Creating Technology for Social Change

The Cinema, Games, and Politics of Webmaking: #MozFest Sunday Morning

I’m here at the morning opener for the Mozilla Festival, which has been an amazing two days of creativity, learning, and hacking towards creating a writeable society.

To start, Brett Gaylor announces the launch of PopcornMaker 1.0, which pulls media from across the web into the video frame. He shows us a video of an editing session in PopcornMaker to tell us the story of PopcornMaker. First, he pulls in a soundtrack from soundcloud. He shows us a picture of university students who brought Popcorn.js to Mozfest in Barcelona in 2010. David Humphry and Brett found their community. Between 2010 and 2011, they brought together a group of mostly teenagers to create popcorn.js 1.0. When they launched at the Mozilla Festival in 2011 with the world premier of “One Millionth Tower,” professional journalists started to get excited. In 2012, Mozilla Webmaker committed to a new release every month. The project now has 5,000 bug tracker items closed, with 60,000 lines of code.

Brett ends by thanking the team that worked on PopcornMaker. “The formula is simple: you work hard, you love what you do, and always be shipping.” You can try it out here.

Mark Surman calls PopcornMaker a hunch which has been wildly successful. Mark asks us to imagine if every video on the web had a “view source” button. That’s where video can and will go.

Just like open source cinema, which leads to a whole world of media that we can hack, Mark says that the next space will be games. If we could “view source” on games, then we can do more to write the digital world of gaming around us.

Jo Twist, the chief executive of UK Interactive association for Entertainment. “Games are awesome,” she tells us and shows us a slide of Angry Birds. The games industry is a multi-million pound industry and plays out on many different platforms: apps, packaged games for consoles, and online games. She guesses that Britain’s games industry is worth £3.266 billion.

Jo tells us about Unity and HTML5 and the amount of money that people are likely to spend on games. Jo shares a quote from an early article about Electronic Arts. Games are “something along the lines of a universal language of ideas and emotions. Something like a smile.”

Jo then shows us projects that she has been involved in. Sweatshop invites players to manage child labour. She tells about games for change like Way and Peter Molyneux’s new game Curiosity.

Jo tells us that the idea that people can be creative with code is the heritage of the games industry, but that the industry lost sight of this and is trying to bring it back. She tells us about initiatives like Games Britannia and the NESTA report on Next Gen abilities. Through the Next Gen Skills campaign, Michael Gove has put code into school curriculum. Next, they are trying to get the arts into STEM. She tells us about projects that make game programming easy like Game-o-Matic and Scratch. Finally, Jo points us to projects like the Raspberry Pi and the Ouya, a hackable games console.

Jo ends with a quotation by Douglas Rushkoff, arguing that we have a choice between programming and being programmed. She encourages us to connect with UK IE if we’re interested in learning more about the UK games industry.

Learning needs to be built into the systems we design, argues Mark Surman. In order to help people to learn how to code, we need to show our source and help people learn from that source. That’s the vision for Webmaker, and we need to do this across all parts of our world, including games.

Tech isn’t enough. We all need to cop an attitude. We need to bring fun, playfulness, and tricksterism into play. On that note, Mark invites Media Lab director Joi Ito to the stage.

Joi holds up two hands to ask everyone a question: “how much of everything that you use do you want to make? show 0 if you want to just consume; show 10 if you want to make every single thing. Lots of people hold up hands with 6 or 7 fingers. “You’re all a bunch of weirdos.”

Joi talks about his childhood in Detroit. His sister Mimi did very well, magna cum laude, with multiple PhDs. But Joi hated education. He thought it was something that people did *to* him, but he did want to learn. He loved games, but he was lonely as the only Japanese kid in a culture that wasn’t interested in Japanese kids. Then he found the Internet. Online, he found mentors and friends that he could learn with. Joi’s sister Mimi calls him and “interest-driven learner.” Online, Joi found communities, hacking, and MMORPGs. And somehow, Joi says, he was able to stumble through life, get a job, and have fun.

Here at the #MozFest, we’re really lucky. As a teenager, Joi was sitting in a room in a lab trying to write code and sucking it at it. Here at the festival, now that the Internet exists, we’re finding commmunity, learning from each other, and having fun. And no-one is picking on us. He compares us to the X-Men. We’re a bunch of weirdos, but we’re happy weirdos because we have a community. Community is important because tools don’t get better on their own. At Mozilla, we’re participating in community and writing code for each other.

Joi now talks about a future of people who hold up ten fingers and try to make everything we use. That’s a scary future to some people. As makers, we have fun, but other people can be afraid of that. He calls the Mozilla Festival a conspiracy of amazing people who are trying to overthrow the traditional society of consumers. He shows us a photo of the 2010 UK student riots; to the rest of the world, this is what people think about when they imagine a society of makers.

Go buy a sex pistols album and raise your fist, Joi tells us. He cites Lessig’s argument that code is law. Coders often don’t want to be political. But we can’t escape it. What we’re doing is very disruptive and it’s scary to some people. We have lots of governments trying to lock us down. One of Joi’s friend, Basel, who would be here today, is in prison right now because he participated in Mozilla and Creative Commons and hacker spaces in Damascus. He’s a scary thing because he’s doing work that governments can’t control. And they try to control the Internet; China just shut down Google over the weekend (it’s back up now). Joi also tells us about the upcoming ITU meeting in Dubai to change how the Internet is regulated (see “Crashing the Party: A Scheming Session for the ITU” this afternoon).

Joi ends by acknowledging that it’s important to have fun and create. But we don’t win simply by making things or simply by changing the world’s laws. We win by creating movements, create community, and fighting to keep the Internet open.

Mark Surman reflects on his own high school experience. He was the one punk rock kid in a 10,000 person mill town in Northern Ontari. He got picked on, but what punk rock gave him was a way to learn media and learn to make media. He didn’t play the guitar, but he had scissors and a photocopier and glue. The punk rock attitude injects fun but it also builds a movement. Here at Mozilla, we’re building a movement at the same time we’re building tools.

Mark tells us to bake our attitude into the things we offer and bring out into the world. That’s what’s going to bring people in so they can write the digital world and not just read it.

Mark ends with advice for us at 3pm. Our goal for the day is to look at what we have and then say, “Ship it.”