wifi router with a SIM card, useful I/O ports and local storage. Brainstorming with Juliana and Erik from iHub, it quickly became clear that it could be useful for things like Webmaker workshops in places where connectivity is expensive, slow or even non-existent. If you popped a Raspberry Pi on the side, you might even be able create a working version of Webmaker tools like Thimble and Appmaker that people could use locally — with published web pages and apps trickling back or syncing once the BRCK had a connection. The Kenyan Mozillians I talked to were very excited about this idea. Worth exploring.

People buy brands

During a dinner with local Mozillians, a question was raised: ‘what will it take for Firefox OS to succeed in Kenya?’ A debate ensued. “Price,” said one person, “you can’t get a $30 smartphone like the one Mozilla is going to sell.” “Yes you can!”, said another. “But those are China phones,” said someone else. “People want real phones backed by a real brand. If people believe Firefox phones are authentic, they will buy them.”

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Essentially, they were talking about the tension between brand / authenticity / price in commodity markets like smartphones. The contention was: young Kenyan’s are aspiring to move up in the world. An affordable phone backed by a global brand like Mozilla stands for this. Of course, we know this. But it’s a good reminder from the people who care most about Mozilla (our community, pic below of Mozillians from Kenya) that the Firefox brand really needs to shine through on our devices and in the product experience as we roll out phones in more parts of the world.

Mozillians from Nairobi

I’ve got alot more than this rumbling around in my head, of course. My week in Uganda and Kenya really has my mind spinning. In a good way. It’s all a good reminder that the diverse perspectives of our community and our partners are one of our greatest strengths. As an organization, we need to tap into that even more than we already do. I truly believe that the big brain that is the Mozilla Community will be a key factor in winning the next round in our efforts to stand up for the web.

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