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  1. Technical Blogger? Mozillian? Here's a plugin for you to tell us about your work!

    One great thing about Mozilla is that we want people to have a voice. Our products give people a voice on the web without being spied on. As a Mozillian, you don’t have to go through various levels of red tape before you are allowed to speak out in public.

    many voices one mozilla

    As Mozilla grows, it becomes more difficult to stay in touch with what people are saying. Mozilla is many voices, but there is also a lot of noise on the web and others scream loudly about what they do, too. We can help each other being heard by speaking together and tell other people about what we do. We’re not really playing to our strengths when the people in Mozilla who communicate to the outside world hear about great work by Mozillians by chance or from other sources.

    This is why we wanted to make it easier for you to tell us when you created something interesting. That’s why Luke Crouch (@groovecoder) of the Mozilla Devengage team extended the functionality of the “Promote MDN” WordPress plugin.

    promote mdn

    Originally, this plugin was meant to promote MDN by automatically linking certain words in your posts to the correct Wiki pages. We talked about it before here.. Now we added an extra feature: when you write a post, you get a checkbox in the editing screen that says “Notify Mozilla of this post”:

    notify mozilla checkbox in the new post screen of wordpress

    When checked, publishing the post will automatically send an email to the Mozilla developer engagement team and the Mozilla communications team about your post. That way we can visit your blog, check what you wrote and give you the promotion your work deserves. This could mean tweeting about your article, creating a follow-up post on the Hacks blog, or whatever seems appropriate to the situation.

    The Promote MDN plugin still does what it was supposed to do when we originally released it: it links various expressions in your text to MDN for people to read up. These expressions are maintained on the Mozilla Wiki (https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Template:Promote-MDN?raw=1) and you have many customisation options allowing you even to fully opt out of this feature:

    promote MDN options screen

    You can become a trusted expert simply by telling us when you post. We can help get your message much further and you could become a go-to person for us when we need an expert on a particular topics. None of this is mandatory, we just want you to know the opportunity is there to take advantage of.

    Get the Promote MDN WordPress Plugin here. If you are interested in modifying the plugin for your own company needs, Luke also made the source code available on GitHub.

  2. Mozilla goes to Washington

    Last month, Mozilla Foundation employee Jess Klein was honored by the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy as a Champion of Change for her work with Rockaway Help in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

    Before the White House event, Mozilla sponsored a Civic Hackers’ Happy Hour in DC at canvas.co. Here’s an excerpt about the event from the Code for Tulsa write-up.


    Mozilla Civic Hackers’ Happy Hour

    We arrived at canvas around noon to arrange all the catering and set everything up. We met fellow civic hackers from Austin to Chicago, Minneapolis to Miami, Oakland to DC, and everywhere in between – hackers and officials representing Code for America, Sunlight Foundation, E-Democracy, United States CTO, Census Bureau, NASA, FEMA, USDA and many others.

    By 8pm we had about 100 people, so we had a few quick presentations – I spoke about Mozilla, Kevin Curry spoke about the Code for America Brigade program, and Garret Miller spoke about Mapbox. Everyone mingled and we learned about some great civic projects going on like the Smart Chicago Collaborative, mspbus.org in Minneapolis, and Keep Austin Fed. We had made a congratulatory card for Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and recently-appointed Deputy CTO of the US. Everyone had a chance to sign the card, and then… Jennifer showed up! So we presented the card to her in person!


    In my presentation about Mozilla, I discussed how I’ve come to realize that openness, innovation, and opportunity on the web is at the heart of developers improving their communities.

    Cities that think like the web

    In 2011, I found Mozilla Foundation Executive Director Mark Surman’s City of Toronto 2.0 Web Summit presentation from 2008 – A city that thinks like the web.

    Mark tells the story that seems obvious to us now – Mozilla believed that participation could create a better internet, and the tiny non-profit with a global community of volunteers forced open a monopoly browser market with standards and protocols that have created the largest communication platform in the history of the world.

    If openness and participation created a better web, could it create better cities? Mark says yes. After a couple of years hacking my city, I completely agree.

    Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

    I first started civic hacking in 2011 when our Tulsa Web Devs group took it upon ourselves to put Tulsa Transit on Google Maps. At the time, we knew nothing about transit, and only a little about Google Maps. In a few short hack days with web resources, we taught ourselves everything we needed to convert route shapefiles and schedule csv files into a valid GTFS feed.

    Tulsa Transit GTFS Prototype

    As soon as I saw the prototype working, I was hooked on civic hacking. It was the same feeling I had when I received my first patch for my first open-source project. In a way, my personal journey – from proprietary enterprise software development, to SourceForge, to Mozilla and Code for Tulsa – reflects trends in open technology: open source disrupted proprietary software and brought forth the open web, the open web brought forth open government and civic hacking.

    In Tulsa, we’ve gone on to create civic APIs and apps for citizens, planning organizations, Tulsa Library, Tulsa Fire Department, and the Oklahoma Urban Search & Rescue task forces. Because we build on the web, all our apps are available to every citizen, regardless of device or platform. I jokingly ask, “If we created our Fire Department app for iPhones, would Android users just watch their house burn down?”

    Innovation can come from anywhere

    Here’s the thing – we are just one group (but maybe the best group!) of civic hackers … in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The web enables anyone with a text editor to make these things and deliver them directly to anyone with a web browser. Morgamic says it best in “What do you want the web to be?

    The future of the web won’t be decided by corporations, governments, or shareholders. It will be chosen by people like you and me – passionate individuals with great ideas, who won’t take no for an answer, who won’t settle.

    Having worked with and for corporations, shareholders, and now governments, I know just how true this statement is. On the web, Google’s latest billion-dollar project and Code for Tulsa’s $35 raspberry pi hack are both a single link – a single click. The web platform is the only platform designed to include everyone at an equal level of access.

    Serving the greater good

    Mozilla’s mission is to promote openness, innovation, and opportunity on the web. It’s a lofty goal; sometimes it’s hard to see what that looks like “on the ground.” At our happy hour, I saw it: designers, engineers, programmers, entrepreneurs – hackers experimenting and making amazing things for the betterment of their communities.

  3. Want to fix the mobile web with us? Please answer some questions we have!

    At Mozilla our main reason to be is to keep the web open and free for everybody. We are passionate about the web and love how easy it is to get started as a developer. A few years ago we fought against monoculture on the desktop and won. Now we have the new challenge to keep the mobile web open and allow anybody to use anything to consume content on their mobile devices.

    When it comes to the mobile web there are a lot of open questions and there is a lot of misinformation floating around. We want to make sure that we are not working on false assumptions and paint a much darker or lighter picture than what is real which is why we’d love you to help us get started in our outreach to tool and library makers in supporting more than one browser engine and more platforms when it comes to tooling.

    If you are a mobile web developer of apps or sites, we’d be very grateful for you to fill out our quick survey on library usage and cross-platform support on mobile to give us some more data to go on.

    Thanks in advance! There is a lot from us to come on this topic, and you have the chance to be able to say “I helped”.

    Cheers

  4. WebAPI tech lead: 'We want Web pages to be able to access hardware on your computer, like camera, sensors and haptic feedback'

    Jonas Sicking, photo by Tristan Nitot

    This time, Tristan Nitot interviews Jonas Sicking, WebAPI tech lead, and discusses how the Web can become a mobile platform, and what this means for Web developers around the word.

    Tristan – Jonas, Mozilla has shown a very cool new project at the Mobile World Congress, Boot To Gecko, and said “the Web is the Platform”. How does that relate to your work? What do you do to improve the Web?

    Jonas – I’m the tech lead of the newly started WebAPI team. We started the WebAPI team at the same time as we started Boot to Gecko because we knew that in order to make the web platform fully competitive with other mobile platforms we needed to make sure that it had the same capabilities. Web pages haven’t traditionally been able to access hardware on your computer, like camera, sensors and haptic feedback. But with B2G we needed to make that happen. The WebAPI team was started for this purpose.

    Tristan – So you’re basically bringing access to new capabilities to the Web? I’m sure Web developers are going to be very excited by this!

    Jonas – That’s certainly our hope :).

    Tristan – But what about security? I’m not sure that I want every Web app to be able to say where I’m located. Or have the ability to send text messages on my behalf without me knowing it!

    Jonas – Security has always been a top priority at Mozilla, and WebAPIs are no exceptions. When we offered the geolocation feature from Firefox on the desktop, a lot of thinking was done so that we give control to the user, while keeping the best user experience possible. This is our line of thinking when it comes to newer WebAPIs. For example, we never want to ask the user a security related question that they might not fully understand and make the wrong choice.

    Tristan – Many people probably wonder why Mozilla is doing this… Can you explain?

    JonasThe web is amazing in many wonderful ways. It has enabled millions of people to do new things on-line. Both as far as producing content and as far as consuming content goes. In large part because it’s built as an open platform with no restrictions on how its used. For example you can “view source” any web page that you like, you don’t need to get expensive development environments from anyone and you don’t need anyones permission to publish what you built. We want to bring these benefits to application developers too. Imagine if you can look at how someone else’s web app works and learn from it, and all you need to do to write the new killer app is to fire up a text editor, write it, and publish it on a web server. Additionally, if all that it takes is that, that means that we’ll enable all the amazing web developers out there to also become application developers.

    Tristan – What does that mean for Web developers?

    Jonas – It means several things. First of all, the websites that you are writing today will have new capabilities, such as access to device hardware. It also means that you can turn your website into an app which starts as fast as a native app on the user’s computer or device and that runs even if the user has no Internet connection. It also means that your app will run on desktop, tablet and mobile, with no need to write separate versions of your code for separate platforms.

    Tristan – In short, with little training, Web developers can write apps that will run everywhere, from desktop to tablet to smartphones… But what’s actually the difference between a Website and a Web app?

    Jonas – The idea is that you’ll just write a website like you’ve always done. Then add a little bit of meta information which describes what icon and name you want to use, what permissions you need, and which URLs need to be cached on the device. Now your website can run as an app as well.

    Tristan – A totally different topic now: how did you get involved with Mozilla?

    Jonas – I first got involved in the Mozilla project in 2000. At the time I was in school and working part time as a web developer. I started helping out for two reasons, first of all, as a software developer Mozilla was a very cool project to get to be part of. I got to work with a lot of smart people on a piece of software that a lot of people were using (back in those days that was Netscape). It was really cool how I could, as a student in Sweden, work together with people in silicon valley on building great software.

    The other reason was Mozilla’s focus on web standards. As a developer it was very annoying how inconsistently IE5.5 was implementing web standards and I saw a chance to make things work better in Mozilla. That way I would get to use those features as a Web developer. As any web developer knows, working around limitations in web browsers is one of the more painful things about the job and so it felt great to be able to remove those limitations.

    Ultimately what has made me stick around is this second aspect. Mozilla’s commitment to building a great platform for users and developers is something that has always spoken very strongly to me. It feels great knowing how much we help bring the web forward.

    Tristan – So much that you’re now a Mozilla employee since 2005! I guess that you see your work now as something in line with what you started doing back in 2000?

    Jonas – Exactly. The world is going mobile. More and more people are getting smartphones and very soon the number of smartphones in the world is going to vastly outnumber the number of desktop and laptop computers. We need to ensure that when this happens the web remains open and that you’re not forced to interact with it through apps running on proprietary stacks. I have a lot of faith that the web will be able to stand strong and remain open. Just how open depends on how successful we will be competing with these proprietary stacks. There’s a lot of similarities with the push we did for web standards back when Microsoft weren’t that interested in following them. The goal is to have an open standardized platform that works great for users and developers. The mobile platform should be no less open.

    Tristan – Any call to action for our readers who develop Websites?

    Jonas – Keep developing great web applications. Please experiment with any of the new APIs, and other web technologies, that we create. Reading hacks.mozilla.org is a great way to hear about new improvements to the web platform that are coming from Mozilla (including a category dedicated to WebAPIs). Develop mobile websites that run great on small screens. We’ll soon be releasing versions of Firefox which support installable web apps; once that happens, please experiment with them and let us know what you think!

    Tristan – Thank you Jonas for your time, thank you for what you’re doing in making the Web the platform of choice for apps and mobile, and everything you’ve done in keeping the Web open since you’ve got involved with Mozilla!

  5. Tantek Çelik about the importance of Web Standards

    This is the fourth installment of Mission:Mozilla, a series of interviews that link Mozillians, the technology they produce and the Mozilla mission. This time, We’re interviewing Tantek Çelik, a long-time Web standards contributor. He started working on web standards at Microsoft in 1998, while leading the development of Tasman, the IE Mac rendering engine, and subsequently founded independent efforts like microformats.org, BarCamp, and most recently, IndieWebCamp.org.

    Tristan – Hi Tantek, could you introduce yourself? (I could point our reader to your Wikipedia page, but it seems a bit out of date).

    Tantek – I’ve been passionate about web standards since being inspired at the level of collaboration among different companies, cultures, individuals at my first W3C CSS&PF WG meeting May 1998 in Paris. My interest in standards as building blocks started much earlier with many childhood hours spent building things with LEGOs.

    Tristan – Ah, LEGOs! I have fond memories of them, particularly LEGO technic! They’ve inspired so many geeks that they somehow should be credited for their work in W3C specs, don’t you think? ;-)

    Tantek – Indeed I think LEGOs have inspired many an engineer. Simple pieces that could be combined in numerous ways and built into amazing unique and creative structures.

    Tristan – Sounds like a good description of Web technologies to me! Who was your employer back then?

    Tantek – I was working for Microsoft at the time, having joined the Macintosh Internet Products Group in 1997. I started work on Macintosh Internet Explorer (MacIE) in mid 1997 with mostly bug fixes and improvements in CSS support which incrementally made their way into MacIE 4. It was soon clear though that we needed a fairly big overhaul to implement better CSS support. Soon after I joined standards discussions in the W3C.

    Tristan – It’s a little known fact, but IE Mac was really raising the bar when it came to CSS compliance. It was a time where few people cared about Web standards. I was at Netscape back then, and you at Microsoft. It was amazing to see a team trying to push Web standards on the other side of the fence!

    Tantek – When I was made the developer lead for the MacIE rendering engine, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me what we should focus on, so I decided to interview web design firms in San Francisco and just ask: “Hi I’m with the Microsoft MacIE team. What would you like to see in terms of standards / rendering support in the next version of MacIE?” The answers were loud and clear: dependable standards support! In particular: reliable and ideally complete CSS support, “XML support” (whatever that meant), and better Javascript/DOM support. A few specifically asked for PNG support. Those interviews drove the priorities of what became Tasman, the new rendering engine for MacIE5 which itself in the process got renamed to Internet Explorer 5 for Macintosh (IE5/Mac). Little did I know at the time that such a focus on getting web standards right would come as a surprise to others.

    Tristan – And now, a few years down the road, we’ve seen how Web standards have made the Web what it is today, but they’re also something that Web browser vendors are heavily investing on! What do you do for Mozilla today? Why should Web developers care?

    Tantek – I joined Mozilla in May 2010 as Web Standards Lead and I’m excited to be working with so many people passionate about standards. In an organization with numerous talented web standards contributors, in addition to editing/iterating specifications, my role is often more of coordination and collaboration, making sure that folks who care about particular standards find each other and work together. One key thing I’ve created and driven in Mozilla is the open documentation of our standards participation, in a public place where not only we (Mozillians) can find each other, but web developers in general can see how much effort Mozilla and individual Mozillians put into web standards.

    Tristan – I have the impression that Mozilla does not get the share of credit we deserve when it comes to our work on standards. Don’t you agree?

    Tantek – As someone who’s been involved with web standards for over a decade, I’ve had a deep respect for Mozilla’s involvement with web standards for quite some time. However I do think that recognition can easily be forgotten outside of standards circles. I think the web community as a whole greatly underestimates the longevity, depth, and dedication of Mozilla’s contributions to web standards.

    Tristan – Where do you think Mozilla particularly shines?

    Tantek – One thing that’s always impressed me about Mozilla’s commitment to web standards is the level of quality and thoroughness that Mozilla places into implementations. In my experience, historically Firefox has had the highest fidelity handling of various CSS properties for example, focusing more on getting things precisely right rather than shipping quick implementations that may only cover common or 80% cases.

    Second, Mozilla works far more in the open, early and often, than any other organization. For example, we do nearly all our project work on open wiki pages on wiki.mozilla.org. I even keep my own Mozilla projects list on an open Mozilla wiki page. It makes it really easy to answer when people ask me what am I working on these days.

    Tristan – I agree with you. I sense that Mozilla tends to do the right thing, rather than the thing that makes us look good. Can you give an example why do Web standards matter?

    TantekThe browser compatibility tax. When the Web Standards Project started in 1998, they raised the real and painful issue of the “browser compatibility tax” that developers had to pay when developing web sites. No matter what standard a web author would use, they’d have to spend potentially 50-75% of their time purely on making their code work in multiple browsers, sometimes having to write multiple versions of their markup and style sheets and then use fragile user-agent string tests to serve different content (a bad habit that still persists to this day). Much of this was due to the abysmal standards support in 1990s browsers.

    Web standards are an agreement between authors and browsers: if the author writes valid code (whether HTML, CSS, or JS), the browsers agree to render and execute it predictably and according to the standards. Without standards, web authors end up wasting their time coding for one browser at a time (typically focusing on whatever is the popular browser that year), and browsers developers end up wasting their time writing code fixing one site at a time.

    Tristan – And if we want the Web to be the platform of choice for all kind of developers and all kinds of applications, from desktop to mobile, we need to remove this “browser compatibility tax”.

    Tantek – Yes. It’s up to all of us as browser implementers to provide strictly correct implementations of web standards for authors to use, and for implementers to openly propose and test innovations in web standards.

    Tristan – what’s your biggest concern about Web standards?

    Tantek – My biggest concern about web standards can be summed up in four words: “Best Viewed In […]” where the fourth word can be filled in with a different browser nearly every year. Anything that encourages web authors to focus on a single browser (or browser engine) to the expense of other browsers hurts the web. It’s also short-sighted – next year all the browsers will change and what was “best” last year is not the same this year, even newer versions of the same browser!

    Worst of all is when browser vendors themselves either encourage or outright publish “best viewed in” content themselves, thus setting a bad example for web authors.

    Judge for yourself – whenever you see a site purporting to show-off or demonstrate web standards, if the site ever gives you an excuse like “Please use browser X to view this” then they’re misbehaving. Standards demonstrations should simply state the standards they require, and then link to test suites (developed in standards bodies) for you to check your own browser.

    And “Best Viewed In” is just one of several concerns.

    There are many difficult challenges to open web standards that we must acknowledge and continue fighting hard to overcome. Challenges like patents that may hurt Touch Events, devices that only effectively support a single browser engine, and when one or a small number of companies decide to dictate de-facto standards through “delayed open” tactics.

    Tristan – What’s the most exciting thing going on in the world of Web standards these days?

    Tantek – So many things to choose from! I think the most exciting thing about web standards these days is the unprecedented level of intense interest and collaboration across numerous companies on the open web platform built on web standards. There’s a rising culture of placing importance on the open web, and I think we have Mozilla to thank for keeping that flame alive for so long and setting an ever higher bar for how to best work openly on open web standards.

    The Mozilla Manifesto provides an excellent set of principles for how to do so. I think what’s particularly important is to keep evolving openness, and Mozilla encourages community members to contribute their own views on how and why to work openly. Here is some more on the subject:

    Tristan – Thank you very much for your time Tantek, and keep up the good (and open) work!

  6. Hackasaurus: showing kids how the Web is not just to be consumed

    This is the third installment of Mission:Mozilla, a series of interviews that link Mozillians, the technology they produce and the Mozilla mission. This time, We’re interviewing Atul Varma and Jessica Klein about their project,  Hackasaurus.

    Tristan - Jess, Atul, could you introduce yourself in a few words?

    Jess –  I am Jessica Klein, the Design and Learning Lead of Hackasaurus. I design the various curricular aspects of Hackasaurus, and help learners of all ages delve into the building blocks of HTML and CSS with our tools.

    Atul – I am Atul Varma, the technical lead for Hackasaurus and implement the tools such as the web X-Ray Goggles and the website.  Jess and I iterate on the design of the tools based on user observation and feedback from the hack jams that we hold.

    Tristan - What is Hackasaurus?

    JessHackasaurus is a suite of tools and curriculum that make it easy for anyone to learn webmaking through HTML and CSS. Our primary tool is the X-Ray Goggles, which makes it easy to see through Web pages and tinker with their individual parts. Our primary learning resource is the Hacktivity Kit —  — which tells you everything you need to know to host your own “hack jam”, where participants can remix the web together and learn basic HTML and CSS.

    Tristan – What issue are you trying to solve with Hackasaurus?

    Atul – Hackasaurus is really about bringing HTML back to the non-technical audience. When I first learned HTML in high school in the mid-1990s, lots of other folks knew it, because it was what people those days did — they made web pages on Geocities. As the masses of the day turned to making blogs and then simply having Facebook pages, we’ve lost a lot of that knowledge, culturally — which is particularly unfortunate since HTML has gotten so much more amazing over the past decade.

    Hackasaurus’ aim is to give everyone what film critic Roger Ebert calls “restaurant HTML” — enough knowledge to know how the bones of the Web work, and how to use it to empower themselves in their online lives. In doing so, they will also understand, at a very visceral level, what makes the Web such an amazing public resource.

    Tristan – How did you end up working on Hackasaurus?

    Atul – For me personally, it was something I was excited about and blogged about in 2009. Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation Executive Director) really liked the post and later invited me to a brainstorming session with the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago — they were working on turning libraries into maker spaces for kids, but weren’t yet doing anything with the Web other than using it as a passive medium to e.g. upload videos to YouTube. So Mark thought there might be some way to connect the idea of teaching kids about the Web with MacArthur’s efforts.

    That ultimately led to the Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona at the end of 2010, where I met Jess and led a design session with a cross-disciplinary team of hackers, librarians, and educators to come up with a curriculum and motivate the use cases for a tool that eventually became the X-Ray Goggles.

    Jess – I came to the project through my work with the Hive Learning Network, an initiative started by the MacArthur Foundation as part of their Digital Media and Learning portfolio. They connect museums, libraries and community based youth organizations who are really trying to take risks with technology in their programming. At the time, the Hive and Mozilla were “dating” so to speak and this project was the first time we really started to work together. I came to the Learning, Freedom and the Web festival and met Atul and we really just started to tinker and figure out what kinds of curriculum would complement the technology. We did a lot of user testing and iterating incorporating the lessons learned by directly working with the end user (teenagers!) to create the software and eventually that defined a really nice and organic community-driven design process.

    Tristan – How do you plan to evolve Hackasaurus?

    Jess – Right now, Hackasaurus just released its beta — so we are really at the phase of exploring how our tools and curriculum hold up on a global level to the design question of — how do you teach code to users in an accessible, fun and interest driven manner? We are constantly experimenting and iterating our tools, but our next steps are really to expand the learning tools so that our users transition from simply hacking websites to really becoming full on webmakers.

    Tristan – Can other people reuse this material? Under which license?

    Jess – yes, everything is available currently under a creative commons license. We actually really want to encourage users to essentially fork our content- which makes our project both an open source project and an open educational resource (OER).

    Tristan – Do you need help with Hackasaurus?

    Atul – Yes! Currently localizers can use Mozilla Verbatim to help translate, and they can easily see the results of their translating on our staging server. Testers are all welcome too — for more information, check out http://hackasaurus.org/contribute/.

    Also, a good way to stay connected to our community of webmakers is to participate in the webmaker community calls on Tuesdays.

    Tristan – How do you plan to reach to a broader audience? Or is it too early to discuss this?

    Atul – Not at all! We’re currently working with the MacArthur Foundation, and the Hive Learning Networks to bring Hackasaurus’ curriculum and tools to libraries, museums and community based organizations across the US, and we’re recruiting “Mozilla Youth Ambassadors” to hold their own hack jams and spread the word. The Hacktivity Kit, which we just released last month, is another way we’re trying to scale participation, as it gives anyone all the tools they need to hold their own event.

    At a technical level, another thing we’re trying to do to reach a broad audience is to make our tools available on as many platforms as possible. The goggles, for instance, currently work on Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Safari, and IE9–we’re working on IE8, because many libraries and schools don’t have the ability to run a newer browser. Initial work has been done to have the goggles work on tablets, too, as a number of places only have access to those.

    Jess – We are also working with community members to run local hack jams. Currently, people have run jams in locations including:  Nairobi, Barcelona, and Brussels. Some of these members have come to us through the Mozilla Reps program , while others have come to us through like minded organizations like the National Writing Project. But this kind of community involvement is really integral for the success of the project, because as we know, creating meaningful learning experiences isn’t going to just be about translating our open source offerings, but truly localizing.

    Tristan – Who, other than Mozilla, could have done something like this?

    Atul – Probably the MacArthur Foundation and its network of informal learning organizations — the Hive — which is why it’s so great that we’re working together with them on the project. I don’t think Hackasaurus would exist today if it weren’t for Mozilla’s technical know-how and non-profit mission of turning web users into Web makers working in conjunction with the MacArthur Foundation’s plethora of research on informal learning and their network’s practical knowledge on holding events for youth. It’s been really inspiring to see the two organizations work in concert to do something that neither one could have accomplished on their own!

    Jess – Mozilla is truly committed to empowering a generation of web-makers — people who want to make things on the web — and I think that really requires us to design our tools and learning resources with different communities of makers, including filmmakers, journalists and young people. So, in a sense, this project is enhanced by Mozilla but designed by the community.

    Tristan – Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

    Jess – I guess I would just say, that when people learn the basic building blocks of the web as they are learning through Mozilla projects like Hackasaurus, they are not only empowered to make things they are passionate about, but they also come to expect the web to work in a certain way — to be open, editable, remixable and accessible. The most skilled among them will make things that are useful to others that embody those values of the open web- and thus, help to build the web for everyone. With our tools, and programs we are helping to educate the next generation of webmakers — what is possible and hopefully empower them to design the rest.

    Tristan – Amen to that, Jess! I see that you have a partly localized version in French. I’ll walk through it with my son, I’m sure he’ll fall in love with it… Thank you Jess and Atul, and long live Hackasaurus and the Open Web!

  7. Ben Adida on BrowserID and identity

    This is the second installment of Mission:Mozilla, a series of interviews that link Mozillians, the technology they produce and the Mozilla mission. Today Ben Adida is in the hot seat to discuss BrowserID, Mozilla’s identity initiative.

    Tristan Nitot – Hi Ben, can you briefly introduce yourself?

    Ben Adida – I’ve been hacking since high school and, since college, I’ve been fascinated with cryptography, security, and controlling my data. I built my first DB-backed web site before cookies. I ran my own IMAP mail server starting in 1997 because no one else was doing it the way I wanted it. I started an open-source web dev shop in 2000, went back to grad school in 2003 to work on secure voting, explored security and privacy of health data at Harvard Med for a few years, and joined Mozilla in March 2011. I’m now Tech Lead on Identity and User Data, and I’m having a blast.

    TN – Oh my… running your own IMAP server in 1997? That’s the kind of thing that gives instant nerd credibility ;-)

    BA – Oh yes, big nerd and proud of it!

    TN – So you’re now with Mozilla, focusing on Identity and User data. Can you update us on what’s Mozilla is doing on these fronts?

    BA – Everyone I talk to within Mozilla realizes that the Open Web depends on more than just the Firefox web browser. People are storing massive quantities of their personal data online, using dozens of services, and an open browser is not enough to ensure that they have true choice, true control, that they can shape the Web to their liking. So we need to be working towards providing user choice in web-based services, too. The first piece of the puzzle is a usable, federated, and distributed identity system. That’s what we’re doing with BrowserID.

    TN – “federated, distributed”, with users having control… Sounds like the original pillars of the Web, right? I mean, as opposed to what we tend to see these days, with identity being concentrated into the hands of very large commercial organizations… How do you plan to achieve this?

    BA – That’s right, distributed/federated *is* the way of the Web, but when you look at today’s identity solutions, most are incredibly centralized, and those that are more distributed in terms of protocol tend to become centralized in implementation because of the so-called NASCAR problem: you get to log in with Google or Yahoo, and if you’re *really* knowledgeable then maybe you can log in with your own Identity Provider. We think we can do better for users and developers in terms of ease of use and adoption.

    TN – And what about privacy?

    BA – We’ve specifically designed BrowserID to reduce the amount of private data that changes hands to the bare minimum required for authentication. For example, in every other web-based identity system today, the site you log into phones home to your identity provider. In the real world, the equivalent is: you check into a hotel, present your ID to confirm your name, and the receptionist calls the issuing government agency and says “Hi, this is the Hyatt San Francisco, Tristan is checking in just now, is that okay?” Why does the government agency or, in the case of a privately issued identifier, the commercial entity, need to know where and when you’re checking in? In the real world, the receptionist just checks the seal on the ID without phoning anyone. BrowserID recreates this more restrained, more privacy-protecting data flow for web logins.

    TN – So how do you manage to get the best of both worlds: user experience and user control?

    BA – First we’re making the browser an important part of the protocol. After all, the browser is the User’s Agent. Isn’t it a little bit silly on today’s Web that you typically have a tab open to your gmail, and then another site asks you to log in with Google or Yahoo? Why can’t the browser help coordinate those two tabs? You’re logged into gmail, of course you have a gmail email address you can use to authenticate! And in the enterprise setting, you’re logged into your company webmail, of course you can authenticate using that enterprise identity! The browser can help reduce user complexity significantly.

    TN – But I could want to use another email address, than the one I use for my Webmail…

    BA – Right, so we’re always going to give users a choice. Users can choose exactly which persona they want to present. And one major BrowserID design point is simply that users understand email addresses as personas. They typically have home and work email addresses, and they don’t use them the same way. If they have a moonlighting job, they often have a separate email address for that. So BrowserID is based on this concept users already understand: logging in is simply delivering an email address to a web site in a way that the web site can easily verify.

    TN – Cool. Say I’m a Web developer that wants to use BrowserID on my site. How hard is that? How much do I have to relinquish control of my users to Mozilla?

    BA – It takes about 5 lines of JavaScript and 10 lines of backend code to integrate BrowserID, and it works today. It’s by far the easiest of the available identity solutions. In the short term, it means you’re relying on Mozilla servers to provide the BrowserID interface and verify users’ email addresses. That said, this is only temporary scaffolding for our distributed system.

    TN – But as BrowserID becomes native in browsers and identity providers appear, this will change?

    BA – We’ve taken great care to design the system so that, as browsers begin to support the BrowserID APIs natively, we can remove our scaffolding and leave standing a truly distributed protocol. Best of all, web sites don’t have to change a line of code for that to happen: as the identity providers and browsers start supporting BrowserID, our scaffolding automatically fades away. And let’s say you’re a web developer and you want to stop using BrowserID for whatever reason: just send your users an email with their new password, and you’re done. No other identity system minimizes lock-in this much, for both users and web developers.

    TN – So minimizing lock-in is part of the BrowserID design goals?

    BA – Absolutely! This is part of our mission and manifesto. We don’t want to own users, we want to empower them. Mozilla is in a unique position to build this kind of identity system because, as we all like to say, Mozilla answers only to users, and we can leverage Firefox to deploy these pro-user designs.

    TN – Fantastic! What would you recommend to Websites who want to do a test-run on their site? And for users who want to experience BrowserID right away?

    BA – Web developers can check out our documentation. Users can check out http://current.openphoto.me, a very promising distributed photo storage system shepherded by WebFWD that chose BrowserID. Just click the distinctive BrowserID login button to get a taste of the user experience.

    TN – I’m sure our readers will try it right away! Thanks a lot Ben for your time. Long live BrowserID!

  8. Alex Fowler about DNT and online privacy

    This is the first of an interview series conducted by Tristan Nitot, long-time Mozilla contributor and one of the founders of Mozilla Europe. Today, Tristan interviews Alex Fowler, Global Privacy and Public policy lead for Mozilla.

    Tristan Nitot – Alex, could you briefly introduce yourself? When did you start working for Mozilla?

    Alex Fowler – I’m Mozilla’s chief privacy friend, where I oversee privacy and policy for the organization. I started here earlier this year in January.

    TN – Does that mean that Mozilla did not care bout privacy before that? ;-)

    AF – No, far from it. Mozilla has a long history of working on privacy through its products and services. It was more that the organization had reached a point where there were many internal activities underway and also that the external discussions on the topic that required a full time team be put in place.

    TN – So you’ve just announced the DNT (Do Not Track) Field Guide. Can you tell us a little more? What is it about? Who should read it and why?

    AF – We’ve written a guide for developers on how to change their web sites to respond to their users/visitors who have enabled DNT in their browsers. Our intention behind the guide is to share some early best practices that other developers have come up with in implementing technical measures for DNT in their systems. The guide includes four case studies and then several tutorials and simple code samples.

    TN – For those who do not yet know what DNT is, can you let us know what it’s about? What problem is Mozilla trying to fix with this?

    AF – Sure. There are two sides to Do Not Track that people should be aware of. First, there’s a broad public debate underway about providing people on-line with a way to opt-out of the unwanted tracking and profiling activities undertaken by myriad players, including advertisers, publishers and data brokers. This debate took off here in the US with a report published by our Federal Trade Commission and it has focused primarily around opting out of behavioral advertising. The recent implementation of the ePrivacy Directive in the EU has now pushed the debate into other parts of the world, as well as other types of tracking. Second, DNT is a browser setting available to users of Firefox, Firefox Mobile, IE9 and Safari that, when enabled, turns on a new HTTP header and begins broadcasting that signal to all first party and third party sites and service providers via the browser. Basically, any one with whom a user is interacting on-line has the ability to see the header and start to respect it. Make sense? From Mozilla’s perspective, we see DNT as an important step towards providing people on-line with control over their on-line experience and the underlying data practices that increasingly shape that experience.

    TN – Yes,  this sounds a lot like the third principle of the Mozilla Manifesto:  “The Internet should enrich the lives of individual human beings.” Do you think that other browser vendors or other organizations could have led the DNT effort like Mozilla did?

    AF – People are living more of their lives on-line, sharing personal information with friends, family and also the companies enabling these interactions. Mozilla is a nonprofit with a mission to make the web better. We believe it’s important to put users in control of their data and create transparency into where and how their information is handed on-line.

    TN – But do you think people realize that they’re being tracked? Do they actually care?

    AF – These are great questions, Tristan. There is no question that people are increasingly becoming more aware of being tracked. I believe much of the debate over DNT at the policy level could have been avoided if the industry had been more thoughtful in helping people to understand that their activities were being profiled and would show up later in other contexts. Instead, we saw many reports of people being surprised later to see the exact pair of shoes they were looking at on-line at one site appear in ads on another site, for example. In the US, the public policy debate happens because there is a public outcry that crosses broad political demographics and parties. So, that is one indicator of public concern.

    TN – Do people actually take actions to protect their privacy?

    AF – I think we’ve learned over the years that yes, people do act when it is easy to do and the cost of protecting their privacy doesn’t come at some other cost, like breaking their web experience or preventing them from fully participating in those services being utilized by their peers, for instance. Watching people finding and enabling DNT in Firefox has pointed out a few things that we got right. It’s easy to enable and it doesn’t interfere with the user’s browsing experience. Also, it’s narrowly crafted such that DNT doesn’t represent anti-advertising nor anti-commercial values; it’s about privacy. Also, I think it’s been interesting to see that not all opt-outs are created equal. What I mean by that is up until DNT, opt-outs have been under the control of those players who provided them for their users. They controlled all the parameters for where, when and how a user could elect to opt-out of a data handling practice, and they also designed how easy or hard that process could be. The overall effect, from my perspective, was to render these privacy settings mostly meaningless to the user. Putting DNT in the browser and creating a easy-to-set signal changes that dynamic and puts the power back into the people’s hands.

    TN – Do you know if people actually change the preference in their browser to stop being tracked?

    AF – Yes, one of the interesting things about the DNT browser signal is that anyone with a web site can start to count how many of its visitors have DNT turned on. A site just needs to start look for the HTTP header: DNT:1. A study that was released a few weeks ago by Krux Digital measured the privacy options of more than 100 million Firefox users worldwide and found that usage of DNT in the new version of Firefox has  increased to more than 6% of the user-base. We will be releasing our own numbers along with the DNT Survival Guide in a few days, but they are mostly in the same ballpark.

    TN – What’s the future of Privacy on the Net?

    AF – A recent publication from the IDC, called the 2011 Digital Universe Study, really highlights for me the future of privacy on-line. The study found that…

    • While 75% of on-line information is provided by people, 80% of that information is under the control of businesses, organizations and governments.
    • The ability of these entities to appropriately staff, manage and protect this information as it grows exponentially (by a factor of 8 over the next 5 years!) is not keeping pace.

    What this tells me is that efforts to put controls into people’s hands over the collection, use, sharing and security of  their own personal information on-line is critically important to the future of the web. But also that this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

    TN – So Mozilla’s role in this field is getting more and more crucial?

    AF – Absolutely! And not just in the context of Firefox or Thunderbird. We have to take our mission into the cloud and start to change industry practices, standards, developer tools, and help revolutionize privacy and data governance for the web.

    TN – who, besides Mozilla, can help there?

    AF – The challenge before us is certainly huge. First, I do think people need to become much more aware of this issue. Not so much as a “privacy” in the sense of being anonymous online. We need to change the debate to be more about individual information management or data governance. I’m not quite sure, yet, of the right formulation. It feels to me like the public debate does get bogged down in the discussion of the right to privacy. While this is understandable and very important, I think  people also need more pragmatic ways to think about and control their day-to-day online interactions. So when a user moves from one social network to her cloud storage music provider to then do some on-line banking, her data settings follow her and are consistently respected by these providers.

    TN – What you’re saying reminds me of Mitchell Baker’s notion of User Sovereignty : people should be able to control their own data and what’s being made on-line with it.

    AF – I think that’s right. Data is everything in the 21st century! Those who control user data will have the power to shape the future of the web.

    TN – Thank you very much Alex for your time, and congratulations for releasing the DNT guide. Keep up the good work on privacy and information management / data ownership!

    AF – My pleasure, Tristan! This was fun; let’s do this again sometime soon!