Monthly Archives: September 2010

First week at school: the School of Webcraft is officially awesome

The School of Webcraft is now in session — and the first week of classes has been awesome. 15 courses are now up and running on everything from WebDev 101 to Beginning Python to Programming Visual Media. What does the school’s report card look like so far — and what have we learned?

15 courses. Over 500 applicants. 345 learners.

Over 500 people applied for Fall Semester courses. 345 of those were approved to take part — with many more auditing or casually following along. This far exceeds the original goal of 12 courses with 200 learners — so an A+ on early metrics! (By way of comparison: 345 students would be enough to fill 7 school buses — and is only 50 less than the total number of Masters degrees granted from Harvard each year.)

This is the first-ever “beta” semester, so there’s been some natural hiccups with the user experience and web platform. But a huge amount of work and open project tools have come together:

Who’s attending?

In the Web Development 101 class I attended, there were learners participating via video chat from Tokyo, Berlin, Brooklyn, Toronto and St. Paul — ranging from a grad student wanting to update her department web site to an architect hacking on his online portfolio.

“The sense of collaboration is unlike any college I’ve seen”

The application letters students wrote give a great flavor for the high caliber of participants. And provide some great early validation that the School of Webcraft really is filling a valuable niche:

I can’t afford college tuition for programming courses — even if the university taught what I need (amazingly to me, it doesn’t.) Finally I may have the chance to learn what I need to create the new teaching/research tools I’ve conceived, and available for anyone with online access to use. — Pat, Web Dev 101

My working group here at Montana State University has some interest in using Processing to visualize solar data sets…. I like the examples of interactive visualization I’ve seen done with it and I like that it is open source. — Christine, Boseman, Montanna

I love visual art, programming and working with data. My goal with this course is explore some new visualization techniques and get more experience with programming in general.  — Radim, Prague

I love the concept of open education. I love the idea of learning from experts who volunteer to teach, because it almost assures us that the people teaching are doing it for the right reasons. I think that the Internet is an environment wholly alien to academia — the sense of collaboration, of eagerness is unlike any college I’ve seen or been to. –“Begining Python Web Services” student

I have certain plans of creating a learning programme for poor children in Romania and an on-line platform for translators. –“Begining Python Web Services” student

Attracting cool new audiences to Mozilla and the open web

If these and other user stories are any indication, the School of Webcraft shows real promise in Drumbeat’s larger mission to attract new audiences to Mozilla and the open web. Phillip Smith’s “Hacks and Hackers” class is pairing 20 developers with 20 journalists, with Mark Surman and Chris Blizzard leading off with a killer presentation on why the open web matters to journalists.

[slideshare id=5208381&doc=mozilladrumbeat-nnchallenge-100915121157-phpapp02]

Help us scale up for next semester?

The School of Webcraft has set an aggressive goal to double the number of courses and learners for the January Semester. To do that, we need:

  • Your course ideas for next semester. Especially courses geared towards intermediate-level learners.
  • Donations. We’re kicking off a fundraising campaign so that we can scale up to reach more aspiring web developers around the world. You can help by making a contribution or spreading the word.
  • Feedback. What’s working? What’s not? How do we help people around the world get skills and build careers using open web technologies? Leave comments here or on the School of Webcraft Drumbeat page.

Venues for Drumbeat Festival announced: FAD and MACBA

The first-ever Mozilla Drumbeat Festival is less than two months away — and we’re thrilled to formally announce the Festival’s Barcelona venues. Most Festival activities will take place at FAD (Fostering Arts & Design), with special events and extra space at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA).

The FAD Exhibit Hall -- soon to be packed full of awesome learning, freedom and open web innovators like you.

FAD and MACBA share a public square, Plaça dels Àngels, where we’ll be setting up tents to house even more activity. Everything will happen in the vibrant Raval neighborhood.

The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA)

These beautiful artsy digs should provide a perfect backdrop for the event’s general vibe — less conference, more open festival where participants get their hands dirty and create their own experience. Now is a great time to register, offer to volunteer, or suggest your program ideas at

CrisisCamp, “humane workflow” and Mozilla

The CrisisCamp Marathon Volunteering Weekend for Pakistan is happening this weekend (Sep 3-5) in Toronto, Sydney, Bangkok, Toronto, London and Silicon Valley.

Mozilla Drumbeat has been collaborating with the good folks at Crisis Commons since connecting with them at our Drumbeat Toronto event last March. Beginning tonight (Friday, September 3), they’re hosting a CrisisCamp Marathon Volunteering Weekendfor Pakistan, with events in Toronto, Sydney, London, Bangkok and — thanks to Mozilla’s own Atul Varma — Silicon Valley.

It’s a chance for anyone with a laptop to help with everything from Pashtun translation to data entry to user-interface testing. CrisisCommons also has a Usahidi instance for the floods running here, and are looking for specific help in geo-coding incidents on the ground.

Geo-coding reports from the ground using Ushahidi

Natalie from last week’s Crisis Camp Silicon Valley demonstrates the street mapping project she’s working on for Pakistan flood relief

“Plunge in and do things:” civil society and the web

As Mitchell Baker wrote last week, she often gets asked how Mozilla can help respond to humanitarian crises. Mitchell and other Mozillians attended a CrisisCamp Silicon Valley event last Friday; in her follow-up post, Mitchell draws the link between CrisisCamp and civil society, “developing a world where people don’t look to government and formal ‘non-governmental organizations’ for all the answers.”

CrisisCamp’s direct participation and collaboration represent civil society in action — “see a problem, do something. Form an association, virtual or formal. Build a tool — or a product. Reach out. Don’t wait for government to set up a special official organization — plunge in and do things.”

Order in chaos and “humane workflow”

The challenges of thousands of distributed participants “plunging in and doing things” are obviously familiar to Mozilla’s own work. Atul describes some interesting parallels between his own first experience of CrisisCamp with Mozilla’s process of turning the potential chaos of mass participation into a more “humane workflow.”

One thing I noticed about the chaos surrounding the Internet-based efforts [at CrisisCamp] was that, like Mozilla, they were formed very organically. This meant that there were a plethora of activities going on which anyone could participate in, but the picture presented to a newcomer was confusing and messaging wasn’t always consistent. Tasks needed to be completed urgently; the changing landscape on the ground meant that problems and solutions were constantly changing, and assumptions were frequently challenged….

Combined with the distributed nature of the solution, acquainting newcomers with a reasonably humane workflow for contributing was non-trivial: just processing a report on, for instance, often meant switching between tabs containing, OpenStreetMap, and a Google Docs page containing advice and other resources. There was a lot of copying and pasting involved.


Sarah from CrisisCamp Silicon Valley describes some documentation and user experience challenges

How could Mozilla help?

Last week CrisisCommons did some blue sky thinking at the Berkman Center around long term strategy with folks like Clay Shirkey, Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger. (See Ethan’s excellent “Crisis Commons, and the challenges of distributed disaster response.”) Some early thoughts on how Mozilla and Drumbeat might help:

Helping to build better tools and user experience. Atul describes how browsers, for example, could help solve some of the workflow problems he describes through addons or scripts that would eliminate duplication and make the user experience for volunteer contributors easier. Creating these specific scripts and addons could fuel a potential Drumbeat project, a P2PU Webcraft course project, or innovation challenge.

Attracting skilled contributors. CrisisCommons is always looking for web-savvy generalists, but also skilled specialists for their “Technical Tiger Teams.” Mozilla may be able to help attract specific community members around specific tasks and challenges where needed. Clearly defining specific skill-sets and tickets would probably help this go faster and get better results.

Sharing expertise around developing open standards. One thread of the strategy dicussion at Berkman focused on how CrisisCommons might emerge as “an international forum for standards development and data sharing around crises…. training the broader community about the importance of standards, and on the challenge of defining problems where solutions would benefit a broad community.”

Helping with agile open source work habits and processes. Atul notes that basic open source work habits and processes, like a real-time virtual space or chat room (IRC) and some sort of issue tracker, would have been useful to last week’s CrisisCamp Silicon Valley. (CrisisCamp notes in response that they’ve run into several issues trying to get everyone onto a single issue tracker or chat solution.) Co-ordinating effort from a far flung community of global volunteers is obviously difficult — it would be great if Mozilla could share some of what it’s learned along the way.

Fundraising. CrisisCommons is 100% volunteer-run. One of their hopes is to potentially hire a full-time community engagement person to develop their own community and build deeper ties with other Volunteer Tech Communities (VTCs) and Crisis Response Organizations (CROs). They’re also interested in setting up an open source lab in Silicon Valley. Funding for these projects could potentially come from small-dollar donations online.

Building a better (humanitarian) web

Efforts like CrisisCommons can help draw the link between openness, technology, and a better, smarter world — connecting the open internet to the kind of civil society Mitchell describes, and strengthening the web’s ability to act as infrastructure that helps communities respond to crisis. Not just through traditional government and NGOs — but through ordinary people plunging in and doing things in a smart, agile way that genuinely serves the needs of people on the ground. Ethan’s post provides an excellent summary of the huge challenges in actually achieving that goal. But it’s inspiring to know that a small army of “civic hackers” around the world will be rolling up their sleeves this weekend. See you there?