Betatesting Around the Kitchen Table

summer code party

We had a lot of fun doing some betatesting for the Mozilla Summer Code Party.

The idea is to gather a few friends around your kitchen table, have some drinks and snacks, and play around on the web together.

It’s through the informal, friendly setting of your kitchen table that we hope people will find inspiration to make things together on the web. The format is simple and also highly customizable, so you can host the event on your own terms.

Mimosas and Making

As part of the organizing team for the Summer Code Party, I felt it was really important to test the kitchen table format myself. (A huge shoutout to the other Mozilla betatesters! I’ll be writing a summary of your input and experiences tomorrow.)

On a Sunday afternoon I called up three friends to come over and play with Hackasaurus. Two of them already knew about the tool but hadn’t played with it too much, while the other was new to it. They all have experience with making things on the web: the group was comprised of a journalist, an illustrator, and a web strategist.

The invitation was very casual, which I think helped set up a relaxed, fun atmosphere. I just asked them to bring their laptop and to swing by my house for an hour.

We poured ourselves some mimosas, and I showed them two tools to get started.

kitchentable betatest

Hacking the News

I first showed them lovebomb.me, which lets you remix cards and send messages to your friends. Their reaction was lukewarm. So I moved right into demoing the Hackasaurus X-Ray Goggles.

After remixing the example on hackasaurus.org, they installed the goggles and surfed the web for other sites to hack. The most obvious thing to remix was images, so they swapped photos on sites they knew.

One friend, interested in politics, hacked Wikipedia by replacing a politician’s profile with a brown envelope, a symbol of corruption:

After a few image hacks, we took to changing text as well. Another friend remixed a headline story so that it raved about his brother’s favorite sports team. He emailed the hack to his brother and immediately followed up with a call to explain how he made it and how funny it was.

spiegel sport

There was also a Guardian remix about a politician outing himself as a muppet. “Labour leader calls for equal rights for muppets after he is revealed to be one,” reads the subtitle.

muppet

Storything

Since one of my friends is a journalist keen to learn more code, I showed her the Storything prototype. It’s designed to walk journalists and others through basic HTML tags, using a two-pane editor and a little video tutorial to mark up an article they’ve written.

She did the first chapter and said it was helpful and would likely try out the rest of the tutorials.

Doing your own thing

Several other betatesters pointed out, and I agree, that a successful kitchen table event balances curated activities with a hackable agenda that encourages participants to do what they want.

So while two participants were using Hackasaurus, the other was writing in his blog and clicking around on the web. I think that’s great and definitely the way to run these things: create a fun, communicative space where friends can learn and make stuff on the web, either in a guided or free-form way.

That self-direction helps the host get away from a disciplinarian role, and instead allows for everyone to make something that interests them. As a facilitator, I found my role to be more about introducing ideas, keeping a good flow and troubleshooting, rather than being a task manager.

Ways to improve

We ended up hacking for an hour, and I can imagine we’d play for longer if there had been more time. As we wrapped up, I asked my friends what they liked and what could be improved.

In general, they said they really enjoyed it — it was much more fun than they thought it would be.

However, they suggested adding more tutorials within the X-Ray Goggles, since sometimes it was hard to know why their hacks weren’t working. Perhaps in the manner of Storything with a guided tutorial, or just a hover-over “What’s this code?” or simple debugger might be helpful in showing people how the code is made and how they can hack it.

From my end, I also really enjoyed hanging out and showing my friends something interesting. I think we need smoother integration to publish hacks into a shared, global gallery. For this betatest, my friends emailed me their hacks and I took screenshots.

Perhaps we can build in some gallery functions directly into the Publish button in the X-Ray Goggles, since I imagine this will be a popular tool during the summer code party.

As a facilitator, it certainly helped to be familiar with the tools and to have played with them myself already.

I think encouraging future hosts to test a range of tools and have a ready repertoire is a good idea. As I’ve heard from other betatesters, you might need to adjust the agenda on the fly, introducing new tools to fit the interests and skill-levels of your participants.

Lastly, although I wrote up the host guide for the kitchen table event, I ventured far from it. That’s totally the intention, but I found it striking how little I followed my own instructions. I’m not sure I’d re-write the guide to match what I did in practice, but I’ll have to compare notes with the other betatesters to determine what parts of the guide are really valuable and which are just noise.

A huge thanks to my friends for joining me on a Sunday afternoon for some webmaking!

Hackasaurus-goggles

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