A Webmaker User Story in the Wild

As Mark explains, it’s Webmaker Planning Season, which includes writing user stories for where we want to take Thimble, Popcorn Maker and what we build to tie it all together. A really fantastic real world user story appeared over the weekend, courtesy of Notch and his army of followers.

It started with Notch tweeting about something he was experimenting with,

Then he finds a similar experiment from Mr.doob,

If you liked that, @ made a Minecraft type renderer using WebGL: http://t.co/GUjpiyC9
@notch
Markus Persson

And a conversation starts around the code, licensing and aesthetics.

Soon, a fan posted a Youtube video that explores Notch’s original code in detail. Notch moves his example to another community site similar to JSFiddle, but with social bits baked in.

Spent most of today learning new stuff. Ported Minecraft4k. Code is awful due to the nature of the project, but here: http://t.co/ZQQ8lsRj
@notch
Markus Persson

Why’s this like Webmaker?

Notch posts something he’s proud of, gets feedback from his peers (ignoring the fact that Notch is without peer for the purposes of this example), the community dives into his code and explains it to each other (the Youtube video), others remix or build off the original code (Mr.doob, I’m altering history here and pretending that the doob code came after Notch’s original post, artistic historical license).

The whole goal of Webmaker is to bring people together, show off what they’ve learned, help each other learn and get excited about making the web.

That’s cool, so how does Webmaker improve on it?

Right, that’s the big question. Everything you saw above happened today without the involvement of Webmaker, so what are we bringing that will improve it? A few things – in convenient bullet form,

  • Make it explicit – Notch learned something, he shared the learning and others built on top of it. Notch’s experiment, regardless of whether it’s on Thimble or JSFiddle, belongs in a gallery where it’s easy for others to find, share and remix.
  • Make it live beyond today – Twitter tied it all together. Twitter emphasizes real-time, it would be difficult to recreate this chain of events a year from now. It would be even more difficult to recreate the chain if a personality as large as Notch hadn’t initiated it. We need to see this chain of events as a unit without detective work.
  • Build and acknowledge reputation – the video commentator is a bit anonymous in the chain. He did significant work, and will help scores of learners make sense of Notch’s code. He deserves recognition for that work in a way that pushes his career, or gets him reputation in a community. (In short, give that guy a badge)

What should we build?

In this context, what is Webmaker.

  • A series of tools, Thimble and Popcorn Maker lead the way.
  • A gallery, currently in the planning stages, but we’re looking to build much more than a listing of projects. The gallery needs to fit a variety of roles, it should show what you made, what your friends made, and what everyone aspires to make.
  • Social‘y stuff. Take the conversation around a made item to the social network you choose, find better ways to let the work flow back and forth between tools and networks.

Mozilla?

How are the Firefox people going to tie all this together? I love Firefox, it’s my browser, but Mozilla isn’t just Firefox. Mozilla has a manifesto. We, Mozilla, are more than the sum of the people who get a Mozilla paycheck. We’re a world spanning community of contributors and zealots that believe working in the open has meaning beyond the products we produce. Mark Surman and Mitchell Baker say that very product has a semi-secret payload – Firefox’s payload was belief in the open web and open source and open standards.

The payload for Webmaker is still being worked out, but my take on it is that we build  together. We learn from each other, we make each other better than what we could be alone. Given that, everything on the web deserves a button that let’s someone else remix and comment on it in whatever way they see fit. The act of creation should encourage more creation, not just consumption and +1′ing.

It’s entirely possible to take all of this and make a product that fulfills basic requirements, and doesn’t worry so much about secret payloads and manifestos – but that would be boring, and unsuccessful. Mozilla doesn’t work in boring, we work on big stuff. The success of Webmaker is a world where the internet is writable, everywhere – and by extension, the world is writable, everywhere.

For more on the make the world writable idea, watch the Mozfest 2012 keynotes.