Tagopen web

Interview: Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation)


Mark pic by Kate

Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and program chair of Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival, kindly gave me an interview about Drumbeat and why the Open Web is so relevant.

In three sentences: What is Drumbeat?

Mozilla DrumbeatOk. Three sentences. I’ll try 1. Mozilla exists to make sure the internet stays open and awesome. 2. With Drumbeat, we’re moving beyond Firefox to build more things that make the web better — not just software. 3. We’re doing this by reaching out new kinds of people — teachers, filmmakers, lawyers, journalists.

Why is that important?

It’s important because these people — in fact all of us — will have an impact on the future of the web, on what the web becomes.

If we care about the internet for the long run, that means getting people like educators involved in shaping the web in their world. Especially educators who are trying to disrupt and innovate. We can give them open web tools and thinking to help do this, which in turn helps the education web move in the right direction — towards something open, free and hackable.

This same scenario plays out with journalists, artists, filmmakers and so on. We want to help the innovators in these spaces take best advantage of the web, get them on board as our allies.

Which fields is Drumbeat focusing on?

Education and cinema are the two places we’ve put the most attention on in the first year. You can look at:

P2PU School of Webcraft, where we’re helping to build a free online school where web developers teach each other.

And Web Made Movies, a lab where filmmakers and engineers work together invent new kinds of web films.

These are examples of the kinds of things we want to do with Drumbeat. There are dozens more small projects brewing. I think you’ll see some the ones in journalism and art grow bigger next year.

In November you’re planning the Drumbeat Festival. What’s that?

It’s a crazy event where 400 people come to talk about the connections between learning, freedom and the web. And make things. And have fun.

More concretely: we have working on everything from web developer education to open text books to hackerspaces coming. And alot of tech and open source people. The ideas for them to find ways to shape the future of learning together.

It’s meant to be the first of many events like this, where we invite the the kind of people we’d like to bring into Drumbeat, find ways to work together and to work with each other.

Next year, we’ll likely have a different theme. Maybe ‘media, freedom and the web’?

How can the rest of us get involved?

It really depends what your interested in. If you are an educator or filmmaker, the projects I’ve mentioned above are easy entry points. And there will be more entry points in places like journalism, art, etc. coming very soon. Same goes if you’re a web developer or engineer who wants to help on projects like these.

More broadly than this, there want to do local Drumbeat events and a online activities and challenges that almost anyone can get involved in. We toyed with this in 2010, but really plan to go bigger with them next year.

Drumbeat Festival is from Nov 3-5 at Barcelona. The (already pretty sweet) program is further developed in the Wiki. Register for Drumbeat Festival here.

The interview was first published on netzpiloten.de under a CC by-nc-sa license. Photo by Mark Surman (some rights reserved).

Thoughts on the mainstreaming of openness


Disclaimer: I’m strongly biased towards openness. I prefer free and open software over closed systems, I prefer an open and decentralized web over a closed and centralized one. I prefer transparency over obscurity.

That said, I’d also consider myself a pragmatic idealist (thanks for the hint, Igor) in the sense that I think to reach certain idealistic goals it’s sometimes necessary (or even ok) to make compromises.

Examples: I use a Mac (closed) to feed my WordPress blog (open); I use Twitter (kinda closed) to promote open web ideals (open: duh!); my phone is powered by Android (open) but uses HTC’s Sense UI (closed).

So when we were about to announce an event that’s promoting the ideals of an open web (Drumbeat), we discussed how to best promote the event. We decided to complement the “official” event page on the Drumbeat site with a Facebook event page.

I insisted on having this second option, and for several reasons. One of those reasons is merely of the practical kind: it’s much easier to organize an event if you have any idea how many people are coming, and Facebook is very, very convenient to use that way. The other reason is more philosophical: I believe to reach out to new people, i.e. if you want to mainstream the discussion and get more people involved, you have to reach out to them where they mostly communicate. Facebook is an obvious choice, as you get access to a whole lot of people.

Like we almost expected, we got into a little flame war over this decision, including all the all-so-common personal attacks and insults. (My favorite being the statement that it’s “people like [me] who destroy the open web”, and that we’re “riff-raff”. I was surprised not to see Godwin’s Law invoked, but maybe that will happen in the next few mails?) To put one thing straight: I’m not even insulted, I find it very amusing to read a lengthy, hand-crafted personal attack. I appreciate, one could say, the effort people like this invest in personal trolling. (As long as – like in this case – it doesn’t even hit the mark and stays within certain boundaries.)

But it did get me thinking, and we discussed this a lot afterwards: To which degree is it ok to use a closed platform to promote an open web? And I stand by my decision, and would like to re-iterate: it’s not only ok, but necessary not to insist on personal moral high ground and being the true believer that knows everything better; but to go where the people you’d like to get involved really are and discuss with them. It’s not ok, and most likely damaging, to just assume everybody on the planet is thinking about these issues all day, and if they don’t leave all their bad habits behind they don’t deserve any better.

This kind of thinking is, from my point of view, arrogant, hypocritical and damaging. It devalues the ideals these same people strive to promote.

(I’m sure many other professions have to make similar decisions every day, like international development aid workers, who buy building materials on local markets to strengthen the local economy, even though they know that a certain share of those revenues go back to funding the same groups that caused the underlying structural problems.)

Long story short: For the time being I’ll keep doing it the way I’ve done it so far. I’ll keep using Facebook to promote events, I’ll stick to Twitter if that’s where I reach new people. But I’d like to hear your take on this!

Drumbeat Berlin



Yesterday Mozilla held an event in Berlin to build ground support for their new open web initiative Drumbeat. For the super-brief version of what Drumbeat is all about, let me quote Mark Surman from the first Drumbeat blog post:

At its simplest, Mozilla Drumbeat is about everyday internet users using technology to make and do things that will keep the web open for the long haul. Diversity will be a critical to this. Drumbeat needs to engage the huge diversity of people who use the web in their work and play. Teachers. Artists. Lawyers. Filmmakers. Children. Everyone. It also needs to reflect — and be shaped by — the diversity of cultures that make up the web. Drumbeat needs to be truly global right from the start.

So with Mark, Henrik Moltke (Drumbeat Project Producer), Allen Gunn and a whole bunch of other crew members, Mozilla brought in the big guns, so to speak. And showed that they’re serious about Drumbeat. This is support building as it should be. The level of enthusiasm and energy was contagious. (And made me feel even worse for coming in way late.) It was a room full of folks from all walks of the web that share a mission: to keep & make the web as open as possible. And in this mission, I guess, is the key to what makes Drumbeat special: rather than an initiative, it felt more like there’s a movement building up.

I’m curious to see how to best get involved, and where this will take me. But trust me, this is going to be big.

Thanks a lot to Mark, Henrik, Allen and all the others for putting all of this together. You guys rock!