Monthly Archives: November 2011

“Finding our people:” growing a global community of makers

In my very first job interview two years ago with Mozilla’s chief lizard wrangler, Mitchell Baker, she continually drove home the point that one of Mozilla’s core assets — almost as valuable as the Firefox brand itself — is a unique way of working.

It’s an open source approach to collaboration that aspires to be:

  • An open meritocracy. Where the best ideas count more than your place in an org chart.
  • Focused on building and doing. There’s a “let’s get stuff done” ethos that is refreshing for people coming from more bureaucratic backgrounds.
  • Mission-focused. Doing good. Answering to people, instead of just a bottom line. Making the kind of technology you’d want to use yourself — instead of finding ways to put consumers in a headlock or make a quick buck.

“Finding our people”

Part of what I’m finding inspiring about my job these days is watching these values resonate with new people and communities.

Take this post from Jon Vidar, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner and leader of The Tiziano Project. He described attending the Mozilla Festival earlier this month as “finding my people.”

[As a news technology innovator,] often I am met with glazed-over eyes, or questions of “How much it is going to cost” and “What are the returns?”

When I am able to get past this and connect with someone who truly understands innovation, I am often stone-walled at the point of implementation by bureaucratic red tape or contracting processes that are as out-of-date as the systems we are trying to replace.

At the Mozilla Festival in London, however, I found my people.

By its nature, the festival paired journalists, creatives and technologists so that, in real-time, as ideas were being conceived, they were also being prototyped.

Jon’s post reminded me of what Jade Davis said about the Mozilla Festival last year:

I’ve finally found the people who understand my work — and are doers, not just talkers.

Making stuff vs. talking about stuff

Mark Surman has been writing a lot lately about creating a generation of web makers with Mozilla.

Posts like Jon’s and Jade’s help give an added sense of why that proposition resonates with people, and of the social potential of like-minded makers and doers finding each other and recognizing themselves as a community.

There’s something about the social and economic moment we find ourselves in that makes this approach to collaboration and change strike a chord. I think it’s the combination of both idealism and focused pragmatism — “more hammer, less yammer” — that’s novel and appealing to people.

A growing number of us are disappointed by the lack of values, short-sighted thinking and inertia that have come to characterize too much of the working world. But we’re also exhausted by endlessly talking about ideas or solutions without clear outlets for getting much done as a result.

The social media overload Fail Whale

Social media and blah, blah, blah

Sometimes it feels like social media and tech actually compound this problem. Many of us now feel like we’re drowning in data and talk, especially email. Talk is cheap — and getting cheaper all the time.

The net result is a growing hunger for tools, events, community and practice that helps us build and make and get stuff done — instead of just more blah blah blah.

I think that’s part of what makes events like the Mozilla Festival and Moz Camps unique, and a big part of the growth potential for our community and non-profit brand.
Science Fair

Building a benevolent do-ocracy

Mozilla is certainly not perfect at it — and building a temporary event that embodies these values is a lot easier than building an entire organization or world that runs on those principles.

But it’s interesting to see newcomers feel like they’ve found “their kind of people.” Like an invisible tribe that’s recognizing itself.

And it also open up an intriguing theory of change for Mozilla and our partners: shaping the future by gathering together a generation of people who will design, prototype and build it together.

Building a generation of web makers in Africa

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With the release of the Mozilla Hackasaurus “hacktivity kit,” hack jams are starting to pop up around the world — including the first-ever Hackasaurus event in Africa.

Held last week at the Nairobits Design School in Nairobi, the jam introduced youth and novice web makers to the basic building blocks of HTML, all by messing around with their favorite web pages. (Check out Cliff Argwings post on the event here.)

The goal: help youth see the web as something they can actively make and shape, and potentially open the door to deeper design and web developer skills.

Prototyping web maker jams for the world

The event was also a chance to test out some of the new Hackasaurus Hacktivity Kit, a how-to guide designed to make it easy for anyone to host their own design jam for novice web makers.

Our goal is to massively scale up these local design jams in 2012, by providing the tools and resources local communities need to self-organize and adapt the template to their interests and needs.

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Messing around with the web

That’s what the Mozilla Kenya team did last week, kicking off with a brief intro to the Mozilla Mission before diving into Hackasaurus. Cliff writes:

Then came the moment of truth: we had to test if the kids grasped how the Hackasaurus X-ray Goggles worked — and also test their html and css skills.

The results are a great example of what we mean by web making, and the “a ha!” moment that can happen when people play around with Hackasaurus for the first time: a shift to seeing the web as something you can tinker with, and a potential gateway to deeper skills.

Before Hackasaurus...
...after Hackasaurus

I really like what Joyce wrote in her hack:

I find it filled with fun… plus am also learning a new skill. I wish I could learn more and more of this!!! thanx for the skills!!!

"i wish i could learn more of this!!!!" Joyce's remix from the Nairobi jam.

Photos, sample hacks and more

“Mucking around with HTML is like baking bread or changing a tire”

Meredith Stewart

I love that analogy from Meredith Stewart, a 7th grade history teacher in North Carolina writing about her first Mozilla Hackasaurus hack jam.

Sponsored by the National Writing Project, the recent jam gave educators a chance to use Firefox and Hackasaurus to mess around with websites by changing the underlying HTML that makes them tick.

Meredith’s post about the experience perfectly captures the value of getting our hands dirty through webmaking, and reminded me of Mitchell Baker’s keynote on creation vs. one-way consumption at the Mozilla Festival. Meredith writes:

It’d be easy to say, “That sounds fun, but what’s the point?”

For me, mucking around in the HTML was like making bread from scratch or changing a tire. They’re activities in which I want to engage as an act of understanding and joy, not necessarily of utility or efficiency.

I think for ourselves and our students understanding the means of production are important, so that we can be responsible and thoughtful teachers, students, and humans.

Hack jam organizer Andrea Zellner + fellow hacker

The hack jam’s organizer, Andrea Zellner, also writes beautifully about revealing the hidden structures that make up our digital lives:

As more and more research and attention is paid to the ways our literate lives are mediated by interactions on the internet, less attention is paid to the function of the tools that get us there. How many facebook posters understand the algorithm of the newsfeed? How many people uploading content to Youtube understand the genesis of the embed code? There is an entire hidden structure of the webpages with which we interact that mediates the way we compose and present ourselves on the web.

Enter the hackjam: designed to make visible the hidden structure of the internet for K12 students (but most grownups I know would benefit, too!), these tools provide an entry into inquiry about the ways we are both freed and bounded by the hidden structure of the internet pages we visit.  By developing our hacker selves, we are then empowered to move ourselves more critically through these spaces, rather than being led through them.