Knight Lab's MozFest 2013 wrap up and link-o-rama

This post has been updated with additional links to MozFest 2013 content.

Kicking off the festival, Friday night begins with a Science Fair at Ravensbourne College.

Just like last year, the Knight Lab team took a jump across the pond a couple weeks ago to attend the Mozilla Festival (October 25-27) in London. Still running on fumes from the remaining high felt from our attendance in 2012, the eleven of us were really excited to be there.

This incredible event is in its fourth year and is going strong. Because of the high value the organizer's place on international perspectives, collaboration and significant emphasis on "Yak less. Hack more." this event is ideal not only for outward exposure of our own ideas, but to make sure we're exposed to so many other similarly-minded teams and projects as well. This year's schedule was jam-packed with tons of smart sessions, workshops and discussions and it had highly-engaged journalism and open data contingent.


Friday morning, MozFest's core planning team rallied the session facilitating troops for training and final logistics.

Throughout the weekend festival, we participated in and facilitated a number of sessions. As a team, the Lab demoed many projects, tools and ideas during Friday night's Science Fair including: Soundcite, Timeline, twXplorer, Books, TweetCast, Local Angle, RefineNeighborhood Buzz and other projects. In anticipation of this event, we had been scrambling to make the Slimformation prototype available in Firefox, an effort that seemed to pay off as it was a popular project to talk about during the fair.

As I wandered through the fair, I was particularly impressed by a new project from the BBG's Media Lab called Kettlecorn (@BBGKettlecorn), which is a version of Mozilla's Popcorn Maker for journalists, as well as international news organizations. They say that they will begin pushing it out to news organizations in the coming months, but for now here is the repo.

Like last year, this fair is high-energy and a lot of fun. Check out some photos in this flickr set and don't miss this virtual tour post.

Friday night's Science Fair was on two floors. Here are teams showcasing many journalism and open data projects.

We like the Mozilla Festival. It draws a crowd of people we feel are kindred. Around the Lab, we talk a lot about web literacy and that, more often than not, when someone comes to us with a desire to be a "coder" what they usually mean is that they are trying to grow their web and digital literacy skills. One of the Mozilla Foundation's 2013 core themes — “Build + Teach the Web” — and their Webmaker initiative is an effort to teach exactly that: Digital skills and web literacy. Inspired by Webmaker's attempt at defining a Web Literacy StandardTyler Fisher (a Knight Lab student fellow) took a stab defining some standards for data literacy as it relates to webmaking in an effort to paint a more complete picture of the necessary digital skill set for modern journalists.


Following the Saturday morning plenary, Aron Pilhofer and I led a design-thinking workshop which took attendees through steps to design a better digital experience for the popular New York Times travel feature 36 Hours. We got some really great ideas from the four groups, including an experience designed for the traveler who never goes on any trips but enjoys the fantasy of planning them.

Aron Pilhofer and I had a packed workshop of attendees excited to design-think their way to better 36 Hours experiences.

For the past six months, Jessica Soberman (student fellow) has been writing about her own research into how news organizations can more meaningfully measure engagement and impact. On Saturday morning, 2013 Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellows Brian AbelsonStijn DebrouwereAnnabel ChurchSonya Song with MIT Center for Civic Media researchers Erhardt Graeff and J. Nathan Matias lead a session addressing this exact question and it was no surprise to me that Soberman was interested in it and wrote about its three major discussion points:

  • No single metric is the silver bullet to tracking a reader’s engagement.
  • Commercial digital analytics services may not be suitable for news.
  • Measuring impact is even more difficult than measuring engagement.

There are some great notes in this session's etherpad, including links to repos and data as well as several fantastic analytics startup ideas, so be sure to check it out.

I was disappointed to miss one of the most buzzed about sessions in the journalism track, as it (like the session described above) was scheduled at the same time as mine and Pilhofer's workshop. Noah Veltman, one of the 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellow and currently placed at BBC News, developed an hour-long workshop to teach newbies the command line. The game he developed took attendees through solving a murder mystery by teaching them to search through a folder of .txt files using the command line and to pull out specific phrases. Rebecca Lai (student fellow) summarized the session and helps draw the correlation to her work as a journalist by saying that understanding the command line allows you to use more tools made just for journalists. Following the festival, Veltman wrote an extensive post about the workshop and welcomes others to give this first version a try.

In the afternoon, Dan Sinker and Dylan Richard facilitated a lively discussion about techniques and strategies for preparing your infrastructure for high-traffic days to news websites, and Matt Gelfand (student fellow) wrote up a summary. Former Knight-Mozilla Fellow Dan Schultz and current fellow Mike Tigas ran a popular session about helping translating civic data sets to readers and has a jam-packed etherpad full of resources.


The Sunday morning plenary was focused on introducing the 2014 Knight-Mozilla Fellows, as well as hearing about the work from the 2013 group and how the program will continue to grow. Immediately following, Joe Germuska lead a "Build + Teach the Web" session about teaching computer science concepts without code.

Joe Germuska teaching Computer Science Unplugged's "The Orange Game" explains routing and deadlock.

Also first thing Sunday morning, Tigas hosted a session on security and privacy issues for journalism, Song ran a discussion about the psychology around how we share in social media and Church facilitated a session about structured analysis techniques to use in investigative reporting. 2012 Knight News Challenge winner, Derek Willis, facilitated a discussion about extending election data and the Open Elections project, about which he later wrote up a recap.

ProPublica's Jeff Larson (left) and the Guardian's James Ball (right)

Ryan Graff wrote about a late afternoon session on web personalization, which happened during an extremely popular chat with Jeff Larson (ProPublica) and James Ball (Guardian) about how the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica jointly reported a story explaining how the NSA undermined "the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age." It was facilitated by Sinker, with some help from Kio Stark, with what appeared to be more than 100 attendees. Be sure to read this great summary of the behind-the-scenes discussion from Journalism News' Sarah Marshall.

Mozilla reports this year's festival is its biggest to date and they've captured some videos to share. Make sure to read OpenNews' Erika Owens wrote a nice high-level piece recapping and quantifying "journalism's footprint at the Mozilla festival. We are so grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a great event and can't wait for 2014's MozFest.

About the author

Miranda Mulligan

Executive Director, 2012-2014

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