“Less Yack, More Hack”

Last month, WITNESS was invited to participate in the Mozilla Festival held at Ravensbourne University in London. The festival brought together some of the Mozilla community’s best developers and put them in the same room as some of its most innovative online content creators to collaborate hands on to create new features and build actual working demos.  The cry of  “Less Yack, More Hack!” served as reminder to keep things concrete and tangible and not to veer off into the theoretical as so often happens at conferences.

I had the privilege to represent WITNESS at the “Science Fair” which showcased some of the newest developments in web based content creation such as the latest release of Popcorn JS.  I also go to reconnect with colleagues from Ushahidi, Frontline SMS, BAVC, GlobalVoices, and Universal Subtitles. I showed off the ObscuraCam, a collaboration between WITNESS and the Guardian Project.

There was a lot of buzz around the release of  Popcorn.js 1.0, a development frame work using JavaScript and HTML5 to create browser based interactive media.  They showcased it with a premiere of an interactive documentary from the National Film Board of Canada called “One Millionth Tower.”   Directed by longtime WITNESS friend and collaborator, Kat Cizek, the project focuses on what life is like for the 1 billion people around the world who live in highrise buildings, and uses not only Popcorn and HTML5, but also webGL as a 3D engine, as well as tapping into Flickr’s and Google Streetview’s API’s to pull together additional related information.

Maker Culture, Digial Literacy and Informing Policy Makers

The festival theme this year was Media, Freedom and the Web.  There was a lot of discussion around the importance of fostering “Maker” culture.  There was a strong sense that the people at the festival, the “Makers,” had a responsibility to the generations above and below themselves to teach about how technology works.  The generation in power now is making decisions about policies that will affect how technology is currently used and how it will develop in the future.

We need to make sure that these decision makers have an understanding about how technology really works so they can make good choices. The next generation is being presented with innumerable channels with which to consume content, and almost as many devices to consume it on.  But in order to have a voice in this media space, these people will also need to know about the tools and technology used to create this content.  Rather than a world of passive consumers of content, Mozilla envisions a future where everyone contributes to creative process, and teaching the tools will be a key component to fostering “maker” culture.

Finally the networks on which this content flows needs to be free, open, and robust.  I spoke to Dean Jansen of  the Participatory Culture Foundation about the campaign they are running to oppose the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA.  Regardless of your stance on copyright and whether or not you believe “all content should be free,” SOPA is a deeply flawed bill that would not protect copyright but instead would lead to the U.S. government censoring content from its citizens in the same way China attempts to do so with the “Great Firewall of China.” Watch this video for more details on how SOPA would work and why its not a good solution:

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

SOPA is an example of what happens when policy makers fail to understand the technological implications of their decisions around the use of technologies such as the Internet, and it’s another reason why conferences like the Mozilla Festival are so important for getting the word out and fostering “Maker” culture.

One thought on “The Mozilla Festival and the Importance of a Free and Open Internet

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