The Mozilla Festival (#mozfest) is an annual read/write event for anyone interested in learning about – and making – the future of the web.
It is an unique platform for bringing together key contributors to discuss, hack on and teach the open web using Mozilla tools and beyond. The goal is to celebrate the Webmaker community and jumpstart initiatives for the coming year.
The Mozilla Festival program is designed to reflect the values of Mozilla. Participants hack and learn in small, decentralized groups. Sessions focus on solving real problems and teaching applicable skills. The schedule is always evolving in response to participants’ interests. Everything is hands-on, hackable, and collaborative.
“The most inclusive, constructive geek event ever!”
— Tony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust
Why It Matters
1. Make things with the tools Mozilla and others are creating. With 22 sessions dedicated to Mozilla tools, the Webmaker suite was introduced to and built-upon by Mozfest participants. Importantly, this year we introduced the “Webmaker Bar”, a dedicated playtesting zone for sharing our tools, inviting feedback and encouraging people to make new projects and features. Furthermore, we successfully explored how our tools can mash with others, such as the “Scratch Meets Thimble” prototype built by the MIT Media Lab.
2. Learn who is building what, how we can share and help each other. 187 facilitators shared their knowledge and toolsets in the sessions they ran. Coordination calls and a “facilitator bootcamp” before the festival improved session quality and also an understanding of what people are building and how we might work together. Also, the opening Science Fair exhibited 35 projects we curated for their notable contributions to making, freedom and the web. Promising collaborations await with organizations such as the MIT Media Lab, the National Writing Project, CERN, Internet Archive, Craftyy, GoCodery, and many more.
4. Fuel leaders who want to invent, teach and organize. The Hacktivate Learning track at Mozfest focused on fostering future leaders and co-designing teaching resources. Planning sessions were held with community members to design next year’s Summer Cody Party and the growth of the global Hive network.
5. Move the needle in the UK’s conversation about web literacy. Out of 295 press hits, 35 were strongly favorable articles (in comparison to 11 in 2011). 23 of the total hits were from the UK. We specifically set out to highlight our work in the UK and opportunities there, including announcing our web literacy campaign with NESTA, Nominet Trust and Telefonica. Hive London received a boost through further networking and a growing number of interested institutions, such as the Tate Collective, who also ran activities at Mozfest.
“[My professor] insisted that I attend the Mozilla Festival in London. This was probably the best advice I have ever received in my time at University & will likely impact my future greatly.”
— Finlay Craig, design student from Scotland
The motto was “Making, Freedom and the Web”. We curated 9 thematic tracks over 9 floors at Ravensbourne, a wired media and design college in London.
“Building Webmaker Together” not pictured.
“By the end of my first session, I was sold on MozFest’s participation approach and not nearly as nervous about my ability to contribute.”
— Ryan Graff, Knight News Innovation Lab
What we made
Each theme was curated by at least one Mozilla employee (“space wrangler”) to tie organizational objectives to session outcomes. Some themes had very specific goals (i.e. user-test Webmaker tools and build new learning projects with them), while others were more exploratory (i.e. paper prototype early-stage mobile webmaking experiences). The space wranglers were very effective and key to the success of the overall event.
The best prototypes were demoed at a closing party.
Fuller documentation is available for each session, including more prototypes and code.
What we launched
The Mozilla Festival is an opportune moment to present strategic partnerships and launch milestone software. Videos.
This year we announced:
- Popcorn Maker 1.0
- Webmaker Badges
- OpenNews 2013 Fellows
- First steps in Hackable Games
- Web literacy partnership in the UK
“Ultimately, I think [Mozfest] is about turning the people who have this year been the observers and learners into next year’s teachers and makers.”
— Joe Dytrych, CodeCards inventor
Participants at the Mozilla Festival hailed from over 48 countries. 52% of the participants came from the UK. 21% of the participants were 18 and under.
They represented a range of industries: education, gaming, journalism, filmmaking, technology, design, and more.
Content partners included: Nesta, Nominet Trust, MIT Media Lab, Telefonica, Knight Foundation, Sloan Foundation, Internet Archive, US Department of Energy, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, La Nacion, New York Times, Boston Globe, BBC, Spiegel, ZEIT Online, NPR, WNYC, DIY.org, Goldsmiths University, Dundee University, Ravensbourne College, Imperial College, CDOT, Google, BlackGirlsCode, Mozilla Reps, WebFWD, Creative Commons, P2PU, Shuttleworth Foundation, CERN, National Writing Project, Hive NYC and Hive Chicago, CodeClub, GoCodery, Decoded, TinkerCAD, LA Makerspace, Open Knowledge Foundation, Craftyy, Mind Candy, Eyebeam, Tate, London Zoo, Web Foundation, Zeega.
How it worked
1. The Program
- Science Fair: an evening opening party with drinks and demos. Participants get to know one another and play with demos of 30+ interesting projects around this year’s theme.
- Opening Circle: the first plenary of the festival where all the participants gather for welcoming remarks and orientation about the event.
- Sessions: participants break into 25+ concurrent sessions across the building. Sessions are based on three formats: i. Fireside Chat – a round-table conversation for 1hr; ii. Learning Lab – a skill-based workshop for 1hr; and iii. Design Challenge – a mini hackathon for 3hr.
- Evening Keynotes: participants meet back in plenary for inspirational talks, announcements, and demos of what’s been made so far.
- Party: a fun way to wind down and meet more people.
- Second Opening Circle: Reconvene the next morning in plenary for a short pep talk and preview of the day.
- Sessions: Continued program. Focus is put on shipping a demo for the evening.
- Closing Demo Party: Returning to the Science Fair format, participants meet again for drinks and demos, this time showcasing what was made during the festival. Ends the event with acknowledgements and celebration.
2. The Facilitators
Sessions are curated through i. an open submission process and ii. strategic planning with staff and partners. This year there were 120+ submissions through the open process. Notable drivers of submissions were: the Summer Code Party, program like OpenNews, MozPubs (community meet-ups in the London office), and new themes that caught people’s interest (hackable games, mobile webmaking, coding for teens and making the web physical).
Facilitators of these sessions prepared a lot with the festival team. Over 80 individual conversations were held in preparation for Mozfest, discussing the facilitators’ goals, interests and agendas. These calls certainly led to improved readiness, higher quality sessions and better relationships to Mozilla and other facilitators.
Equally important is the half-day “facilitator “boot camp” held on-site before the festival. This year over 130 facilitators attended the boot camp – our highest number yet.
The Space Wranglers, as mentioned earlier, curated each of the festival themes. They were Mozilla staff members who could tie organizational objectives to session outcomes, and they were also instrumental in the success of individual sessions and the larger festival narrative.
3. The Team
The core team:
- Michelle Thorne — Festival Lead
- Allen “Gunner” Gunn — Participation Architect and MC
- Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino — Local Producer
- Diana Proca — Volunteer Coordinator
- William Duyck — Mozilla Reps Coordinator
- John Bevan — Learning Partnership Lead
- Tim Hwang — Keynote Curator
- Matt Thompson — Storyteller
- Barbara Hueppe — Press
- Geoffrey MacDougall — Partnerships
A huge advantage to this year’s was working with a veteran team. Nearly all the core team members were involved in 2011, and learned how to work well together and how the festival ticks.
Volunteers also play a critical role on-site. We organized two volunteer briefings prior to Mozfest and recruited not only from the Mozilla community, but also local students studying event management, which worked out very well.
On-site we also benefited greatly from:
- Info Desk Coordinator, Aspiration Tech’s Jessica Steimer
- Registration Coordinator, Mari Moreshead
- Stage Manager, Ben Simon (next year we should assign this role much earlier)
- Community Storytelling team, led by Matt Thompson and Rebeccah Mullen
4. The Space
The event is hosted at Ravenbourne, a wired media and design college near the O2 in East London. Ravensbourne is a very fitting setting for Mozfest, both as an academic institution and as a collaborative space.
We partnered with the web media department to complete three levels of student projects: i. web magazine about Mozfest themes using WordPress; ii. coverage about Mozfest using web video; and iii. hackable learning games.
The space itself spans 9 floors, all laid out for real-time configuration. Almost all furniture is on wheels, so rooms are easy to adjust depending on the session and activity. There are open atria with a lot of daylight and nooks for conversations and hacking.
This year we also got clearance to allow children of any age in the building. Nevertheless, children under 15 had to be accompanied by a guardian, which limited some registrations and movement in the building. Our ”’day care services”’ were welcomed, although under utilized due to lack of advertising them.
“It was as if one of our finest school architects had thought, ‘I have a great idea for a festival venue which we could use as a school between festivals.'”
— Tony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust
5. The Tech
The technology at Ravensbourne is state-of-the-art and the staff has been a great ally of the event.
The Mozfest website was simple but effective. The website used a customized them of WordPress, which worked well for the team to edit. However, we’ve push its features to the limit, especially regarding importing session data. Next year we should investigate whether WordPress fully meets our needs or whether we need to rethink the data import.
The schedule and documentation ran on Lanyrd. It’s the first time we’ve used it at this scale, and in general, it seems to have worked okay. Lots of assets have been added to Lanyrd pages and the microformats make for easy data clean-up.
During the festival, people seemed to navigate the Lanyrd schedule adequately, but two things to improve: i. set up an automatic refreshes of the schedule page rather than doing it manually and ii. improve the process for hacking the schedule. While several participants proposed new sessions and otherwise edited the schedule, the process for doing so was not clearly communicated nor supported fully on the scheduling site.
Next Year: Recommendations
All in all, the energy and feedback from the event indicates that it was a success. Of course there are many adjustments to make, but wrapping up our third festival, it feels like we’re hitting a stride.
It will be interesting to explore how the model evolves in the coming year. Some recommendations:
1. Release cycles. Many releases and announcements were tied to the Mozfest milestone (i.e. Popcorn Maker 1.0, Webmaker badges in Thimble, etc.). In the lead-up to Mozfest, there a lot of pressure on the staff to finish their releases. One way to mitigate the stress and fatigue would be to release further in advance of Mozfest. We should still announce major offerings at Mozfest, as it’s a great publicity platform, but the additional time buffer between release and event would allow for more testing and calmer nerves.
2. Length. It should also be discussed whether 2.5 days is the right amount of time for Mozfest. It’s worked well so far, but numerous participants said they wished they had had more time. Other agendas could be considered to lengthen the event, which might lead to closer connections among participants and more prototypes.
3. Logistics. The current festival team handled 1000 participants this year, but if our intention is to grow the size of Mozfest, we must look into new ways of running event logistics. We’ll have to beef up the festival team to manage more people and all that goes with it: venue, travel, catering, setup, AV support, and more.
4. Regional activities. As the global Webmaker community grows, it’s increasingly costly to bring all of our key contributors to one place. Also, focusing on one city means missing opportunities in others. A possible avenue to explore is to continue hosting the large Mozfest in London in 2013 but explore smaller Mini Mozfests in other regions. These would be smaller in size and budget, and if timed before Mozfest 2013, they can work as feeder events for local talent to bring to London. Particularly we can tie these into the Summer Code Party.
5. Community space wranglers. Another way to boost local talent is to scout for and foster community space wranglers. In a similar way that space wranglers at Mozfest 2012 curated tracks, we should explicitly support local leaders to not only run sessions but curate a range of activities. After a few rounds of input and local testing, these community space wranglers could bring their teams to Mozfest 2013 for an even bigger impact and a global celebration.