Archives for category: events

The Mozilla Festival, which kicks off Nov. 4 – 6 in London, will be a three-ring circus of brainstorming, collaborating and hacking. It brings together 500 journalists, open web developers and media educators to learn and make the web they want.

Following a series of posts by Mozilla’s Mark Surman, I’m inspired to jot down a few thoughts responding to his vision of a web literate planet — and how three days of massive web learning in London helps get closer to that dream.

I believe Mozilla can play a leading role in creating a web literate planet. Concretely, I think Mozilla can — and should — build out a major P2P learning initiative that teaches web skills and web literacy to coders and non-coders alike. We should also take an active role building up the whole ecosystem of orgs emerging around web literacy and innovative, web-like learning.

Compressed to 72 hours, the Mozilla Festival is a testing ground for this emerging learning model:

Take the P2P pedagogy and skill-sharing of learning labs, mix in design challenges where people invent new web tech and apps, and sprinkle in some fun and thoughtful discussions, you not only get one memorable weekend, you also iterate and improve a recipe for collaboration that can be remixed and poured anywhere, anytime.

On a meta-level, my biggest hope for the festival is that people are inspired by this open-ended learning model, and they improve upon it and host hackfests and learning labs in their own cities with communities they care about.

More than any set curriculum or agenda, I’m learning that learning is a mindset. It’s about copping an attitude and seeing everything as an open-ended process, not a product. And I see the Mozilla Festival — in both planning and participating in it — as a process. It’s part of a joyful, infinite game whose goal is to continue play and invite others to join.

[If you haven’t yet, pick up a copy of Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. This pre-internet book is the best manifesto to open culture I’ve ever read.]

In the lead up to the festival, I’d like to share how different people and parts of the program embody this playful, collaborative web making spirit. And I like to invite you to get involved.

The strength of a truly participatory event is that it is transformed by surprise. Its impact will be measured not by the duplication of its form, but by the originality of participants engaging in response.

What I admire about Mozilla is that it desires to inspire play and learning in others. And it knows that it does this best when it becomes least necessary for the continuation of play.

Thanks to @cyberdees for pointing out this Quora thread. Some really valuable insights from Robert Scoble on what make a great event and food for thought re: Mozilla Festival and other events in the pipeline. We’ll unpack this at OKCon and Wikimania Haifa.


  1. The quality of the people around me. TED is off the charts on this one. I remember standing in the lobby and getting to talk to Bill Gates while many other interesting geeks, entrepreneurs, movie stars, etc stood nearby.
  2. The quality of the speakers. Panels suck. One or two panels at a conference is OK, more mean the content will be lightweight and that the conference organizer just wanted to get a ton of people onto the program (which works to get a crowd, look at SXSW).
  3. The focus of the content. If I’m trying to learn, say, Ruby on Rails, I might pay to attend a conference on that. But if they start talking about Objective C I will feel that the value is less than it could have been.
  4. The small details. Is there enough coffee? Is the signage clear? Is the room air the right temperature? Is the food great and plentiful? Are seats comfortable? Is there power and good wifi?
  5. The expo hall. Is it packed with interesting vendors, or is it sparse?
  6. Does it nail something about the time it happens? For instance, this year the iPad is taking off, so having an iPad developer conference is going to be way more interesting than attending a Windows developer conference.
  7. Is there a community that it exposes or helps form? Other answers mention this, but do you see people hanging together at evening events, or during lunch, or does everyone just go home?
  8. Was there at least one speech that just inspires? The real key, I’ve found, is to have that speech be the first one. Then the conference will seem magical.
  9. Is there real, significant, news discussed? When I’m at a conference where there is real, significant, news revealed it always is easier to talk about with other people.
  10. Does it start, or expose, a movement? Maker Faire, for instance, gets 70,000 people to a fairgrounds to share their love of making things. That’s one of my favorite events because you are able to learn, hang out with, and share with people your own love of that topic/movement.
  11. Does it get you away from work? The best events make you travel or make you get away from work. TED, for instance, makes it impossible to sit in the front row and use a device. I’ve found that really helps build a common memorable experience.
  12. Does it end with a bang? The best events end with a great speech, or some other event to send you on your way. Research shows that the last experience you have is the most memorable one. That said, I find if you don’t start with a great speaker the whole event won’t go well, so don’t put your best speaker at the end.
  13. Do they do something “beyond?” Most conferences are the same. 18 speeches, two panels, two keynotes, two dinners, etc etc. But TED has music that leads into every session. PopTech does a really cool book. They go beyond the usual.

The most memorable events I’ve had, though, are the ones where I had a small, intimate group of people who had some sort of “event within an event.”

At LeWeb last year Loic had a speaker dinner where he took us to an extraordinary meal. At TED I had dinner with a movie star and an exec from Microsoft. At LIFT we had a speaker weekend with skiing and hotubbing that was extraordinary. At FooCamp I ate apples with my son, the two guys who started Google, and four other people. At SXSW this year I took a bus full of geeks to BBQ for Sunday afternoon.

These are the experiences that make an event magical. Can you scale them to all participants? No, but you can make intimate experiences available to all. LIFT always has a fondue dinner in Geneva for all participants which is quite fun.

Anyway, watch and ask yourself “why do certain events get popular?” Invariably the popular ones are ones that nailed all the stuff above.