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Less yack and more hack at #MozFest

 Less yack and more hack at #MozFest

Mitchell Baker

This weekend I attended the Mozilla Festival at the Ravensbourne Building in Greenwich. The festival is one of its kind and includes a number of open, simultaneous, and unusual workshops where attendees have to "hack" a space, object, or tool in open working environments organized by Mozillians and volunteers. "These are the things that HASTAC do as well," commented the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation Mark Surman, for whom "MozFest is for all ages," and compared to other festivals "it's less yack and more hack."

MozFest opening

The Mozilla community creates world-class open source software that fights heated battles with proprietary software. With two leading web browsers built on open-source platforms, Mozilla redefined the browser wars by offering a viable competitor to Internet Explorer and making room for the group of browsers that emerged after 2003. Behind the very successful Firefox browser stands the Mozilla community that uses, develops, and supports Mozilla products and open web standards.

One of the mottos on this year’s conference was making the web more physical. This includes bringing hacking to the larger-than-the-web physical world. In this context hacking includes both engaging and modifying computer platforms and working with physical objects. Attendees were invited to redesign t-shirts, create videogames, learn coding, and play with open-source prototyping platform Arduino. MozFest provided childcare support in the facilities but most children were found playing in the premises.

That is what brought to MozFest the Dutch designer Bram Geenen, an industrial designer interested in open sourcing his work. Bram attended the track "Make the Web Physical" that mixed high-tech devices like sensors and hardware tools like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and 3D printing with low-tech solutions like origami and simple circuits assembled together as physical objects. Stephen Angell, one of the attendees of the workshop, summarized the work by tweeting "not sure what I've just created."

On Friday I met Matthew Williams, Education Technologist at KQED, a community-supported public television based in San Francisco, and Neila Romdane from the French Medialab Session, an incubator that moves around France offering support for news organizations. I also met up with dozens of Mozillians attending the tracks Skills and Badges, Look Who's Watching, Make the Web Physical, Build and Teach the Web, Webmaking for Mobile, Connect Your City, Science and the Web, and Source Code for Journalism.

Alan "Gunner" Gunn, Participation Designer at Mozilla Foundation, opened the keynotes session on Saturday and highlighted the creative, experimental, and chaotic nature of the festival. Mitchell Baker, the Chair of the Mozilla Foundation and former Chief Executive Officer of the Mozilla Corporation, commented that open standards and collaborative environments are the core values of Mozilla and the internet at large, even if called into question by recent developments in the internet world. Baker cheered the global community that shares a common mission and pushes Mozilla projects forward.

Camille François commented on the disclosure of the formerly-classified PRISM program documents and noted that the web of today is very different than the web of Tim Berners-Lee. According to François, "Snowden shows us that the power on the web is concentrated. We should not have to hope that our data is not misused." Keynotes ended with a demo of Firefox add-on called Lightbeam that aims to help users see who is tracking their browsing habits. The add-on displays a real-time graph of the exchange of information between the requested http page and third-party websites, thus enabling users to identify third-party companies tracking their online behavior.

On the last day of the festival I watched Jacqui Maher (https://twitter.com/jacqui) explaining the use of Elastic Search (http://www.elasticsearch.org/) at The New York Times. I had the chance to hang around the eighth floor and to check a number of promising projects dealing with data journalism at the track Source Code for Journalism. If you are curious to know more, take a look at the pictures below and make sure not to miss the next #MozFest.

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