Space wrangler for the global connected village at #mozfest

Mozfest 2015

I got hoodwinked into spacewrangling at Mozfest again. Not quite sure how it happened again, theres a unwritten rule that unless you flat out reject the invite, you will be involved again

. That and Michelle and Sarah can be very percussive with their super bright smiles. Of course its not just them, you have the Mozilla community (almost family) which are such lovely people you can’t say no.

The festival really starts way before in Spring. For the BBC R&D team (myself and Jasmine) this was the Moztreat in Scotland with our fellow space wrangler Jon Rogers. It was soon afterwards we joined the weekly calls and developed the connected library idea further.

Mozfest Global Village

Like most things in Mozfest, its never quite solid till it actually happens. Meaning the concept of the connected library became part of the Home of the future. This then became part of the global village concept. To be fair I had already set my sights on a much bigger concept of the home of the future. A connected home with spaces which are connected virtually, to explore the concept of home from home and the population increase we are due facing. Homes too expensive that families share them and make use of them in different ways. We didn’t quite get there but next year I’m certainly thinking about it (yes I’m already thinking about next year).

So while the focus was on the library and public and private spaces, I picked out sessions which fit with the humanity theme. For me humanity included inclusion, diversity, storytelling and expression through media. This was boiled down to the line up you can see on the public Github.

Global Village at Mozfest

One of the big challenges with organising such a festival in the open way Mozilla do is to coordinate everybody together and give them the tools they need to get things done. In the past this has been done through a combination of etherpads, google docs and a lot of emails. This time however some smart person thought about using the Github issue tracker? It worked incredible well with all the public calls appearing here. We were then each invited to the repo and could add labels (pathways) or a milestone (spaces). It all worked incredibly well and I’ll consider it for future applications. I did make a joke about forking it to create my own festival one day.

With all the work around the schedule and speakers done by myself, Jasmine took charge of the actual space. Sarah connected us with a number of people including a very talented set designer called Jess. They came up with the concept of cardboard, which involved lots (500 in total) cardboard boxes about 40cms cubes. It all came back to the idea we had originally when we bought a Ikea unit and decided the cube spaces were deep enough for books, picture frames, anything we were planning to do with them.

One of the key ideas was to have actual books alongside generated books. Yes we were planning to print books out in real time. A kind of print on demand service with books showing their status of buffering as they are being printed. Looking back it was ambitious but we did manage to print a few books by Sunday afternoon.

Global Village at Mozfest

The non-generated books were ordered in via a very helpful Ravensbourne librarian called Sarah. She was great and got us as many of the books as possible. For Ravensbourne they would be good for the students to have recommended resources from experts in the industry. Not only that, they would some reasoning why and who recommended it. The list would make a really good resource for the future.

Nicky asked if the complete list would be made public in the future. Fear not… Its all in Google Spreadsheets here.

During the process of putting together the global village it became clear this was going to be one heck of a project and the only way it was achievable was by collaboration. Now collaboration has overhead and especially when working with people you haven’t ever met or can’t get in a room together.

Global Village at Mozfest

We seeked collaborators to create different parts of the global village. After much back and forth we had 4 distinct spaces.

  1. The Library by BBC R&D
  2. The Garage by Dundee Uni and Mozilla
  3. The Garden by the MET office and the Unbox Festival
  4. The Kitchen by Designswam

Each space adopted the theme of cardboard, building out their spaces from the cardboard boxes. It was quite an amazing thing as you can see. Many people said some great things about the whole of the 6th floor where they all existed together. The cardboard was great because it also helped isolate the noise a bit. They also made interesting barriers between session spaces and great stands for various things.

Global Village at Mozfest

Everything from a kitchen table only complete with Alex’s table cloth to a make shift hacked together garden shed. The highlight of the cardboard was the circuital columns designed by Jess which were quite amazing. And just when you thought that was great, you walk into the garden and find the banyan tree. Elegantly put together by the Unboxed festival organisers from India. It was pretty stunning and the space it created within its branches was like nothing you can imagine. I wanted to move the eye contact experiment to that space but it was already being used for something else.

Global Village at Mozfest

Honestly I was impressed (it takes a lot to impress me, many friends will tell you) with all the spaces in the global village. Last year the ethical dilemma cafe up the game and this year we broke through and created something which everybody was talking about. We may not win any design awards for it but it worked so well.

Mozfest this year ran very smoothly, partly because we had most of Friday to setup, unlike previously when we had to rush to do everything on Friday night during the science festival or straight afterwards. This usually leads to very early setup and rushing around on Saturday morning, but this time we knew what space we had on Thursday and Friday we could setup the library and think about the other spaces.

Global Village at Mozfest

During the planning stages of the global village, I had considered workshops, hacks and exhibits. Exhibits would be things which people would interact with independently of a session,  A hack would start as a  workshop and then disappear into the garage for further development. We had a few exhibits of our own including ambient media, our book printing, a cardboard dollhouse, a augmented telescope, digital me, etc, etc. The whole space felt like there was energy and something to see and do. My only regret is not having a little more space for free roaming.

Global Village at Mozfest

The sessions are big part of Mozfest and this year rather than the long running sessions, this time Mozilla suggested a hour long session time. This was good because it meant everybody moved around and settled at roughly the same time. It also made scheduling sessions a little easier but it would have been easier to do if people had known in advance when planning their workshop. For example a few of the workshops, had planned for 3 hours and this was still possible but would break things quite a bit.

Generally everything went into a brand new app created by Ryan at Mozilla. It had been used at one or two other conferences but nothing like Mozfest. It was good and in the usual Mozilla way worked on the open web with some very smart clientside caching for access when the wifi drops out, which I have to say didn’t happen from what I could tell. It got slow sometimes but generally it was good when I needed it.

I didn’t go to enough workshops once again, heck I just caught the end of some of the keynotes.

Mozfest 2015

I was around in the building adaptive storytelling with Lancaster University, who had built a second Perceptive Radio for BBCRD. This time the radio was built as a platform for perceptive narratives. The workshop included a quick demo of the radio in action and then a class getting people to make new perceptive narrative by combining dice. I tried to connect up Brian Chirls with Lancaster Uni but it didn’t quite happen, which is a shame.

Mozfest Global Village

One of my favourite sessions or even pathways (a few joined sessions in a sequence) was around humanity in the form of talking about things which are usually brushed under the carpet. Mental health and happiness in the digital era were discussed in the libraries back room space. A space deliberately tucked away from the glaze of the general public walking around the library space. On reflection this also made the space quite tricky to find and I had a number of people looking around confused trying to work out where it actually was. We had planned to make a map but it didn’t quite happen unfortunately. The Ravensbourne floor plan didn’t really help either, as the space was divided up between the kitchen and the libraries back room by cardboard boxes and a portable screen.

Eye contact at Mozfest Global Village

However once you were in the space it did feel like you stepped out of the festival a little. Nothing like sitting under the banyan tree, which was positively zen liike but a little different regardless.

Global Village at Mozfest

The Banyan Tree was setup by Unboxed festival as part of the garden. It was great but I have to say the MET Office also did great job turning making the garden complete with garden shed.

Mozfest Global Village

Another pathway/theme we had in the library spaces was around diversity. We had a number of talks covering diversity in new and interesting ways. We had a number of talks from diversity in the new economy, hiphop, hypertext and hackerspaces to a zombie apocalypse.

Global Village at Mozfest

There was a micro theme around neurodiversity as the zombie apocalypse workshop was created by somebody with autism, she took part and the feedback was amazingly positive. The hope is to make it a workshop for future BBC diversity training.

Mozfest Global Village

Dyslexia also got a workshop and spawn another ad-hoc session on Sunday afternoon also in the library. Some of us felt the term assistive technology was slightly patronising. Assistive technology should be seamless, not call attention to its self and the user plus just be useful. A artist from the Tate took part and we talked about future plans of theirs to do more around diversity in 2016.

I have to give it up for the excellent agenda and space put together by Alexandra DS from Designswam. The agenda was spot on and so well thought-out. Everything in the kitchen was around the future of the kitchen by looking at gender roles, food production and consumption.

Mozfest Global Village

She tempted people into the area with fresh/local food and some incredibly good workshops given by some great guests. I mean a carbon zero lunch with local cheeses and fruits with a discussion about the nature of carbon zero food, who could resist this?

Mozfest Global Village

Outside the Library, the #HomelabKitchen was the place I spend most of my time. The Garden was on the other side and the Garage was beyond the Kitchen. In the  Garage the BBC Microbit table football was extremely popular and it was great to see people really interested and engaged with the possibilities. Spencer did a fantastic job telling people about the BBC micorbit and what he had done so far with it.

Mozfest Global Village

I didn’t get around to many of the other areas on the other 8 floors! Which was a shame but I did drop in on a few while walking around looking for people and seeking food I could eat.

Mozfest 2015

Unlike previous years, I didn’t get to dj at all, instead there were two options on the table on Saturday evening. One being a quiet night at a hotel bar and the other being a night at Namco station near Waterloo.  They were pretty good options and I think better suited the Mozfest audience. 1700 people would agree and I can’t wait to take the homelab concept to the next level.

Over all Mozfest has grown from strength to strength. Mozilla really shifted into another gear and made Mozfest a unmissable festival.

Global Village at Mozfest

There are so many thank-you’s I would love to say but I fear I will miss somebody. Michelle, Jon, Jasmine, Sarah, Claire, Jess, Mike, Alexandra, Maxine, Misty, Rhianne, Leanne, Mia,, Spencer and Marc all stick out in my mind. But there are so many more including the Salford media students, everybody who did a workshop and session in the global village, lots of the other spacewranglers, etc, etc…

It was a blast, with plenty of opportunities to follow up on.

Sarah always said it was going to be a home run, and it really was…

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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