“On the other other side, a side that receives scant attention, scanter investment, is where big problems – little b, little p – reside. Here, you’ll find a group I’ll refer to as the unexotic underclass. It’s rather quiet in these parts, except during campaign season when the politicians stop by to scrape anecdotes off the skin of someone else’s suffering.”
–The Exotic Underclass by C.Z. Nnaemeka
This week I helped launch a new Webmaker.org. Short story: Webmaker is a big site, a platform, and it has a lot of devoted users already. To get through the relaunch of a site like this in the course of 9 weeks’ time (from my Day 1 on the job) means some shit had to move fast. Parts – technical, design, human – all had to work in rhythm. It’s thrilling to be on a team that is shipping that fast, but beyond that it is inspiring; many, many people get bogged down in the idea of how big their idea is that they never end up doing anything of consequence. Fortunately that’s not so with Webmaker.
I am most excited about the adjustments that have set us up for the future. This re-launch has a lot of surface changes, but those are the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s going on in Webmaker’s core structure. Here are some of the highlights (courtesy of Brett’s words) and my interpretation of what they mean for things to come.
Big Changes to Webmaker
- An entirely new look and feel and UX for webmaker.org – a more interesting way of browsing content made by users. A site structure that is more about making, and less about telling the Webmaker story (although there’s still a place for that, too).
- A way for users to create their own domain name, stay saved in across all their apps, and access their creative work in any app – This was difficult from a technical and UX point of view, but I am hoping this ultimately means users will be more devoted to the content they produce, that their “space” on webmaker.org is as much about our tools helping them inspire and change their world (through learning materials, portfolios and other content) as it is about making an awesome meme.
- A new editorial strategy and accompanied content – hopefully leading to a wider user base for Webmaker (less of a focus on kids) and one that is a bit edgier. More misfits!
- A revised events platform – This coincides with the Maker Party launch, “a three-month extravaganza of making and sharing online. Events are organized all over the world by Mozilla, our partner organizations and people just like you.” All over the world isn’t lip-service. Events so far are taking place in India, the States, Canada, UK. More to come.
- New and old apps (like Popcorn and Thimble) written in node.js (after first learning how to write apps in node.js) – I believe this means faster applications in a more flexible language that opens the door to easier collaboration.
- An API for users’ creative work (MakeAPI) and webmaker.org itself – This part of the site structure has informed a bunch of our UX decisions, including streamlining how users browse content. On the technical side, I believe this means more agile and flexible opportunities for people to create their own apps at some future point, and for us to respond in cool ways to what people are making (e.g. through added features).
- An app for escaping malicious code – Not sure what this but it sounds badass!
- Allow any dev to be able to push any of their work at any time to at least three server environments in the cloud – Holy smokes this is awesome for our team.
Some other things I’m proud of
- A more unified experience across the site – This includes a consistent navigation across the site and tools, easy ways for users to find their way back to Webmaker.org from someone’s random project link, and a ridiculously easy way to discover the details of how one’s favorite projects were made. Let the remixing begin.
- A faster way to making. People can get to our tools in one click now, instead of four. Patting myself on the back for this one.
- A sweet search page.
- A clever 404 page – Nice work by Erika Drushka, Chris Appleton and Kate Hudson.
- Log in with Persona – another inspiring Mozilla product that promises not to track your web moves. We had a great conversation with the Persona team early on about potentials for improving this log-in experience, and I’m proud that we are supporting their awesome vision.
What I’m looking forward to
- A better mobile experience. The seed is there, as in our site is responsive and we have lots of retina-ready images and best practices in terms of icons, text and images (still working out some hiccups). I’m excited to make this even better from both UI and functional perspectives, particularly when our tools start working on mobile too.
- Incorporating Open Badges into the Webmaker UX. – Admittedly, I think I’ve taken some convincing to see the value of badges, of getting recognized for earned skills (aren’t the skills themselves the reward?). My personal turning point was finally watching Waiting for Superman a few weeks ago and seeing how this project can help the world (and the exotic underclass) immediately on a real, practical level. I’m also excited about the gamification implications of this, always an interesting UX endeavor.
- Realizing the vision for AppMakers – Mark Surman recently shared the board’s vision for this, the democratization of both the making and distribution of apps. Webmaker should be able to facilitate this some time in the future. I can’t wait to see what people do with a more balanced platform.
The Future of Webmaking
The Mozilla production environment is a special beast, and I’ve never worked in one like it before. Many of our team members work remotely across various time zones (never easy, but we are dedicated to making it work). There are also open source methodologies as well as working full-time on a single product (as opposed to client services), both relatively new to me.
One of the toughest things has been releasing the new Webmaker early, knowing how much more we’d like to iterate on it. Tough for a perfectionist like me, but a valuable lesson. I’ve had to kill a lot of my darlings and scale back on UX ideas because they weren’t part of our minimum viable product. I’m itching to pull those ideas out of the scrap heap and bring them back to life. But I’m glad we did it the way we did it. For one thing, we’ll be able to shift our attention to where it’s really needed. For another, I’ve gotten more sleep.
One of the easiest things (weirdly) has been tracking our progress through Bugzilla. I’m such a dork, but I love it. I love that it means keeping things open and collaborative, that anyone can step into a bug at any time in order to contribute. I appreciate the tools we’ve been using to keep everyone on track, like Scrum Bugs and etherpad (though I prefer the styling options of Google Docs).
Mostly, I’ve enjoyed working in this collaborative capacity because I’ve felt ownership over the core ideas, precisely because I have helped build the foundations for what’s to come. That says a lot about our team, our ideas, and the future of Webmaker, which is looking bright.