Mozilla Webmaker – tools that allow you to create the web

This summer I spent almost a month in Berlin. In May, when I attended the Re:publica conference, I discovered not only that does Berlin has a growing tech start-up scene, but there is also what seems to be a thriving environment for other things related to the internet.

Among those is Mozilla, which is opening an office and a Mozilla space in the German capital in 2013. I got in touch with Michelle Thorpe, who is Global Event Strategist at Mozilla and based in Berlin. Luckily she had time for an interview about Mozilla and Mozilla Webmaker.

Mozilla is the organisation behind the open source browser Firefox. But it is also a non-profit organisation that supports and encourage the open web.

“Pretty much all the Mozilla initiatives tap back to the idea that the open web is a public resource, and one of the most important public resources ever made, ” says Thorne. “By using things like open standards or tools that empower users, it furthers open web and it furthers the framework, that allows us to collaborate and participate.”

What is the open web

There are many definitions of what the open web exactly means and I’m sure that you will be able to find a lot of debate and discourse on this. However, there seem to be two sides of it. One is the technical aspect and deals with technical specifications, that enables web developers to build websites that can be read by most browsers. You could also say that the best practices for web development are now standardised . This can be seen in, for example, languages as HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Another aspect has to do access. In an open web you should be able to browse and use any web page without censorship. This is also known as net neutrality.

The Mozilla Foundation has several projects that in one way or another relate to the open web. Some projects are focused on the development of open products such as Firefox, and Firefox OS, which is a operating system for mobile devices. Other projects are about innovation, and other projects focus on tools that help user and creators of the web. One of them is Mozilla Webmaker.

Make the web

“The basic idea of Mozilla Webmaker is to move people from just consuming the web to making the web. That can go from learning basics (how to make a HTML link), to a little bit of CSS formatting and website remixing. Or it can be very advanced: doing super complicated JavaScript hacks, like making a game in your browser. All with the idea that you can empower people to see the web not just as a black box, a delivery package for broadcast entertainment, as some companies want us to see the web. But rather as a language and a platform that we all can speak and understand and build what we want around it,” says Thorne.

All tools in the Webmaker projects are based on real code. So even though you are a newbie to coding, you are using the actual languages that the web is built on. The empowerment and education that Mozilla provides in Webmaker deals with bringing fourth web literacy.

Web literacy is not a matter of knowing how to program advanced applications or websites. It is about knowing how computers think and understanding some of the problems that exist in our world because of computers. The web has become an important part of our lives. Whether you are trying to find a new job, communicating with friends or interacting with government institutions, the web is the foundation. This is why web literacy is becoming an even more important skill.

“Very few of us have basic competences about what is actually happening, when I put my data here or I post there. Most of the education based around web literacy is scare tactics. Most initiatives are about protecting yourself, or don’t do this, don’t do that. What I like about Mozilla is that it is about empowerment. It is about playing with it, breaking it and learning from those mistakes. It doesn’t always have to be about being scared and it doesn’t have to come from a place of fear.”

Webmaker tools

Michelle Thorne showed me a few of the cool Mozilla Webmaker tools.

The X-Ray Goggles are a simplification of the developer tool Firebug for Firefox. X-Ray Goggles allow its users to see through a webpage. You can click on various parts of the page, and the goggles will show you the code of each element. You can also use the tool to remix a website and make a local copy of, for example, your Facebook timeline.

Thimble is a visual editor, that allows you to instantly view the changes you add to your code. You can build something from scratch or you can build on existing projects. If you like animals, why not make your own? Mozilla is collaborating with Zoological Society of London, so you can remix and create new animals.

Popcorn is a timeline based tool. With it you can integrate web content into your video. It is a html5 framework written in JavaScript. It’s a great tool for interactive storytelling, and in the demo section you can see several very creative uses of it.

If you use Firefox, be sure to check out the Firebug extension. It is a great tool, if you are interested in how websites are made. Another really cool tool from Mozilla is Collusion. It is also an extension for Firefox, and it allows you to see how the websites you browse track you. It actually ends up being a little scary.

Launching Your Own Satellite

Song Hojun is South Korean artist and he was a keynote speaker at The Conference in Malmö. He has been working on launching his own satellite since 2008. He talked a lot about the mistakes he has made during those years. But his talk was very inspiring.

He wanted to work with narratives and start discussions on art vs technology, amateur vs professional, and the individual vs institutions. The project is being done as open source.

You can read more about the project at opensat.cc and check out his other works at hhjjj.com

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