MozFest 2014: My first time — a rookie’s Mozfest experience

On Wednesday night I was en route to London and getting nervous.

“I’ve never attended a conference or a festival before,” I told Knight Lab’s Joe Germuska as we sat at Chicago's O’Hare International Airport just two days before MozFest kicked off.

Joe assured me that MozFest was a good one, but I still had nerves.

It wasn’t just that it was my first festival. I'd also had a proposal to facilitate a session accepted, but I didn’t quite know what it meant to do that in front of an assortment of five to 50 people for three hours. Plus, professor Rich Gordon and I had submitted the proposal together, but Rich wasn’t going to be there.

The idea was to discuss telling stories on the Web with social network analysis and visualization. During my research leading up to MozFest (which truly lasted most of the summer) one thing became clear: the topic is nowhere near ready to be served up on a silver plate. It’s true I have some experience with analyzing relationships between people, but I’m still just a college senior; what do I have to say to a bunch of computer scientists about anything?

I prepared some material to help attendees analyze their Facebook networks and to discuss data, methods, and results. But I felt that I wasn’t as ready as I could be.

At the reception Friday morning, I met with other facilitators on the Science track. We introduced ourselves and Mozilla’s Head of Science Kaitlin Thaney went over some logistics. During this, I would start conversations about sessions, hoping to gauge the level of preparation at the festival. Now the Science track at this Festival was stacked, and I was sharing the stage with university professors, published authors, and people who smash particles for fun.

What hit me during those conversations and the organized chaos that began that night, was that while this wasn’t anything like a conference, it wasn’t even a festival. Festivals mostly showcase prepared works of art or science. This was a full-on party, where you could show up with something or nothing, and still contribute so much to the experience.

There were some bumps. My session wasn’t exactly PC-friendly, which meant that some attendees paired up with Mac users. But at its height, more than a dozen people were there Facebook stalking with the Python network analysis library NetworkX and the JavaScript graph visualization library Sigma.js. Some tweeted about my session and some published the results on their blogs. None of it would have gone as well as it did if it weren’t for the small bits of help I got from my session’s participants when something went wrong. And it surely wouldn’t have been a success if it weren’t for the attention, enthusiasm, and presence the participants brought for all three hours thanks to the genuinely fun environment MozFest fosters.

If you’re interested, check out the session’s etherpad.

About the author

Matt Hong

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Northwestern is hiring a CS + Journalism professor

    Work with us at the intersection of media, technology and design.

    Are you interested in working with journalism and computer science students to build innovative media tools, products and apps? Would you like to teach the next generation of media innovators? Do you have a track record building technologies for journalists, publishers, storytellers or media consumers? Northwestern University is recruiting for an assistant or associate professor for computer science AND journalism, who will share an appointment in the Medill School of Journalism and the McCormick School...

    Continue Reading

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

  • Bringing Historical Data to Census Reporter

    A Visualization and Research Review

    An Introduction Since Census Reporter’s launch in 2014, one of our most requested features has been the option to see historic census data. Journalists of all backgrounds have asked for a simplified way to get the long-term values they need from Census Reporter, whether it’s through our data section or directly from individual profile pages. Over the past few months I’ve been working to make that a reality. With invaluable feedback from many of you,......

    Continue Reading

  • How We Brought A Chatbot To Life

    Best Practice Guide

    A chatbot creates a unique user experience with many benefits. It gives the audience an opportunity to ask questions and get to know more about your organization. It allows you to collect valuable information from the audience. It can increase interaction time on your site. Bot prototype In the spring of 2017, our Knight Lab team examined the conversational user interface of Public Good Software’s chatbot, which is a chat-widget embedded within media partner sites.......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More