All posts in openweb

Making a difference by making the web

These days, with all the Prism/Tempura surveillance we’re learning about, one can feel quite powerless.

For many it seems that there are just two responses: to either disengage with the web and go completely offline or to shrug and say “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

While it’s only a very small piece of a larger effort, I’m proud to be working with people who care about a third way.

A Third Way: Teach the Web

We believe in user empowerment that balances free expression online with a respect for user privacy.

We want to help people take control of their digital lives—and foster a user-centric web. We can rebuild the web we lost.

To get there, we need to help people discover the joy of making things on the web. It’s important to show that the web is not a scary place. It is fun and useful to participate online while still controlling your data. This is a valuable lesson and one that should trump flashy apps or simple convenience.

I’d like to share some stories about people who volunteer to teach the web. Be it in their homes, their neighborhood shops, their city squares, or wherever, these are real stories about people who want to empower users of the web.

It’s grassroots, it’s modest, but it’s a start.

Teach your family

Activism starts at home. You begin with the people you care about, the people closest you.

Like the activists who install Firefox for their friends and families, teaching the web at home doesn’t cost anything and is sustainable. You don’t have to worry about big budgets or outreach. Just help the people in your living room.

This is Unnati, a 14 year-old webmaker. Under the mentorship of Gauthamraj, she’s gone from learning about the web to teaching it. At home, she’s taught her mother and father how to make the web. And now this year, bolstered by her new confidence in teaching, she’s organizing a bigger event in her city.

And there’s Brendan, who started a maker club with his kids. Together they try out fun projects each week and use the web to blog about them. The web is a platform that helps the family find new things to make and to share them with the world.

Teach your neighbors

Sometimes to make a difference, you want to go outside your home. Teaching your neighbors is a natural next step. It’s about giving back to your community and helping people near you.

That’s what Meraj did. He visited a shopkeeper on the corner, and taught them how to hack. The shopkeeper made a new website for his store, and his whole family left feeling empowered and joyful about the possibilities of the web.

Recently, the Greek government abruptly shut down the state broadcaster, ERT, as part of its ongoing austerity drive. To help keep the news on air, Nikos, Freddy and Pierros ran workshops to teach webmaking and Open News tools to professional and citizen journalists. Set up in a public square, they taught fellow Greek citizens how to be the makers of their own news.

Teach the teachers

Once you’ve taught your family and your neighbors, the next step is to teach other people how to teach the web. This means helping others develop techniques and tools that they can use to teach their family and neighbors.

This step is harder, but ultimately very powerful. It can increase the impact of grassroots engagement by an order of magnitude.

Lawrence and San James organized their first “train the trainer” event in Kampala, Uganda. They wanted to host a multi-stop webmaking tour to local schools, and in order to teach all those students, they needed more mentors.

Using techniques from our training in Athens, Lawrence and San James successfully mentored 40 new teachers. Lawrence noted, “It didn’t feel like a training but like a collaborative exchange of knowledge and ideas on hacking the web.”

To scale these efforts even more, we launched an online training/collaboration called Teach the Web. With nearly 6,000 participants, and despite all the associated challenges of coordinating and mentoring so many people, it was incredibly rewarding to find so many kindred spirits who care about making the web.

These are stories from the participants in this course. And there are many more.

The Web is made by people

As the first iteration of the #teachtheweb course comes to a close this week, we’re asking ourselves: what next?

There are a several promising opportunities. Several mentors are localizing the course and will run the it again in different languages, including Spanish, French and hopefully others.

We’d also like to repeat the course, rolling in what we learned this time around. Likely, the course will be shorter (3 weeks instead of 9) and perhaps involve more tools than just webmaker ones.

I’d also love to see more resources on how to teach privacy. I whipped up a prototype to teach encryption, using material from the EFF. But there’s a lot more we can do to make these topics approachable, fun and easy to learn.

As we look to what else we can do, how we can promote a third way of online participation, I’m reminded of a story Jeannie told. She was helping a young learner make his first website. After publishing on the web, something clicked for him. He said, “Wow, so if I can make and share something on the web, does that mean that everything on the web is made by people?”

Yes, yes it is. And we can do our part to help more people not be intimated or indifferent about the web, but instead to make things together and celebrate our shared, connected humanity.

Video! Mozilla Event Menu

In preparation for the Mozilla Foundation All-Hands this week in Toronto, we were asked to make a video explaining what we’re working on. The goal was both to produce a snappy, visual artifact and to play around with Popcorn Maker, a web authoring tool for interaction.

Together with the talented Anna Lena, we converted the Mozilla Event Menu into a stop-motion video.

We had a lot of fun producing the video: we found a good iPhone app, iTime-Lapse, to take the pics, and thanks to Tom from Betahaus/Open Design City, we drilled together a tripod to hold the phone above our scene. Then, after a scavenger hunt to find all the props, we shot the video.

(Score! That’s the first time I’ve used the < video > tag on my blog.)

I hope to keep hacking on a Popcorn-ified version of the video over the coming weeks, plus the next iteration of the event menu, thanks to a lot of great feedback from the Mozilla community.

A huge thanks to Anna Lena for all the help and to Betahaus’ Open Design City for all the gear and the create, inspiring environment.

Music: “Hustle” by Kevin MacLeod / CC BY 3.0 Unported Video: “Mozilla Events” by Michelle Thorne & Anna Lena Schiller, CC BY 3.0 Unported

Fireside Chat: Starting a Learning Network in Your City

This article is cross-posted on the Hive Learning Network NYC blog.

This week the Hive Learning Network in New York City held a virtual fireside chat about how to start a learning network in your city. The chat was led by Hive NYC’s director Chris Lawrence with brilliant support by Lainie DeCoursy and Helen Lee.

What is a Hive?

The Hive network in NYC is a community of organizations that care about youth & learning. These include the MoMA, the American Museum of Natural History, Dreamyard, the New York Public Library, MOUSE, Eyebeam and over 30 more.

The network is driven by core beliefs such as: school is not the sole provider of education, learning should be driven by youth’s interests, and organizations must collaborate to thrive.

As Mark Surman describes it,

A community of orgs leveraging and building digital skills into they way they teach art, science, poetry, whatever …

… rolled up inside a distributed lab that is creating new curriculum and new technology …

… which, by the way, is a school that teaches web literacy.

Hive-­ness: How to Get It

At the Mozilla Festival in London, we experimented with a pop-up model of Hive. Combining programs from established learning networks in the US with London-based initiatives and schools, the Hive London Pop-Up was a fun two-day playground of digital learning and making.

Events like the Pop-Up showed the power of bringing these people & projects together.

Over the coming months, we’re looking to work with institutions and individuals who are interested in youth and digital learning in their city. Using some useful event formulas, we hope to test what works well in your neighborhood, share that experience back to the global community, and keep improving — all towards making a real difference in the way youth come to learn and play with the web.

Hacktivity Kits for the Hive

In an earlier post, I talked about the fabulous Hacktivity Kit developed by the Mozilla Hackasaurus team. Hive would like to use a similar approach to share its formula for a collaborative learning ecosystem with cities around the world.

In the fireside chat, Chris explained the three ideas for trying this out:

Hive Pop-­‐Up: A collaborative mini-­festival for youth, educators and families with curated, table‐top projects and activities. Bite-sized model of the energy of a Hive Learning Network.

Hive Hack Jam: Flexible programs based on hands-­on projects, media creation and webmaking. Just like a music jam, a hack jam gives participants the chance to make something and have others riff off of their work.

Hive Design Charette: Convene a cohort of interested organizations, educators, philanthropists and other creative people in a short, concentrated amount of time to build a strategic plan towards the launching of a Hive Learning Network.

Hive in Your City

The fireside chat had people from over 7 cities: NYC, Philadelphia, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Toronto, and Chicago — all interested in growing these educational opportunities.

Alina from Barcelona talked about the many events they’ve done in the city since the first Mozilla Festival in 2010. Heather shared how the meet-up she founded, LadiesLearningCode, fund their activities, Kasey discussed how to connect funding institutions in Philadelphia with a design charette, and Leon talked about his experiences in the UK.

Just as the festival in Barcelona catalyzed a community of practice, I hope a similar community can take root in London. With folks like Leon and Learn 4 Life, YoungRewiredState, Coder DoJo, Apps for Good, and Digital Me and all the other talented people who participated in the Hive Pop-Up, there is a great opportunity to build a learning network in London, and as we’re seeing, beyond.

What’s Next

The feedback from the fireside chat was quite positive. With tools like BigBlueButton, it’s increasingly easy to gather smart people online. It’s inexpensive, cost-efficient, and fun.

We agreed it would be great to hold another fireside chat in January. We’ll likely craft the discussion around activities people are trying out in their city, compare notes, and continue to work towards a Hacktivity Kit for youth & learning Hive-style.

Thanks to everyone who joined in the conversation!

Mozilla Festival: What Next

At the Mozilla Festival, an incredible group of 700 journalists, coders, designers, and educators made over 20 prototypes, learned about media & the web together, drank buzzing coffee, played geek ping pong, and so much more.

How can we keep up the momentum? How can we continue making & learning together?

What’s Next?

The simplest way is to:

Join our web maker community calls every Tuesday:

Tuesdays at 4pm GMT (5pm CET / 11am Eastern / 8am Pacific) Conferencing Number: + 1 800-503-2899 7-Digit Access Code: 5435555

We’re also experimenting with virtual fireside chats and learning labs to make it easy and accessible to keep up the conversation. If you want to see a topic covered, or would like to host a chat, please let us know.

Hacktivity Kits

We’re looking to develop, test, and improve “Hacktivity Kits” so that people can join in ways that help them build and learn about the web together.

The Hackasaurus team, led by talented Jess Klein & Atul Varma, is paving the way with their Hacktivity Kit. It includes lesson plans, IT checklists, and lots of helpful advice for hosting your own hack jam and using their webmaking tools online.

The Hackasaurus kit will continue to evolve, and we plan to adapt its fun, user-friendly format to activities around Popcorn, Knight-Mozilla, and the Hive Learning Network. That way, more people can join in ways that help them build and learn about the web together.

Beta Testers?

We’re looking to develop, test, and improve more Hacktivity Kits.

If you’re interested in hacking on these kits, please get in touch (michelle at mozillafoundation . org). You can host an event yourself to test them, or just give feedback about what you’d like to see included or improved.

We’re learning as well and are eager to collaborate with you to make the most of this opportunity and growing community of practice!

Mozilla Festival: What We Made

Over the last month, we’ve been tracking the outputs from the Mozilla Festival.

A great number of thank-you’s are due all around to all the participants, facilitators, volunteers, staff, supporters, and the wonderful Ravensbourne for making this such a memorable event.

20 Prototypes

We’ve curated 20 prototypes that came out of Mozfest.

From 60 pages collaboratively written in the Data Journalism Handbook to monsters and trapdoors coded in a browser game; from 10-year-olds producing podcasts to a physical app store for community info; a charter for the School of Open charter to numerous paper prototypes; the Poptocopter, hackbattles, badges, and plugins for Popcorn…

There is just heaps of good stuff made by talented folks.

If we’ve missed anything, or if you have updates, please tweet ‘em using #mozfest. Let’s keep up the momentum!

Thanks again to everyone. I’m all verklemmpt.

I Work For the Internet

I Work For the Internet is freshly launched campaign by Fighting For Freedom against harmful internet blacklist legislation, SOPA, making it’s way through Congress right now.

A coalition including the EFF, Mozilla, Creative Commons, Wikimedia, and many other organizations have been rallying internet users to contact Congress and expression their opposition to SOPA. Over a million emails and thousands of personal calls were sent to Congressional representatives.

With the I Work For the Internet petition, you can join thousands more in showing your support to stop this bill. Here’s an I Work For the Internets t-shirt that found it’s way there. ^^

For more info on SOPA and its threat, read up on the EFF’s excellent coverage.

In the Flesh

The new magnetism of congregation seems universal…The web becomes not a destination in itself but a route map to somewhere real.

— Simon Jenkins, Welcome to the post-digital world, an exhilarating return to civility

My Web.

When you own a domain you’re a first class citizen of the web. Adrian Short

For the last few months, I’ve been in a blogging slump. Like presumably a lot of people, the sheer number of communication channels has both overwhelmed and satisfying the urge to write and share ideas.

What’s more, for several years my hosted WordPress blog was a reliable online home. Although limited in customization, my blog more or less fulfilled its role aptly.

But recently, three things spurred me to take a step towards web sovereignty and finally secure my own domain and set up my own site, using tools I understand and control.

  • Learning
  • Sharing
  • Freedom


I’m loving my new job at Mozilla. The festival was a blast (more on that soon), and my colleagues and the community are a constant source of inspiration. The mission to “build a generation of web-makers”, using a combination of learning programs and innovative tools, has awakened my own curiosity to dig deeper and to understand how the web works.

I continue to be delighted by tools like the Hackasaurus X-Ray Goggles, which I use nearly every day to inspect code and figure out how web pages work.

Now, after spending a good few hours securing a domain, setting up hosting with (thanks, Parker, for the tip!), and scouring fora and actually doing command-line coding, I’m feeling even more eager to skill-up and take advantage of all the cool stuff out there.


Another aspect of Mozilla I thoroughly admire is its commitment to working in the open. Every day I realize how that’s harder than it sounds. Often, one feels like there isn’t enough time to document processes and ask for input. Engaging in conversation takes time, and one only has so many hours in the day.

But this is a principle I’m keen to support, and seeing the positive examples of many of the Mozilla teams, I’m encouraged to start blogging again and to use this platform to not only work in the open, but to think and talk and share here.

A lot of good comes from thinking aloud and thinking together, and this seems like a great opportunity to rekindle that spirit. Not only for my job, but for lots of ideas and conversations that spring up.


Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’m indebted to Peter for encouraging me to set up this new site. Like with many tasks, getting my own site up and running seemed harder than it really was. And now that it’s ready, and I’ve already learned so much along the way, I feel all the more empowered to tinker and to play with the web.

To that end, here’s a list of the tools that helped me. Perhaps they can be of motivation to you, on the road to being a first class citizen of the web.

  • Markdown: a super-simple writing syntax that you can easily export into clean HTML. This Lifehacker article serves as a great intro.
  • Markdown for WordPress plugin: This plugin converts your markdown text into HTML in WordPress. Fast and easy to use. I used to spend so much time formatting my posts; now it’s automagic.
  • WordPress: Just a big shout-out to the incredible community behind this powerful publishing platform. The famous 5-minute install took me more like 1 hour, but the documentation was incredibly helpful, and it’s worked like a charm since. (Minus managing file permissions. This post from a NearlyFreeSpeech user really helped me.)
  • smart, inexpensive and privacy-aware web hosting.
  • P2PU & Mozilla’s School of Webcraft: friendly learning missions to get you familiar with HTML and your site up and running.
  • Domain registration with a comprehensive if but slightly spammy domain registry. I probably should’ve used NearlyFreeSpeech for this as well, but proved to be pretty affordable and easy to use.

Image “Walled Gardens” by Mischa Tuffield in “Findings and Future Direction of the W3C Social Web Incubator Group (SWXG)”, available under CC BY 3.0

Hello world. Again.

A schweet new site. We want MOAR!

Update And here’s the RSS feed: Thanks, Christopher!

Internet Studies‽

As a lover of the interwebs and someone who’s followed the research from the likes of AOIR and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (see Tim Hwang’s great piece on the Berkman school of thought),  a recent discussion about the merits of “internet studies” is quite provoking:

Maybe we should stop talking about “information and communication technologies” or “the Internet” or “new and social media” as a single constellation of technologies that have key characteristics in common (distinctively participatory, or distinctively intrusive, for example), and that are sufficiently different from other parts of the world that they need to be talked about separately. The Internet is still pretty new, so we tend to look at it as a definable thing, but digital technologies have now become so multifaceted and so enmeshed in other facets of our lives that such a broad brush obscures more than it reveals. — Tom Slee, Blogs and Bullets: Breaking Down Social Media

And Henry Farrell’s reply:

Instead of wanting to study ‘the Internet’ or ‘Facebook’ or whatever, we should investigate the possible existence or relative strength of various posited mechanisms which causally connect certain situations with certain kinds of interesting outcomes. Most technologies will potentially bundle a number of these mechanisms together – hence, the need to try to disentangle these mechanisms as much as is possible in specific instances. Instead of asking ‘does Facebook help protests in authoritarian regimes?,’ one would ask questions such as ‘does social influence from peers make individuals more likely to participate in demonstrations?,’ ‘does widely spread information about protester deaths make individuals more or less likely to participate?,’ ‘does government-provided information make citizens less likely to participate in anti-regime protests?’ and so on.

This is a helpful lens through which we can better focus on what we mean by “the web” and why it matters.  We tried to tackle some of these definitional challenges in An Open Web, outlining key “battlefields” which describe what’s at stake in terms of mechanisms (i.e. specific user freedoms and actions, rather than just threats to “the web” as such).

The above posts are timely reminders about the tendency to speak broadly about the internet as an umbrella term for the particular mechanisms, some of which are internet-dependent while others are only augmented or manifested online. This specificity is a hard discipline to enforce—I’m often too flippant or lazy to make clear distinctions, and moreover I assume that the audience picks up on my shorthand when I talked generally about the web.

But let’s strive be more specific about the mechanisms that are truly in play. This will not only make it easier for more people to understand why the web matters, in its many facets, but also inform a more nuanced discussion about how to accelerate meaningful initiatives and demarcate the real battlefields, which are immediate and important.