Mozilla Festival salutes more Popcorn and less developer-ghetto


The 600 participants at last weekend’s Mozilla Festival in London were a crowd of filmmakers, educators, coders, tech-savvy media professionals, media-sceptical hackers, hacking-ignorant journalists, gamers, government advisors – I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It was diverse. All of them however were thinkers and makers ready to explore the frontiers of the open web.

Under the tagline ‘Media, Freedom and the Web’ non-profit organisation Mozilla designed this round of their yearly festival around the challenge of using the web for a more creative and collaborative media landscape. Plenty of ideas were spread, challenges were conquered, solutions were crowdsourced, a fair share of awesome new stuff presented and TechCrunch picked out somehighlights for you.

The web is a documentary

Emmy-award winning filmmaker Kat Cizek described herself as ‘super-chuffed’ when she came on stage to present the world’s first HTML5 film at #mozfest. It was the world premiere of ‘One Millionth Tower’, a documentary that works like the web itself: ever-changing, updated by the minute.

The film was developed with the help of Popcorn.js, Mozilla’s recently launched JavaScript library that works similarly to the hypertext principle in seamlessly mashing up online video with virtually anything online – the most obvious examples would be Wikipedia, Flickr or Twitter. It turns film into a more semantic experience, allowing for more dynamic and interaction.

“We can’t just think about interaction at the end but need it from the beginning to create a conversation between the filmmaker and the audience,” agreed the students involved in the development of Popcorn. “This kind of storytelling is just getting started.”

Getting out of the geek-ghetto

Wired UK’s editor-at-large Ben Hammersley called it ‘geek-ghetto’ and I think he hit the nail on the head with this one. What he meant was that only a small community knows how to code and that this skill should be integrated in various professions.

It is upon the tech-savvy of us to make sure generations to follow will find coding as a skill more integrated in their daily lives. This doesn’t mean teaching kids how to build the next Firefox, it means making sure they know they could. The idea is to teach the language that will enable people to share ideas. “‘Build your dreams here’ could be the tagline for the web,” said Mark Surman, Mozilla’s Executive Director. Ben Hammersley went right ahead and called it “saving the world”.

Yes, it sounds a tiny bit idealistic. However, coding means being able to create and to create means power. If they’re not saving the world, the brilliant start-ups appearing on this blog every day are at least changing it one bit after another. For more and more change, networks such as Young Rewired State, Hackasaurus or DreamYard should be supported in every possible way.

“We trust journalists as much as we trust politicians…

…We don’t.” Not my words; those of an angry developer. More or less tech-savvy journalists and more or less media-savvy hackers were discussing the rare breed of “hacking journalists” at Mozilla Festival.

The concept follows the idea of making news more transparent and accessible by combining the two trades. This can range from teaching journalists to better present data-driven news all the way to introducing some form of iteration to the press.

Being a tech journalists and a giant nerd, I had a very easy role in this discussion. I learned how to code – not very well, but enough for it to be useful – because it helps me to do a better job. After all, shouldn’t journalists be masters of collecting, analysing and presenting data? Some basic programming skills can help that cause a great deal.

Writing the Data Journalism Handbook was a start. The first draft of the book to help journalists deal with large amounts of data as well as possible was written in the 48 hours of the festival by 55 contributors. No better place to make hacks a little bit more like hackers than in TechCity.