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 help break the Internet with us.
Now, after months of focused work, several rounds of user testing and a good hard analysis of our early adopting users, we’ve arrived at a clear understanding of who Webmaker currently serves. The answer (drumroll, please) is mentors - passionate educational activists who love to share the joy of making on the web. This blog will summarize all that’s happened over the past few months and where we’re headed next.
Let’s start with the big picture
Our mission with Webmaker has always been to empower people to evolve from consuming the web to creating it. “The Front Lines of Participatory Culture” is how Mozilla’s Chris Lawrence has often described the work.
Our hypothesis set things in motion
We built the current incarnation of Webmaker.org to rapidly test the following hypothesis:
With this in mind, we did two things:
- We created a set of Starter Makes - remixable postcards, comic books, recipes, posters, etc.-and then waited to see what people would make.
- We gathered a group of our earliest, most enthusiastic users who had a keen interest in sharing their skills (we called them mentors) and tasked them with providing value to the educators, edupunks and makers who were active in their communities. These mentors ran events, creating curricula and advocated for new approaches to learning. We created webmaker.org/teach to feature resources this community could use, and webmaker.org/events for them to find one another.
This day was big. Our re-designed site went live and Mark Surman threw open the doors, telling our users: "we want you to break things". We kicked off our three-month Maker Party, realizing that it would serve as a real-world user testing lab for our site and our hypothesis.
We saw approximately 5,000 users sign up immediately. Presumably these were existing users of our tools, but it was an exciting start. Leading into July, traffic was modest with 4,000-6,000 visitors every day. We didn’t reach out to the press and our marketing consisted of a single blog post. We didn’t want the entire world to arrive. Instead, we focused entirely on our first users.
Throughout July, the Maker Party was building momentum. Events were popping up daily in an impressive variety of locales, and contributors were transferring their passion and knowledge to their local communities. Seeing people run Maker Parties in small shops, orphanages, community centres and universities was an eye-opening experience for those that built Webmaker. No longer were our users ethereal people we hoped to win over; now they were real humans with names, jobs and experiences to offer.
Getting to know our users
We sent out a survey to Maker Party participants and 300 people responded with comments on our interface, our content and their general impressions of webmaker.org. While we were mindful of some confirmation bias, we were buoyed by the results.
"My first impression is of one big playground!" - a survey respondeeHard data confirmed what we’d been hearing anecdotally: while users had an immediate positive affiliation with the design and interface, they were not always clear on the purpose of the site.
“Well made, but not clear what it’s for” - a survey respondeeCassie McDaniel, Webmaker’s user experience designer, collated some of the early impressions in this video part way through the summer:
A boost from Firefox
In August, Webmaker was featured on the Firefox start page. As you can imagine, a link on one of the world’s most popular web browsers generates a lot of traffic. Our site traffic began to look like this:
With the realization that tens of thousands of people were visiting webmaker.org daily, we began to curate the front page to feature the best creations from our community. Makes featured on “Webmaker’s Hottest” received a write-up in our blog, exposure on social media and a personal email from our team.
Through our user surveys, and later our formal user testing, we realized we needed to adjust our priorities. The “wouldn’t it be neat if” features had to give way to the issues that were making our users lives difficult. We decided to:
- Overhaul the UI when users submitted descriptions and thumbnails of their work.
- Redesign for our curriculum, and attention from the product team to make it better
- Pay down usability debt with Popcorn Maker. Rather than making it do more, we needed to make it do things better.
- Offer better and more collaborative support for our users using events platform.
What we learned
Mozilla is at its best when we are helping others provide value. Whether we are writing a secure authentication platform like our colleagues at Persona, or building real time collaboration like our friends at Mozilla Labs are doing with Together.js, or allowing anyone to recognize skills like the Open Badges team is doing, Mozilla’s advantage is our community and the leverage we can provide. Webmaker can most effectively move web users from consumption to creation by empowering passionate people to do this within their own communities.
From our surveys, we learned what our users liked to do - and we learned that more than a third of our audience is involved in education, while another third works in technology. Here’s a sample of what they said they liked to make online:
“I enjoy making material for others to learn and add to their skills”What’s Next?
“I love making things which are fun to me and informative to others.”
“Explaining, translating things and helping people understand technology and difficult stuff”
Based on feedback from our users, we’re iterating on our front page to make the calls to action and the mission of Webmaker more clear. We’ll be paying particular attention to the amazing stories coming from our mentor communities. We are finalizing our first round of formal user testing, as well as a subsequent report in collaboration with Drexel University regarding tutorial layers in Thimble. We’ll build software and frameworks that will allow our community to more directly shape the future of Webmaker, like the Web Literacy Standard, The MakeAPI will be opened up to apps other than our own, providing a publishing endpoint that multiple different tools will be able to access.
Most importantly, we”ll continue to learn, teach and ship every day, building the web together with our community.
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