The web belongs to all of us — or, at least, it should. Sadly, this is less and less the case. Both the reality — and the possibilities — of the web increasingly belong to a small handful of companies. These companies are becoming the empires of the web.
The Mozilla community is one of the few groups on the planet dedicated to shifting this tide. One way we do this is by building tools that put people in control of their data, their identity and their corner of the web. This is our mission. Also: it is Mozilla’s mission to empower people learn how to powerfully wield the web as a part of their lives.
Why understanding the web matters
Recent research for a new Webmaker app has reminded why the learning side of this equation is so important. As part of this research, we’ve been running focus groups with new smartphone users in Bangladesh and Kenya. This picture is from Kenya.
During these focus groups we usually ask people: “Do you use the Internet on your phone?”
The response is often: “What’s the Internet?”
“Then what do you use you phone for?” we then ask.
The most common response: “Oh, I just use Facebook and WhatsApp!”
We hear this over and over. I do not want the next three billion people to think that the Internet is Facebook and nothing more. I want them to be able to imagine — and wield — everything the Internet can do. I want them to see themselves as citizens of the web.
This is why I want Mozilla to become just as recognized and respected in learning as it is in software. This starts with the work we’re doing with Webmaker, of course. And it builds on our fellowships and leadership programs. But I think we need to think even bigger and broader: we need to imagine Mozilla as a global classroom and lab for the citizens of the web.
Good news: we’ve made a great deal of progress
The biggest success we’ve had in learning so far has been our local mentor networks. These networks go by a number of names. Hive. Webmaker. Maker Party. The formula is pretty much the same in all cases: Mozilla volunteers and supporters meeting up locally to teach young people — and each other — to wield the full power of the web.
If you look at Maker Party alone — a campaign just two months long — you can see that we’ve built something powerful: 2500 learning events run by 5000 volunteers in in 450 cities around the world. This is something I am proud of. And it’s something I want us to do more of.
As we move into 2015, that’s exactly what we will do: we will invest in making these networks stronger. In particular, we will focus on getting people to teach year round, not just during our campaigns. We’ll be launching Webmaker Clubs and growing Hive teacher networks in more cities around the world. These local networks represent an incredibly important ground game for Mozilla. They are something we want to nurture and build on.
The second place we have made progress in is in creating tools for learning how to make and shape the web.
The initial tools we created in the years following Barcelona were focused on learning the basics of creating web pages and online videos. Xray Goggles. Thimble. Popcorn. These tools have been great for face to face learning through things like Maker Parties and Hives. However, we realized along the way, that they aren’t mass market and don’t serve learners directly. We had people banging on the door saying: How can I learn with Mozilla? How can I do something with Mozilla if I can’t go to a Maker Party?
Last year, we put together a team to ask: what would we make if we wanted to really engage learners directly? We also put together a team of researchers to ask: what would it look like if the only computer you had was a phone? What kind of web page or app could you create?
Flowing from from these questions, we started putting together a very different version of our Webmaker tools focused on meeting the mass market of learners where they are. These tools will come together over the course of 2015, starting with a low bar for people to begin making and learning with Mozilla. Over the course of the year, we will add a smartphone version, social connections between learners and ways for people to mentor and help each other learn. We will also be looking for ways to integrate these new tools directly into Firefox, Firefox for Android and FirefoxOS channels.
The third place we have made progress is in building leaders: people who will in some way play a role in shaping where the web goes and turning the tide back towards a web that is ours.
Our most significant work on this front has been through a number of community labs. Open News. Mozilla Science Lab. Mozilla Advocacy. All of these programs initially started out with either fellowships or training programs. The idea was that we could bring people who deeply understand and care about the open web to news, science and policy, with the ultimate hope that getting the right people in place would bake the values of the web into these important aspects of society.
While fellowships and training remain an important part of this work, these programs have evolved into virtual watering holes for people a) who are leaders in their field and b) who are figuring out ways to tap into the power of the web in their work. All sorts of tools and ways of organizing have emerged. Shared code repositories. Joint software projects. Conferences and meetups. Hackathons. In many ways, these programs have become like distributed research institutes or grassroots grad schools where the best people in a field learn by solving problems together.
We need more. In 2015, we’ll grow the number of fellows — from 7 last year to 15 this year. Much more importantly, we’re going to look for ways to more systematically tap into this community lab model as a part of Mozilla’s community-driven learning offerings and our participation efforts as a whole.
Thinking bigger: Mozilla as a global classroom and lab
I am proud of what we have accomplished and optimistic about where we are headed next. However, I also believe we need to think much bigger.
This year, I want us to do exactly this: let’s put a stake in the ground that says Mozilla is a global classroom and lab for the citizens of the web. I want us to say more loudly: building people’s understanding of the web — and building the leaders of the future of the web — is core to our work. We need to put a stake in the ground and commit to being the best in the world at this.
Given what we’re already doing, being bold doesn’t need to involve huge new investments. In fact, it can start simply with being more clear and assertive the work we already do. Not just with Webmaker, Hive and Maker Party, but also with user education in Firefox, Mozilla Developer Network, ReMo program and our research and fellowships programs. What I’m talking about starts with making these things stronger — and then telling a clear story to ourselves and the world about how they add up to a coherent whole. That’s what I want us to start doing in 2015.
As a first step towards this, a number of us have drafted an initial three year plan for Mozilla’s learning initiatives. This includes, but goes beyond, Webmaker. The plan opens with this text:
Within 10 years there will be five billion citizens of the web. Mozilla wants all of these people to know what the web can do. What’s possible. We want them to have the agency, tools and know-how they need to unlock the full power of the web. We want them to use the web to make their lives better. We want them to know they are citizens of the web
Building on Webmaker, Hive and our fellowship programs, Mozilla Learning is a portfolio of products and programs that help these citizens of the web learn the most important skills of our age: the ability to read, write and participate in the digital world. These programs also help people become mentors and leaders: people committed to teaching others and to shaping the future of the web.
Over the course of the year, I will work with people across — and beyond — Mozilla to flesh out this plan, focusing especially on how we build a sustainable approach to running learning programs that are at once global, distributed and that positions Mozilla as *the* best place to turn if you want to learn about the web.
If you’re interested in being involved — or have comments on the initial plan — I’d love to hear from you, either here or by email. And, if you have thoughts on any aspect of this topic, I strongly encourage you to write about it on your own blog and pingback to this post.