October 11, 2014
From Mozilla to new making

Yesterday was my last day as an employee of the Mozilla Foundation. I’m leaving my position as VP, Webmaker to create an interactive web series about privacy and the economy of the web.

I’ve had the privilege of being a “crazy Mofo” for nearly five years. Starting in early 2010, I worked with David Humphrey and researchers at the Center for Development of Open Technology to create Popcorn.js. Having just completed “Rip!”, I was really interested in mashups - and Popcorn was a mashup of open web technology questions (how can we make video as elemental an element of the web as images or links?) and formal questions about documentary (what would a “web native” documentary look like? what can video do on the web that it can’t do on TV?). That mashup is one of the most exciting creative projects I’ve ever been involved with, and lead to a wonderful amount of unexpected innovation and opportunity. An award winning 3D documentary by a pioneer of web documentaries, the technological basis of a cohort of innovative(and fun) startups, and a kick ass video creation tool that was part of the DNA of Webmaker.org - which this year reached 200,000 users and facilitated the learning experience of over 127,200 learners face to face at our annual Maker Party.

Thinking about video and the web, and making things that aim to get the best of both mediums, is what brought me to Mozilla - and it’s what’s taking me to my next adventure.

I’m joining my friends at Upian in Paris (remotely, natch) to direct a multi-part web series around privacy, surveillance and the economy of the web. The project is called Do Not Track and it’s supported by the National Film Board of Canada, Arte, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), the Tribeca Film Institute and the Centre National du Cinéma. I’m thrilled by the creative challenge and humbled by the company I’ll be keeping - I’ve wanted to work with Upian since their seminal web documentary Gaza/Sderot and have been thrilled to watch from the sidelines as they’ve made Prison Valley, Alma, MIT’s Moments of Innovation project, and the impressive amount of work they do for clients in France and around the world. These are some crazy mofos, and they know how to ship.

Fake it Till You Make it

Mozilla gave me a wonderful gift: to innovate on the web, to dream big, without asking permission to do so. To in fact internalize innovation as a personal responsibility. To hammer into me every day the belief that for the web to remain a public resource, the creativity of everyone needs to be brought to the effort. That those of us in positions of privilege have a responsibility to wake up every day trying to improve the network. It’s a calling that tends to attract really bright people, and it can elicit strong feelings of impostor syndrome for a clueless filmmaker. The gift Mozilla gave me is to witness first hand that even the most brilliant people, or especially the most brilliant people, are making it up every single day. That’s why the web remains as much an inspiration to me today as when I first touched it as a teenager. Even though smart people criticize sillicon valley’s hypercapitalism, or while governments are breeding cynics and mistrust by using the network for surveillance, I still believe the web remains the best place to invent your future.

I’m very excited, and naturally a bit scared, to be making something new again. Prepare yourself - I’m going to make shit up. I’ll need your help.

Working With


“Where some people choose software projects in order to solve problems, I have taken to choosing projects that allow me to work with various people. I have given up the comfort of being an expert , and replaced it with a desire to be alongside my friends, or those with whom I would like to be friends, no matter where I find them. My history among this crowd begins with friendships, many of which continue to this day.

This way of working, where collegiality subsumes technology or tools, is central to my personal and professional work. Even looking back over the past two years, most of the work I’ve done is influenced by a deep desire to work with rather than on. ” - On Working With Instead of On

David Humphrey, who wrote that, is who I want to be when I grow up. I will miss daily interactions with him, and many others who know who they are, very much. "In the context of working with, technology once again becomes the craft I both teach and am taught, it is what we share with one another, the occasion for our time together, the introduction, but not the reason, for our friendship.”

Thank you, Mozilla, for a wonderful introduction. Till the next thing we make!

February 14, 2014
Webmaker Work Week recap

I blogged over on the Webmaker Blog about our Webmaker Work Week. Go read it!

December 20, 2013
Webmaker in 2014


imageWebmaker 2014 Like the rest of Mozilla, 2013 has been a busy year for the Webmaker Product team. In 2014 we’ll build on this year’s work to increase our impact.

Continue reading

October 9, 2013
Together.js + Webmaker at #mozsummit


At the just-completed Mozilla Summit, Webmaker folks demo’d a nice upcoming feature - using TogetherJS from Mozilla Labs in Thimble to allow collaborative learning.

October 2, 2013
Reflections on a Summer of Making: how we found our audience


The past summer was huge for Webmaker: our newly redesigned site began to operate as a central hub for all our tools; the integrity of our site was tested at 1600 separate events around the world; 30,000 users signed up and we quickly learned where our weak spots lay. And then John Cusack told a million people to break the web with us

Read the full post:

August 16, 2013
Webmaker Team Blog: A work week full of win


On August 12th, the webmaker.org product team joined folks from the communications and mentor teams of the Mozilla foundation for 4 solid days of building. The framing of the week was a follow through on our current development sprint - David Humphrey outlined our goals in his “Nine Weeks” blog…

(Source: webmakerteam)

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April 22, 2013

My daughter turned 4 a few months ago. We were musing over how to ask family not to give too much: we’re uncomfortable when she receives a lot of gifts. We don’t want to be ungrateful, so we experimented with asking people to give her $4. We’d then talk with her about saving a 1/3 of the money, spending 1/3, and donating a 1/3 to a charity.

Tonight we discussed what she’d like to do with the 1/3 she’d give to charity. We’d discussed inequality before - and she said she’d like to give the money to kids who needed it. We talked about places in the world at war, and how the kids in those countries suffered. We talked about Syria. And I thought of Bassel.

Bassel Khartabil is a contributor to open source projects. He is a developer. He’s a tinkerer. He’s help build two projects that have had a profound impact on my life: Creative Commons and Mozilla. And for over a year, he has been detained in a Syrian prison - arrested by the government in a mass roundup in Damascus.

Bassel had arranged a screening of my documentary, Rip, in a Damascus hackerspace. We’d exchanged a few emails. I had a chance to meet him in 2011 in Seoul at a Creative Commons gathering, and was very impressed by him. Humble, generous, intelligent. We discussed a potential collaboration - we chatted and explored Seoul. I snapped this picture of him. I had forgotten about this picture and found it on my computer in a backup of cell phone pics.


Bassel’s curiosity is the same as mine and my colleagues at Mozilla. He has a family. I am grateful to him, and upset that he remains in prison for being a hacker and an independent thinker. I feel for his friends and family, and hope that the web he helped build can help in its way to dismantle regimes such as Assad’s.

Layla donated a third of her birthday money to children in Syria with savethechildren.com. Bassel, we hope you are ok.


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January 22, 2013
Webmaker 2013 Roadmap 0.1

Background: Webmaker as a community of craft

There’s been broad consensus in the Webmaker community that building a community of practice and enabling users to share their work is an important part of the Webmaker formula. So in 2013, Webmaker.org will evolve to be a place where users are watching, remixing, and creating their own piece of the web - acquiring web literacies, including media production, HTML, and analytic skills as they go.

The Mozilla Web Literacies

Leading with making

We’ll build an information architecture and user experience that creates opportunities for our users to make something from the moment they arrive on our site. We want it to be immediately clear that this is a place to “get your hands dirty”. Part of how we’ll get there is by featuring great content made with our tools.

On Webmaker, you’ll be able to watch an artful presentation similar toNPR’s 2012 Musicians in Memorium, and then make your own. You’ll be able to string your favourite YouTube videos together in your own “Top 10 list”, and then have your friends leave media production tips on your work. You’ll be able to make audiovisual memes and mashups on your phone. And you’ll earn digital literacy badges to represent the skills you’ve picked up along the way. All of this will be presented as a consistent, unified, and seamless Webmaker experience.

To get here requires an evolution of how we think of “tools” and “projects”, as well as our product design process.

On the tools side, we will begin to merge our web apps together. We want users to have a “Webmaker” experience, rather than separate Thimble, Popcorn, and OpenBadger modalities. These code bases and projects won’t go away - Webmaker.org will simply become a “client” of the great foundational open source projects we’ve created over the past 2 years. The recent demo of Webmaker X (see screencast below, and Doug Belshaw’s excited blog post here, as well as Lyre’s breakdown on how MarkupAPIs could be a game changer here.)

On the projects side, we need to focus all of our activities towards building a community of craft. An essential aspect of getting there is a robust way to showcase the work of these communities. Building galleries of user’s work and robust user profiles/portfolios will be a key priority in Q1. We’ll need more nuance around what we consider a “project”. As a baseline, a project is a templated piece of content that invites you to contribute, reshape and remix/hack it. A video that needs an extra shot from you, a media rich web page whose meaning is changed when you hack the source code. Iterating on the FORM of these projects is a critical next step for Webmaker.

One of the ways we’ll do this is by leaning on our excellent partnership development team. Engagements with the Born This Way Foundation, explorations into the Mars Explorer mission, comedy hack days, and Cloud Filmmaking experiments are already underway. Our partnership process will start with editorial strategy and content. Our criteria will be: “what is magnetic, and will draw people in? What would be fun or satisfying to watch, remix or make in Webmaker?” We’ll let these efforts be part of an agile development process that can have a direct influence on the development of our platform.

We’ll also build the capacity for anyone to build projects - ensuring that we aren’t a bottleneck to the infectious energy of the Webmaker community will be something we bake into our work on user galleries in Q1. The entire Webmaker effort is built from “innovation at the edges” - Hackasaurus, WebMadeMovies/Popcorn, Open Badges, MoJo/OpenNews - these are all community inspired efforts that have not only had influence on our product: they’ve built it’s foundation. The Community Learning group will make sure this happens as often in 2013 as it’s happened over the last several years.

Mozilla staff will also work to innovate projects and content-types - David Ascher is leading an initiative to reboot Mozilla Labs, and within that structure we hope to see forays into games and other types of content that will eventually feed back into Webmaker. I’m also looking forward to having staff team members who can quickly make things with our tools to test out theories, engage new audiences and keep the site fresh.

Finally, it’s clear that we also need projects that address very specific parts of our Web Literacies framework. Our information architecture shouldn’t put these into a “learning ghetto”, setting them aside from interest lead projects, but we ought to be clear to our users that there is a pathway to learning specific skills. We’ll continue to build on the good work that’s been started in this area already - many of the projects currently found on Webmaker.org fall nicely into this category of project, and we’ll keep iterating, testing and improving how we teach these skills.

Webmaker roadmap 0.1

Attached are public links to the Webmaker roadmap. As you’ll see, we want to phase these improvements in over time in an agile fashion. We want to make sure we’re still seeing gradual improvement to our existing platform, while setting a goal of transitioning to these proposed changes at the end of Q2 2013.

View as slideshow

This slideshow explore:
  • Our current challenges, and the solutions to these challenges
  • Some proposed designs to address these challenges
  • A detailed look at 5 releases of the Webmaker platform in the first 2 quarters of 2013

View the roadmap as spreadsheet

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January 14, 2013
New Webmaker Prototypes

For our first week back to work, a small group of MoFos met for a few days of offsite. Knowing that 2013 is going to be a year of enabling creativity, we thought it would be suitable to meet at the Art Bar of the Gladstone hotel. Our goal was to create several prototypes of new functionality in Webmaker that would help users create new types of content. Here are the demos. note: hit the full screen button if you need to look at text.

WebmakerX (Bobby, Atul)

Live branch: http://webmakerx.toolness.org/#/bpzokgjb

what is it?

  • Combines Thimble and Popcorn Maker interfaces

what it means for us technically:

  • Implements Popcorn.js as Data attributes within HTML elements
  • exposing popcorn functionality through markup (instappopin) and providing a GUI layer
  • Markup API is declarative so its very “human readable”
  • X- tags (mark up api) are a vision for allowing javascript hackers to create widgets or functionality that people who are not experts can leverage.
  • Popcorn projects are published in thimble, its an elegant combination of our code bases

what it means for the user:

  • You can see popcorn code while you author
  • We can merge the experience of creating the layout and HTML with authoring the timeline
  • You can control your entire media production process from start to finish, using either code or a GUI
  • If you’re a JavaScript developer and want to write your own Markup API (like Twitter Bootstrap), we can import this as a “widget” - its a new vector for community contribution, eg you can drop the timeline or the color picker into other tools
  • You can learn to code while making cool, time based media
For some background reading on this prototype, check out Atul’s post "Building Bridges between GUIs and code with Markup Apis", as well as Lyre Calliope’s "Web Components and Mozilla Webmaker"

Chapter Markers for Slide Shows (Pomax)

live branch: http://jbuckley.ca:8886/templates/basic
Slideshow that was produced: http://jbuckley.ca:8886/v/2.html (note: navigate using the arrows on the side of the embed)

what is it?:

  • Popcorn plugins that let users set time markers (think “chapters”) and then navigate to the previous/next mark or an arbitrary mark based on its name

what it means for the user:

  • ability to create cool slide shows
  • website- type “pages” or sections
  • educational/instructional videos with “skip to …” functionality
  • scrubbing “markers”
  • create media that isn’t just “play through”, but rather interactive narratives, ie choose your own adventure, hackable comics, visual novel„ non-linear story telling etc.
  • in the future you might be able to do key framing, and create tweens between marks

what it means for us technically:

  • it points the way to Popcorn Maker being a method of accepting code snippets of functionality as “triggers”, rather than just “time events”
  • In the “WebmakerX” universe, we could imagine many of these types of functionality extensions that we create, and that are also created by a community
  • Even the timeline is now a maleable asset, rather than a fixed constant, allowing for customised (non-sequential) playback timelines by triggering a currentTime change

Popcorn Maker video editing (Scott Downe)

live branch http://jbuckley.ca:8887/templates/basic/

what is it?:

  • Ability to slice together youtube, html5 and soundcloud media into one seamless playback (audio, video, visuals, text and code snippets)
  • Ability to set the time of a sequence, rather than have a “media conductor”

what it means for the user:

  • you can edit together bits of video from around the web, and combine them with all of the other popcorn goodies
  • You can make awesome videos on the web without having to download/compress/re-upload etc - we MASSIVELY speed up the web video production process
  • greater level of remixability
  • ability to create “mash ups”
  • videos as samples (Kutiman http://www.youtube.com/user/kutiman )
  • ability to create simple “narrated” experiences - ie take a video and put a voiceover on top
  • editing becomes as easy as cut and paste
  • potential for a user to pull in all of the attribution data with the content
what it means for us technically:
  • when we land this, we move away from Popcorn Maker being controlled by a central video, and instead have a user-defined timeline

In-tool youtube upload (Jbuck)

live branch http://jbuckley.ca:8888/templates/basic

what is it?:

  • Directly upload video from your camera to youtube

what it means for the user:

  • user can make video record from their webcam to use as content for Webmaking
  • frictionless - rather than recording locally and uploading, or recording at youtube and copy/pasting URL, you can do it all from within Popcorn Maker

what it means for us technically:

  • We’ll want to start thinking of the “media” tab on Popcorn Maker as a place for multipe sources of media - this is where our “save for later” media should begin to appear
  • capability to add content directly to the “media tab” / “gallery” / “save for later”

Save for Later (Jess, Blake, Ian)

what is it?:

  • A clipping add-on that allows you to take image, text, video or html content from around the web, pull that into a gallery and then use it as remixable content for your Webmaker projects

what it means for the user:

  • as you browse the web, you can bookmark/pin/clip media and images that you like in order to remix them later
  • you can essentially use their “bookmarks” from within the browser as remixing content
  • you can pull in content from other services like “gimme bar” or potentially pinterest or git gists directly into your webmaker “gallery” or asset library
  • think about if built into Firefox, this could be a seemless experience directly associated with your Persona identity

what it means for us technically:

  • It shows how we could incorporate Firefox and Webmaker

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December 31, 2012
On Directing Software and Movies

In this year that is now ending, I had the privilege to work with an amazing crew to create Popcorn Maker. To say that I’m proud doesn’t really sum it up: of course I am proud, but mostly I feel grateful. I don’t think I realized how ambitious we were until halfway through this summer, when we REALLY needed to put the pedal to the metal in order to pull it off. In hindsight, a lot could have gone wrong, and a lot was on the line, so it’s with no small measure of gratitude to my colleagues, to the fates, and to everyone’s extraordinary effort that I’m ending 2012 feeling like we did exactly what we set out to do.

I remember feeling this way when finishing films as well - a certain euphoria and exhaustion, and a sense that the the work only really starts when you release something out of your internal group and into the world. It strikes me that all things worth doing are hard (at least for me). So as I look to new challenges and opportunities in 2013, I wanted to list out what I feel is a Survival Guide For Directors ™. All of these ideas owe to directors that I’ve learned from personally, or through writing (Rands, for example).


Software and Media Production are both collaborative crafts. As a director, you’re only one member of a team. Your job is to help people do their job well, remember why they’re doing it, and keep all eyes on the prize. Pick people who you know have crossed the finish line, or for whom this is a first chance to do something great. Try and ensure they have as much stake and opportunity in the project as you do.


Whether you’re recording sound, editing the footage, writing some HTML or pitching in on design, you need to bring some part of this to conclusion with your own hands. Not only does it set the right tone, but it grants you an understanding of the team’s challenges that you don’t get by delegating. Particularly if you’re embarking on a new subject area or technical approach, respect your collaborators and spend some time understanding their world.


Since you’ve picked great collaborators, let them be great. Give them a sense of the vision, but let animators run wild. Let designers surprise you with an unexpected innovation. Remember your developers need time to bake a feature and that they’re as or more creative than you. Let your sound editors create brilliant juxtapositions you just don’t have the talent to dream up. Your job after all is to look after the audience, so do them the favour of letting artists be artists.


Especially on projects with a long time horizon, everyone is going to have an answer when something goes wrong. Oh, and something always goes wrong. If something feels like it’s the wrong approach. or too easy of a solution, or not quite right - it probably is. You’ll need lots of advice, but learn to trust your own.


You’ll never work on a project that turns out exactly like the original idea, so learn to adapt when real life steps in. A team member may leave, a documentary subject might change due to current events, you might run out of time or money. You’ll need to cut features, change your narration, change your story or your product. Remember that the proposal or slide deck you created at the start of this is just a thought experiment - the real test is whether it can actually exist in the world, and sometimes no amount of brute force or late nights can produce something that isn’t meant to be.


At the end of the day, what drives things to the finish line is vision. It might need to change, but everyone needs a picture in their mind of what you are building together, who it’s for, and why the world will be better when it arrives. So as you adapt to reality, make sure that you and your team aren’t building something that they wouldn’t have signed up for. That way mediocrity lies, and that is cancer. Encourage an environment of peer review and critique, so calling something out as being not up to snuff doesn’t feel personal.


Have someone read them over. You never get in trouble for thanking anyone, ever.

And above all, don’t be a jerk. Life is too short. When you work in software or movies, generally everyone is there because they love it. Don’t be the person that changes that. Instead, be as light of a touch as humanly possible , help everyone get the job done, be a bullshit umbrella and fight like hell for your team.

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