Mozilla Festival 2016: Reflections

Mozilla’s annual global festival known as the MozFest is dedicated to building a pathway to the future of the open Web. Once every year, passionate technologists, educators and creators unite to brainstorm innovative solutions for the Web’s most pressing issues. Topics like privacy, ethics, literacy and economy on the Web are discussed, debated over and solutions are created for the same.

MozFest 2016 was a diverse, highly interactive event which, I am sure is safe to say, had more in store than its participants had imagined. The festival kicked off on 28th October 2016, a Friday evening with a science fair, where attendees could stroll around and check out presentations on inspiring ideas and projects, many of which were developed at previous MozFests. The weekend was filled with participant-led sessions that generally ran between one and three hours.

Sessions were organised into spaces — physical and thematic learning hubs based around a broad topic, like science, art, or journalism. Ongoing, interactive experiences were woven between spaces, connecting thematic threads and allowing participants to explore topics in a self-directed way.

Some people chose to enjoy MozFest by completely immersing themselves in a single space, while others liked to roam around the venue. Both options were equally welcome.

The festival wrapped on Sunday evening with a demo party, where we showcased and celebrated what we had built together.

I was invited by Mozilla Foundation to talk in the “Demystify the Web” space. This was my first trip abroad and it gave me a great sense of pride and self-esteem as I was one of the youngest and the only Indian participant at the fest. I would like to share my session here.

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Let’s start with the basics. What are Mozilla Clubs?

Mozilla Clubs are a global network of community members that share Mozilla’s mission to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. Mozilla provides free training and resources to help clubs succeed and grow digital literacy in community spaces.

Mozilla Clubs are a unique and personal way to teach the Web in local communities. They are made up of technologists, thinkers and builders working together to keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the digital world.

As successful and united as the clubs have been in the past operational years, there is always a flip side to the coin and our duty is to reduce the probability of the flip side turning upward. Let us discuss the problems one by one:

  • Feedback: Mozillians are good at hosting Mozilla events and have contributed highly towards their local communities in the past. Pos these events, we have an event report which is submitted by the Club Captains. However, the question remains: do we actually analyse what went wrong or could have been better in the last event and what can be done to kerb these shortcomings in the next one? Firstly, we don’t have parameters for the feedback. Feedback should be much more categorised. If wifi was used, was it good? If a guest had come, did we take his/her feedback? Did the volunteers know what they were doing or as there chaos till the last minute? Approaching the event as a trial-and-error experiment can be a way to improve any and every event. Clubs don’t do this but should definitely keep it in mind.
  • Incentives and recruitment: In Kenya, incentive and recruiting in Mozilla clubs are rampant and encouraged amongst its members. They try to come up with solutions to problems or situations in Kenya with the help of corporates. This was also spoken about in Mozfest 2016. This is a groundbreaking situation where community leaders have joined hands with money building giants to come up with something better for the society. This is unlike several other countries where open source communities and corporated are yet to bury the dagger between them.
  • India has the maximum number of Mozilla contributors in the world. However, most clubs have low growth which means that we stop at a point and do not reach out to the remote areas where the reach of the open web source and localisation is important. For instance, West Bengal doesn’t reach out to Sikkim or the other North Eastern states though Bengal has a thriving Mozilla club! Thus, we have missed out on a great opportunity to collaborate with the culturally rich hilly regions of our country. This is, unfortunately, a global problem and seeks immediate attention.
  • Leadership and mentorship: Mozilla clubs were never meant to be “led” by a particular individual. It is a group effort and everyone in a club can contribute towards and lead various projects according to their interests. It’s not just the club captain who has to lead. Club captains ensure the smooth running of the club. However, only the continuous efforts, enthusiasm and foresightedness of the entire club will lead to its success!

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There are 1000 different problems and most of them have the commonest of solutions. One solution that I strongly suggest is the localisation of teaching kits. Every Mozillian should get a chance to introduce new teaching kits. Here’s why. Suppose that student from Kenya and Bangladesh are comfortable being taught the same thing in two different ways owing to their lifestyle, language and culture. Localisation of language is working well at the moment. However, I suggest that the entire teaching kit needs to be localised for max results. Steps on how to prepare a teaching kit must be made available for Mozillians so that each and every member of the world’s largest open source community is equipped to create a teaching kit most suitable for his/her community.

My plan for the following one year until Mozfest 2017 is to look back, introspect and run again. In technical terms, I plan on 6 months of ideation and building of new ideas and prototypes and follow it with 6 months of teaching and activism.

I don’t say it will be easy, I just hope it will be worth it.